We forget how grim things were in Britain in the Seventies. Tory moderates, led by Ted Heath, alternated with Labor moderates, led by Harold Wilson or James Callaghan. Beneath their bickerings, however, great swaths of British life were dominated by labor unions, which thanks to the peculiarities of their voting rules were themselves dominated by tiny cliques of real radicals, who could paralyze the country at will by means of strikes. There seemed to be a real danger that Britain would become a big Greece, with bear-skin caps.
Margaret Thatcher said good-bye to all that. The British political system is opaque to Americans, and the more we read the memoirs of insiders the stranger it becomes. What we could see from the outside was that this feisty, attractive woman inspired her followers, terrorized her enemies, and won over enough of the public at large to ride the beast for over a decade.
Her feistiness was obvious. In an evil moment — evil for the Left — she had been dubbed the Iron Lady; it was a godsend epithet, perfectly capturing her strength of character and of mind. She had sex appeal too: There is a charming scene in the late Christopher Hitchens’s memoirs, in which she playfully smacks his bottom with a rolled-up paper. For all his Leftism he was smitten (figuratively as well as literally).
Length of tenure, accumulating blunders, and the inevitable tendency of the Tories towards stupidity and twitdom — it really is the party of John Cleese in full toff mode — finally unseated her. But she remained a presence in British political life, speaking up, especially on foreign policy, when things were dire. She was always a great friend of the United States, seeing our alliance as a prop of Britain’s power and independence, the counterweight to a continent of socialists and faint-hearts.
You saved your country, and you put on a great show. R.I.P.