With Denis Thatcher

David Cameron: "Margaret Thatcher succeeded against all the odds, and the real thing about Margaret Thatcher is that she didn't just lead our country, she saved our country, and I believe she will go down as the greatest British peacetime prime minister."
Tony Blair: "Margaret Thatcher was a towering political figure. ... Her global impact was vast."

Margaret Thatcher was the most charismatic British prime minister since Winston Churchill.
She was PM from 1979 to 1990.

With Ronald Reagan

Barack Obama: "The world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend. Here in America, many of us will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply carried along by the currents of history — we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will."


Margaret Thatcher


By Andy Ross
April 9, 2013


Margaret Thatcher set the British economy to rights and helped the United States and the Soviet Union to end the cold war. She believed that personal and economic freedom go together, that personal responsibility and hard work are the way to prosper, and that market democracies must stand firm against aggression.

Mrs Thatcher was the first female prime minister in the UK. Hard driving and hardheaded, she led her Conservative party to three straight election wins and held office from May 1979 to November 1990. In 1979, the UK was crippled by high unemployment, nationalized utilities, punitive tax rates, foreign exchange controls, a trade union stranglehold, and a sleepy financial sector. By 1990, all of this had been turned around. She broke the power of the labor unions, broke up nationalized industry, redefined the role of the welfare state, and advanced the free market.

Margaret Roberts was born in 1925, in Grantham, 100 miles north of London. Her family lived in a flat above a grocery store owned by her father. Her parents reared their two daughters to take personal responsibility, work hard, and uphold traditional moral values. Margaret matriculated at Oxford and became president of the Oxford University Conservative Association in 1946. She went on to work as a chemistry researcher and study law.

In 1949 she met Denis Thatcher, a rich businessman and former artillery officer, and they married in 1951. Mrs Thatcher gave birth to twins in 1953. Later that year, she was admitted to the bar. She then devoted herself to politics. She was finally elected in 1959 as MP for Finchley in north London. In 1970, Conservative PM Edward Heath appointed her as secretary for education.

The British economy sank ever deeper into decline, inflation surged and industrial strikes spread, and Heath imposed wage and price controls. His U-turn angered the Tory right. He lost a general election in 1974, and in 1975 the Conservative party elected a new leader. Thatcher was a formidable political warrior, and as a young minister she cut a strong figure, but her election as leader was a surprise.

For the next four years, as a Labour government ran the country, Thatcher fought to reshape her party. She was guided by the firm principles of personal responsibility, economic freedom, and smaller government. Her economic ideas came from Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman. She pledged to attack inflation, denationalize basic industry, and curb union power.

By then, Britain was the sick man of Europe. The "winter of discontent" starting in 1978 brought mass strikes that dragged into 1979, and Labour PM James Callaghan had to call a general election. Margaret Thatcher became the new PM in May with these words: "Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope." But she also warned: "Things will get worse before they get better."

In foreign affairs, she stood up to the European Economic Community and said the UK paid out more than it got back in benefits. In late 1979 she said after negotiations at an EEC summit: "We are not asking for a penny piece of Community money for Britain. What we are asking is for a very large amount of our own money back."

By October 1980, the UK faced economic disaster. At the Conservative party conference that month, moderates saw electoral defeat staring them in the face, but Thatcher declared: "I am not a consensus politician, I am a conviction politician." She told them she would press forward with her policies: "You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning."

In the summer of 1981, discontent boiled over into days of rioting in the inner cities of London, Liverpool, Manchester, and Bristol. Thatcher called for greater police powers, but she was forced to compromise. She later said it was her worst year in office.

Thatcher was relentlessly opposed to Communism. Her hostility to the Soviet Union fed fears of nuclear war, and the Soviet press called her the Iron Lady. She agreed with President Jimmy Carter to deploy American nuclear cruise missiles in Britain in response to a Soviet buildup in Eastern Europe. In the early Reagan years, despite big demonstrations in Britain and across Europe, the European NATO allies accepted deployment of cruise and Pershing missiles.

In April 1982, Argentine military forces invaded the British Falkland Islands. As the United States and other allies pushed for talks to avoid bloodshed, The Iron Lady knew where she stood: "We will stand on principle, or we will not stand at all." She ordered a Royal Navy armada to sail south and land British Army paratroopers and Royal Marines to retake the islands. They did, in an astonishing display of military prowess. Some 250 British servicemen and over a thousand Argentines were killed in the fighting. For Thatcher it was a great victory, and she became world famous.

When Thatcher called an election in June 1983, Labour party leader Michael Foot campaigned for a unilateral nuclear disarmament, withdrawal from the European Economic Community, further nationalization of industry, and a huge jobs program. Opponents called his manifesto the longest suicide note in history. The Conservatives won by a landslide.

