Politics & Policy

Margaret Thatcher, R.I.P.

Margaret Thatcher, who died earlier today, was the greatest peacetime British prime minister of the 20th century, and her achievements in foreign policy were second only to those of Churchill.

In domestic policy, she reversed the decline of the previous 30 years and revived both the British economy and the British spirit. In foreign policy, she was instrumental to the free world’s victory in the Cold War — a victory achieved “without firing a shot,” as she herself phrased it.

#ad#She was steadfast and vocal in her support of the NATO policy of installing cruise and Pershing missiles in Western Europe. The success of that policy, against the strong pressures for appeasement of the Soviets that came from both the “peace movement” and most parties of the European Left, marked the point at which the USSR lost the Cold War. But she improved on that success by identifying Mikhail Gorbachev as “a man we could do business with” and warmly recommending him to Reagan as such. Her early championship of the Soviet leader was one reason why the Cold War ended peacefully and on almost friendly terms.

Her domestic achievements are many, but they include: bringing inflation under control and establishing sound money; bringing the unions under law and so dispelling the idea that Britain had become “ungovernable”; defeating the miners’ strike and so entrenching her reforms; reviving the enterprise culture that Britain had pioneered but lost; starting what became the worldwide revolution of privatization; and so on, and so on. We can sum up these domestic battles by pointing out that ten years after the strike-ridden “winter of discontent” — after therefore ten years of Thatcherism — Britain’s economy had become the fourth-largest in the world.

One might add winning the Falklands War almost as a codicil, because that was a foreign-policy achievement that helped her win many of her domestic battles.

These achievements made Mrs. Thatcher — we prefer to call her by the name she was known by in the days of her glory — a great statesman in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of most of her countrymen. But she made enemies who remain bitter to this day, as some comments on her death from the Left miserably illustrate. In that respect, she resembles less Ronald Reagan than Franklin Roosevelt.

Statesmen whose achievements are won at heavy cost and against strong opposition are seldom revered universally in their lives. It takes time and — sadly — death for bitterness to be overcome and for the full value of their lives to be realized and appreciated. We believe that Mrs. Thatcher’s reputation will shortly enjoy that ascension in her native land. In the meantime, her shade must be content with the praise that is rising from the formerly Communist nations in which she remains a heroic and loved figure — and from the United States, which was second only to Britain in her estimate and affection. 

To sum such a remarkable life is not easy. We cannot improve upon the attempt by Lord Saatchi, head of the think tank she founded and the shaper of her victorious election message in 1979:

Everyone wants to be immortal. Few are. Mrs. Thatcher is. Why?

Because her values are timeless, eternal. Tap anyone on the shoulder anywhere in the world, and ask what Mrs Thatcher “believed in,” and they will tell you. They can give a clear answer to what she “stood for.”

She developed all the winning arguments of our time — free markets, low tax, a small state, independence, individuality, self-determination.


The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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