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Because this book is a British publication, it is perhaps not an ideal introduction to the Iron Lady for American readers.  For instance, the authors, not unreasonably, assume that the reader will be familiar with the idea of a candidate for Parliament being "adopted" by a district not their own.  But to Americans, used to the idea of residency requirements for candidates, this is pretty obscure stuff.  On the other hand, so much of the story of Margaret Thatcher's rise to power, and her exercise thereof, parallels events here in the United States, that the tale often has a familiarity which is haunting even when told, as here, in comic book form.

British voters, notoriously, dispensed with Winston Churchill before the dust of WWII had even settled.  Though even Churchill was an accomodationist with the Social Welfare state, he was not willing to move anywhere near as far in the direction of Socialism as the British people believed felt necessary.  Traumatized by two World Wars and the Great Depression, Brits, like most of the continental European counterparts, and many Americans, interpreted (or, rather, misinterpreted) this series of catastrophes as representing the failure of Capitalism.  Thus, while they had to turn to Churchill to wage the War, as he was nearly the only serious political figure not tainted by appeasement, as soon as the conflict ended they wanted to make sure they had a government which would seize control of the economy and give them cradle to grave welfare programs.

Most of the subsequent Tory leaders--like their Eastern Establishment Republican counterparts in the States--determined that they too would have to embrace statism in order to appeal to voters.  The Brits, as is their wont, came up with a terrific name for this form of "conservative" accommodation with the unions and socialism, terming it Butskellism, a combination of the names of Tory Home Secretary Rab Butler and Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell.  Thus, even when the Tories came to power, they did not seek to make fundamental changes to the Social Welfare State--just as Eisenhower and Nixon left alone New Deal programs or even sought to expand them.

Then, just as the GOP had its Buckleys and Goldwaters, the mid-60s finally saw the rise of a determined and vocal conservative wing of they Tory Party.  In Britain's case the movement was led by men like Keith Joseph and Enoch Powell, who took F. A. Hayek's Road to Serfdom and the writings of Milton Friedman as their gospel (years later Margaret Thatcher is purported to have dropped a copy of Road to Serfdom down on a table and declared : "This is what we believe!").  Believers in the Free Market and monetarism, opposed to government planning and ownership of industry, hostile to union power and high taxes, they found an eager acolyte in Margaret Thatcher.  Derogatorily labelled a "grocer's daughter", she had been raised on her father's sensible, conservative, middle class bromides and felt comfortable repeating them and making them the basis of policy.

By 1974, when Edward Heath led the Party to defeat in the polls, she was poised as an unlikely challenger on his Right, and gained control of the Party in 1975 (while Ronald Reagan prepared to mount a conservative challenge to a sitting President, Gerald Ford, of his own Party.)  As global recession--triggered by 50 years of socialism, Cold War spending, and oil price shocks--plunged the West into crisis, it became clear that Big Government was not a viable long-term alternative to Capitalism and Thatcher (using devastating ads depicting long lines of job seekers and the slogan "Labour isn't working", crafted by the Saatchi brothers) and the Tories were elected to power in 1979 (just a year before Reagan would win victory in America).

Once in office, it turned out that the economic situation was so bad that classical conservative economics could not turn things around quickly, but, at the Conservative Party conference in 1980, with the "wets" urging her to abandon course, Thatcher told them :

    You turn if you want to.  The lady's not for turning.

This determination, combined with a confrontation with striking coal miners (see Reagan vs. the air-traffic controllers) and the conveniently timed Falklands War (see Grenada), made it seem, whether it is truly the case or not, that conservative ideas had brought about the inevitable economic recovery.

She was able to ride this recovery and the endgame of the Cold War (she was particularly helpful on the issue of upgrading America's intermediate range missiles based in Europe) for a decade, but came a cropper in 1989 over the same issue that doomed George Bush : taxes.  In Thatcher's case it was the attempt to replace local rates with a poll tax, but whatever the merits of her position, it only served to tie her directly to an unpopular tax--a fate that any conservative should know enough to avoid.  The other issue that helped to bring her down was one on which history will most certainly prove her right : opposition to the European Union.  Not only is increasing integration with continental Europe likely to destroy what little remains of the distinctly British character of the nation, the rest of the Party badly underestimated, and still underestimates, how effective an issue this could be in appealing to working class whites in the country.  William Hague just lost an election in which he half-heartedly spoke out against the EU, but the next elected Tory Prime Minister will likely have based their campaign on anti-German and anti-French rhetoric.