Thatcher then broke the power of the trade unions. She picked a fight with the powerful National Union of Mineworkers. The coal mines had been nationalized in 1947 and had become unprofitable and outdated. In 1984, the government announced plans to shut down several mines and to decimate the workforce. In response, Marxist NUM boss Arthur Scargill called a nationwide strike. Night after night, TV news showed hundreds of miners battling police. The strike lasted almost a year, but Thatcher refused to surrender and fought it to the bitter end.

She refused to be bowed by terrorism. Despite the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, Thatcher saw the troubles there as intractable and refused to deal with the Irish Republican Army. After the IRA tried to assassinate her at the 1984 Conservative Convention in Brighton, killing five people, she insisted on continuing the conference the next day: "The fact that we are gathered here now, shocked, but composed and determined, is a sign not only that this attack has failed, but that all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail."

Thatcher pushed harder to realize her dream of popular capitalism. The sale of state-owned industries shifted almost a million jobs into the private sector. Over a million public housing units were sold to their occupants. Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson announced in 1985 that for the first time in a generation the Treasury would balance the budget.

Across the Atlantic, Ronald Reagan cheered the British turnaround. He then invaded the British Commonwealth nation of Grenada in the wake of a Communist coup there. Thatcher protested at not being informed in advance, but their friendship was strong enough to survive the spat.

During the Reagan years, the Soviet Union began to show signs of economic failure. The Reagan administration raised the pressure by moving ahead with plans for the Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as Star Wars.

Thatcher was one of the first Western leaders to recognize that the new Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev was different from his Kremlin predecessors: "I like Mr Gorbachev. We can do business together." Her rapport with him and her friendship with Ronald Reagan made her a vital link between the White House and the Kremlin in their negotiations to end the cold war.

Gorbachev was opposed to SDI. Thatcher was skeptical too and told Reagan: "I know it won't work." But she changed her mind after he told her Britain would get some of the research and develop work for it. In December 1984, she helped to assure the Soviets that SDI would not get in the way of arms control talks.

In Iceland in October 1986, Reagan and Gorbachev almost agreed to ban nuclear weapons altogether. But the talks fell apart when Gorbachev insisted that Reagan first drop Star Wars. Many people were relieved. Mrs Thatcher: "The fact is that nuclear weapons have prevented not only nuclear war but conventional war in Europe for 40 years."

In April 1986, after terrorist attacks in Western Europe, Reagan sought permission to launch American warplanes from bases in Britain for attacks on Libya. Thatcher was happy to oblige. She said terrorism demanded a united response.

During those years, Thatcher's domestic legacy included liberalization of exchange controls, a huge cut in top income tax rates, liberalization of labor markets, transformation of the legal position of trade unions and defeat of militant organized labor, sale of much of the public housing stock, privatization of most nationalized industries, and the liberalization of finance. After she deregulated the City of London in 1986, the UK became a global center for finance and investment.

She aired a principle of her philosophy in 1987: "There's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbors."

Thatcher was forced to retreat from plans to privatize the water industry and the National Health Service, replace college grants with a student loan program, cut back pensions, and revamp the social security system. But the economy continued to work in her favor. She won her third general election in June 1987. Wall Street crashed in October.

Thatcher became increasingly strident and disruptive toward Europe. In 1988 she said: "We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain only to see them reimposed at a European level with a European superstate exercising a new dominance from Brussels."

She believed that linking the pound to other currencies would erode British sovereignty. At the Madrid EEC summit in 1989, leading Tories told her the UK must join the Exchange Rate Mechanism. But she resisted the idea that they could solve British economic problems by trying to align sterling with other currencies: "You can't buck the market."

Chancellor Lawson still tried to align sterling with the ERM by pegging the pound to the relatively stable German mark. Meanwhile, easy credit was fueling inflation, and Lawson refused to raise interest rates. When Thatcher demanded he relent, Lawson raised the rates, which threw Britain into recession. Lawson resigned in October 1989.

In 1990, to make local authorities more accountable for how they spent tax money, Thatcher pushed through a "poll tax" on all adult residents of a community. The tax was manifestly unfair and deeply unpopular. Protests flared into riots, and the Tories lost faith in their leader.

In the fall of 1990, the Iron Lady bolstered President George H.W. Bush in his efforts to build a UN coalition to oppose the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. She told him: "George, this is no time to go wobbly."

That November, the Tories revolted. Deputy PM Geoffrey Howe and former defense minister Michael Heseltine led a rebellion against her. She fought to the bitter end: "I fight on. I fight to win." But she was forced to resign, and left 10 Downing Street in tears. She went on to sit in the House of Lords as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven.

Mrs Thatcher once said: "My task will not be completed until the Labour party has become like the Conservative party, a party of capitalism." With the election of Tony Blair in 1997, her task was completed.

