She was called the Iron Lady — by the Soviets first and then by her British opponents — because her belief in freedom and her opposition to tyranny were cast in iron. We must not forget that in the winter of 1978 Britain was widely known as the “sick man of Europe” and the British government had become so dysfunctional that dead bodies went unburied and uncollected trash piled up in the streets.
Some said that Great Britain would never recover, but in the spring of 1979 the Labour government was ousted and Conservative Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s first woman prime minister. Her stated goal: to get rid of what she called “the nanny state.” She broke the grip of power-hungry trade unions, sold off state-owned enterprises such as British Telecom and British Steel, reduced the budget deficit, and trimmed spending.
Britain embarked on the longest economic expansion in the post–World War II period as real household income rose 34 percent during the 1980s. Thatcher proved yet again, as my colleague Ed Feulner wrote, that “freedom works for everyone.” The same rolling back of our welfare state can occur here with the right leadership guided by the right ideas. We are nowhere near as far down the road to serfdom as Britain was in the 1970s. So take heart, fellow conservatives, and follow the lead of a great champion of freedom who understood, in the words of the British political philosopher Kenneth Minogue, that a good life is not the gift of government but is made possible by “the vigor of a free society.”