Margaret Thatcher: The Lady’s Not for Turning

Margaret Thatcher was a great hero. The model of a politician who was in it not to be something but to do something. And boy, what she did.

Margaret Roberts, grocer's daughter, elected to Parliament, 1951, on her second try.

Margaret Roberts, grocer’s daughter, candidate for Parliament, 1951, her second try; elected 1959

Thatcher became Britain’s first woman prime minister at a time when that was amazing. It’s no longer true in modern nations that a woman must be twice as good as a man to get half as far; but it was true in the ‘70s. Margaret Thatcher rising, from modest antecedents, to surmount not only those gender obstacles but immense political obstacles as well, makes her a promethean figure.

Indeed, when she came to power in 1979, the gender novelty was a footnote. Britain was in deep trouble; it was called “British disease,” the final legacy of three decades of socialism and, particularly, labor unions holding government by the balls. It wasn’t that Thatcher lacked that anatomical feature; rather, hers were too big for the unions to squeeze. imagesShe broke their power, showing how entrenched interests can be overcome with sufficient political will. She also lifted the smothering blanket of statist paternalism to resuscitate economic vitality. British disease was cured.

Eurocrat Jean-Claude Juncker is often quoted: “We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get re-elected once we’ve done it.” What rot. Margaret Thatcher gave a famous speech acknowledging the political pressures for a policy U-turn. “You turn if you want to,” she said; “the lady’s not for turning.”* Unlike Juncker, she trusted voters, and believed that right policies can be successfully defended in public debate. And, despite vicious opposition, she did get re-elected, twice. (In 1990, her own Conservative party, to its eternal shame, lost its will and dumped her.)

UnknownHer first re-election did owe something to the Falklands War. In 1982, an Argentine junta thought to curry popularity by grabbing the Falkland Islands, a British possession. They didn’t imagine an enfeebled old European nation would actually fight them. But fight them Margaret Thatcher did, and not just with words. She sent the fleet.

I see her still as Britannia, with helmet and spear, standing resolute on the prow of a warship, steaming toward the Falklands.

*It’s a pun on the title of a play about Joan of Arc, “The Lady’s Not for Burning.”

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