The 2008 crash shook the economic legacy of Thatcherism. Economic failure haunts the UK again. As the German example has shown, economic dynamism is possible without squandering social cohesion. Her legacy is not order but freedom. Her aim was "to change the heart and soul" of people in Britain. The change was necessary, and it stands.

For all her faults, Margaret Thatcher was the greatest British prime minister since Winston Churchill.

With contributions from Janan Ganesh, Joseph Gregory, Boris Johnson, Tom Rogan, and Martin Wolf.

The pompous state funeral for Margaret Thatcher on April 17 featured a display of imperial props not seen since the funeral of Winston Churchill in 1965 or the Queen Mother in 2002.



Der Spiegel

When Margaret Thatcher came to power, she faced a Britain still dreaming of being a world power but blocked by the power of the trade unions. With aplomb, she neutered the unions and woke up the UK. But she also set up Britain for the growth of financial market capitalism and drove it to the brink of deindustrialization. She discredited the EU in the UK. She helped Ronald Reagan win the cold war, but on German reunification she was cold.
Die Welt

The social coldness that is making Britain shiver once again today is her legacy. After her forced resignation in 1990, she was asked what she had changed as leader of the country, and she answered: "Everything." That crowing answer is the key to understanding her. She was always a rebel.
Süddeutsche Zeitung

Thatcherism stands for deregulation, privatization, and the destruction of the welfare state. No one divided British society as much as Margaret Thatcher. She destroyed the trade unions and ruined the public sector. As soon as she gained office, she lowered the top tax rate from 83% to 60% and raised VAT from 8% to 15%. During her time in office she used up more than 100 ministers and surrounded herself with yes-men. Only one women made it into her cabinet.
Die Tageszeitung

Thatcher liberalized the British financial sector. The move triggered the massive boom of the City of London. Between 1993 and 2006, the British economy grew by 2.8% on average per year while unemployment fell from 9% to 4%. But since then, the world has learned that faith in free markets was a mistake. The Big Bang was followed by the Big Bust. Today prime minister David Cameron and his finance minister George Osborne look with envy at the industrial heart of the German economy.


Margaret Thatcher

Streep Plays Thatcher

By David Owen
The Independent, Jaunary 7, 2012

Edited by Andy Ross

Meryl Streep's portrayal of Margaret Thatcher is brilliant. The film takes us into the cabinet room, where we witness the Iron Lady's open display of personal contempt for Sir Geoffrey Howe, previously her Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary.

Contempt was in Greek mythology the least attractive feature of the hubris of leaders who had become overwhelmingly confident in their own judgement and dismissive of the views of others. The symptoms and signs of it I have called "hubris syndrome".

Hubris is followed by nemesis, and so it turned out for Margaret Thatcher. On 13 November 1990, Howe made a personal statement to the Commons, a full-frontal attack, the speech of an assassin. But I very much doubt that hubris syndrome is an early sign of dementia.

Many of those dedicated to guarding the flame of Thatcherism resent this film. They do not like its framing the story with an old lady whose mind is being progressively destroyed. For them she must remain a heroine. But the general public is becoming ever more aware of brain disease.

Ronald Reagan was nearly 70 on taking office in 1981. Many Americans thought he was suffering from dementia while still in power. In November 1994, he announced that he was one of a million Americans afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. He died in 2004, much respected.

Margaret Thatcher's political legacy is formidable. There is no need to fear Streep's depiction of her dementia. The film gives her a touching humanity. Dementia can afflict the brightest and the best.

Thatcher Was Right

Daniel Finkelstein
The Times, January 11, 2012

Edited by Andy Ross

Meryl Streep plays Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. It is an astonishing performance and it is embedded in a rather good film. But in paying homage to Mrs Thatcher's strength of character, the film misses the most important feature of her resolve and determination: it was put to the service of the right ideas.

I found Mrs Thatcher's public style arrogant and unyielding. But on the very big questions she faced — the economy, the trade unions, the Falklands and the Cold War — she was right and her determination was an asset. Otherwise her resolve was disastrous.

The Labour governments that preceded Mrs Thatcher's had many strong characters in them. But they were in thrall to an intellectual error — that the world was small enough to be amenable to central planning and control. It was not strength but sense that marked out the Thatcher regime.

In the Cold War she was called The Iron Lady by the Red Star newspaper of the Soviet Army because of her anti-Soviet rhetoric. It was intended it as an insult. She understood immediately that unflinching opposition to the Soviet Union was something to be proud of. When leadership is right, it is good that it is strong.

Margaret Thatcher
By Charles Moore

Anne Applebaum
The Telegraph, 27 April 2013

Edited by Andy Ross

Charles Moore had unprecedented access to Margaret Thatcher's private papers, on condition that nothing be published until after her death. The thoroughness of the research, the hundreds of interviews, and above all the access to her family and friends, enabled Moore to produce a multi-faceted picture of a compelling and unusual life. It works perfectly. Moore's Thatcher will now become the definitive account.