As for what Thatcher actually achieved in office, the authors are more perceptive than many critics of Reagan have been, when they note that Monetarism was at the core of Thatcherism and that the defeat of inflation in the West must in some measure be credited to regaining control of the money supply.  They are however rather silly in giving her such grudging credit for privatizing the previously nationalized industries--their argument is that she did not make this a major campaign pledge in '79.   And it is, of course, true that Britain is still, even today, burdened by an enormous, inefficient, and costly Social Welfare system.  But the mark of what she accomplished is most easily measured by reference to the Labour Party and the terms of the national dialogue she left behind.  As Reaganism turned the Democratic Party into a safe haven for the kind of bland Eisenhower Republicanism of a Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher's greatest legacy is Tony Blair, who is more conservative than any of, at least, her 20th Century Tory predecessors.

There is no bigger fan of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher than I am, but the similarity of their respective rises to power suggests that it was more likely the ideas that they drew upon than anything truly unique to them as individuals, which resulted in the resurgence of conservatism in the 1980s.  It should not diminish either of them in our eyes for us to note that their success owed much to men like Friedman and Hayek.  I believe it was Isaac Newton who said :

    If I have seen farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of Giants.

Both parts of the statement are likewise true of Thatcher and Reagan.  It is not that they espoused ideas that were new or unique to them, nor that their legislative victories were necessarily revolutionary, but that, at a time when most intellectuals, pundits, and fellow politicians had come to believe in the decline of the West, they instead saw their nations as great, as (in Reagan's favorite image) shining cities on a hill.  To a significant degree, it was they who restored the luster, and that is no small achievement.


Grade: (B)


See also:

Book-related and General Links:

    -ESSAY: Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Revolution (Robert Colvile, 6/14/24, CapX)
    -     -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : "margaret thatcher"
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : Thatcher, Margaret
    -Margaret Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher (1979-90) Conservative (Britannia Internet Magazine)
    -BOOKNOTES : Author: Margaret Thatcher Title: The Downing Street Years Air Date: December 5, 1993 (C-SPAN)
    -ESSAY : RESISTING THE UTOPIAN IMPULSE (The Rt. Hon. the Baroness MARGARET THATCHER, American Outlook Magazine, Spring, 1999)
    -ESSAY :   SPREADING THE WORD (Margaret Thatcher, National Review; December 22, 1997)
    -REVIEW : of Like the Roman: The Life of Enoch Powell by Simon Heffer (Margaret Thatcher, booksonline uk)
    -SPEECH : Margaret Thatcher:  Salute to President Reagan, 1994
    -SPEECH : NEW THREATS FOR OLD : A Lecture on the Fiftieth Anniversary of "The Sinews of Peace (The Rt. Hon. The Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, L.G., O.M., F.R.S.,  Delivered at Westminster College, Fulton, MO, March 9, 1996)
    -SPEECH : The Moral Challenges of the Next Century (BYU, March 5, 1996)
    -SPEECH EXCERPTS : Christianity and Wealth : Speech to the Church of Scotland General Assembly, May 21,1988
    -INTERVIEW :  Interview with Margaret Thatcher  (CNN, June 30, 1977)
    -INTERVIEW : with Margaret Thatcher (Frontline : The Gulf War, PBS)
    -PROFILE : TIME 100: Leaders & Revolutionaries - Margaret Thatcher (Paul Johnson, TIME)
    -ESSAY : Margaret Thatcher & the Revival of the West : Her real legacy. (Ronald Reagan,  May 19, 1989,  National Review)
    -ART : Cartoon of Margaret Thatcher (Pritchett Cartoons)
    -ART : Caricature of Margaret Thatcher 1982 (David Levine, NY Review of Books)
    -SPECIAL REPORT : The Thatcher Era : November 22 2000 marks the 10th  anniversary of Margaret Thatcher's resignation as Britain's prime  minister. Guardian writers assess her legacy and we look back at how the Guardian reported the key events during her premiership (Guardian Unlimited uk)
    -ESSAY : Margaret Thatcher and the Rebirth of Conservatism  (Stephen Davies,  On Principle, v1n2 Summer 1993, John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs)
    -ESSAY : Let us face it: Thatcher's legacy is Blair's Britain  (Tessa Keswick , Guardian Unlimited, April 20, 1999)
    -ESSAY : Leader : Thatcher's legacy :   She changed Britain, and created Blair (Guardian, May 3, 1999)
    -ESSAY : Privatisation : How Thatcher stumbled on her Big Idea (Larry Elliott, Society)
    -ESSAY : The lady's not for leaving :  As if things weren't grim enough for William Hague, his party conference looks certain to be upstaged by a catfight between Margaret Thatcher and her embittered successor.  (Gary  Younge, Guardian, September 21, 1999)
    -SPEECH : William Hague: 'No giant is greater than Margaret Thatcher' :  Transcript of speech by Rt Hon William Hague MP at the dinner to celebrate the 20th  anniversary of Margaret Thatcher's election as prime minister (Guardian Unlimited, April 20, 1999)
    -ESSAY : Margaret Thatcher Alcin Bleasdale and the Struggle for Working-Class Identity.
(David Monaghan, Journal of Popular Film and Television, March 22 2001)
    -ESSAY :  The Rise and Fall of Thatcherism (Peter Clarke, December 1998, London Review of Books)
    -BOOKNOTES : Author: Chris Ogden Title: Maggie: An Intimate Portrait of a Woman in Power Air date: November 23, 1990 (C-SPAN)
    -ESSAY : The hardest act to follow (Bagehot, Economist, 05/27/2000)
    -ARCHIVES : "margaret thatcher" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : "margaret thatcher" (NY Review of Books)
    -ARCHIVES : "thatcher" (booksonline uk)
    -ARCHIVES : Margaret Thatcher (Salon)
    -LINKS : Margaret Thatcher on the Internet (Guardian uk)
    -REVIEW : of Margaret Thatcher: The  Collected Speeches by  Margaret Thatcher (Noel Malcolm, booksonline uk)
    -REVIEW : of THE DOWNING STREET YEARS By Margaret Thatcher (Henry A. Kissinger, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Downing Street Years By Margaret Thatcher  (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of THE PATH TO POWER By Margaret Thatcher (John Mortimer, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : Mar 21, 1996 Ian Buruma: Mrs. Thatcher's Revenge, NY Review of Books
       The Path to Power by Margaret Thatcher
       Letters from London by Julian Barnes
       The Disenchanted Isle: Mrs. Thatcher's Capitalist Revolution by Charles Dellheim
    -REVIEW : of The Path to Power by Margaret Thatcher (HEATHER MALLICK -- Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW : of Margaret Thatcher:  Volume One. The Grocer's Daughter by John Campbell  (Andrew Roberts,  booksonline uk)
    -REVIEW : of  Margaret Thatcher. Vol. I: The Grocer's Daughter by John Campbell (Linda Colley, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW : of The Grocer's Daughter (Andrew Rawnsley, Observer)
    -REVIEW : of Margaret Thatcher Volume One: The Grocer's Daughter by John Campbell  (DJ Taylor, Guardian)
    -REVIEW : of Margaret Thatcher Volume One: The Grocer's Daughter John Campbell (Hugh Stephenson, History Today)
    -REVIEW : of Margaret Thatcher. Vol. I: The Grocer's Daughter by John Campbell ( Linda Colley, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW : of THE IRON LADY A Biography of Margaret Thatcher. By Hugo Young (William Pfaff, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of MRS. THATCHER'S REVOLUTION The Ending of the Socialist Era By Peter Jenkins (Peter A. Hall, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  MRS. THATCHER'S MINISTER The Private Diaries of Alan Clark (Hugh Brogan, NY Times Book Review)

    -The Conservative Party Website
    -Adam Smith Institute
    -Words on the War : Reflecting on 50 Years of  the Iron Curtain
    -ESSAY : The Paradoxical Case of Tony Blair : "You have to remember," says someone who knows him, "that the great passion in his life is his hatred of the Labour Party" (Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Atlantic Monthly, June '96)
    -REVIEW : of THE BATTLE FOR THE FALKLANDS. By Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins (Drew Middleton , NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of In Pursuit of British Interests: Reflections on  Foreign Policy under  Margaret Thatcher and John Major by Percy Cradock (Charles Powell, booksonline uk)
    -REVIEW : of THE CHANGING ANATOMY OF BRITAIN By Anthony Sampson (R. W. Apple, Jr., NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of THIS BLESSED PLOT Britain and Europe From Churchill to Blair. By Hugo Young (Geoffrey Wheatcroft, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THIS BLESSED PLOT Britain and Europe From Churchill to Blair By Hugo Young (Samuel Hynes, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : Apr 8, 1999 Robert Cottrell: Europe: So Far, It Flies, NY Review of Books
       This Blessed Plot: Britain and Europe from Churchill to Blair by Hugo Young
       Redrawing the Map of Europe by Michael Emerson
    -REVIEW : of The Rise and Fall of Class in Britain by David Cannadine (Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Atlantic Monthly)
    -REVIEW : of Keith Joseph by Andrew Denham & Mark Garnett (Dennis Kavanagh, booksonline uk)
    -REVIEW : of Keith Joseph by Andrew Denham and Mark Garnett (John Campbell, Independent uk)
    -REVIEW : of  Keith Joseph by Andrew Denham and Mark Garnett (Peter Clarke, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW : of  The Science of Politics by Maurice Saatchi (Martin Vander Weyer, booksonline uk)
    -REVIEW : of Conflicting Accounts: the  Creation and Crash of the Saatchi & Saatchi dvertising Empire by Kevin Goldman (Robin Wight, booksonline uk)