Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was laid to rest Wednesday, and the “Iron Lady” is being remembered as a steadfast and principled leader.
Thatcher died April 8 following a stroke. She was 87. Thatcher served as prime minister from 1979-1990.
Several key figures from previous U.S. administrations attended Thatcher’s funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, including Reagan administration attorney general and counselor to the president, Edwin Meese III. However, the Obama administration snubbed the Thatcher funeral, opting instead to send a presidential delegation comprising no serving politicians.
Ronald Reagan and Thatcher enjoyed a strong political kinship, ranging from their ardent opposition to communism to their embrace of the free markets to revitalize stagnant economies. Meese said it was clear before Reagan took office that they were political soul mates.
“He had met her earlier on a trip to the United Kingdom and was quite impressed with what she was doing and also the speed, I would say, with which she was making changes. She came in with an excellent agenda of restoring the strength of the country, and she proceeded immediately in 1979 to do that when she became prime minister,” he said.
Meese said while the specific economic challenges differed between the two countries, both Reagan and Thatcher were committed to reversing years of big government programs that failed to improve the economy. He believes Reagan was strongly encouraged in pursuing his own agenda because of the results he was seeing in Britain.
“The fact that she was making headway was an encouragement to him,” he said. “Also, it showed something that he strongly believed and that is that conservative ideas, which had always been the strength of the United States, that they worked and would continue to work.”
Reagan and Thatcher were also of like minds on the threat posed by communism and the Soviet Union – a critical fact since Reagan’s approach differed greatly from previous presidents from both parties.
“It was not possible to be successful in just living side-by-side with totalitarianism and sooner or later freedom would have to overcome totalitarianism,” said Meese, who noted that the two leaders were instantly like-minded on the issue when Thatcher became the first foreign leader to visit the newly inaugurated Reagan.
“They talked about the threat of communism and what was going on around the world,” he said. “He found that she had very similar ideas, and as a result, they kind of joined forces both intellectually and from a practical standpoint.”
Meese said the Reagan-Thatcher alliance was critical not only during the Cold War but in stemming the momentum for socialists around the world. He used the 1981 G-7 Summit as a prime example.
“Among the seven leaders there, only Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were conservatives or right-of-center. All the rest were left-of-center, heading socialist governments around the world,” Meese said. “When Ronald Reagan left office, all except for one of those countries had turned in a different direction and had right-of-center governments.”
Meese also extolled the personal friendship between Reagan and Thatcher, noting they both rose from very humble beginnings to become leaders of their respective countries. He contends their friendship was largely based on their ideological agreements, but Thatcher was charming and gracious, even if she didn’t possess the kind of wit that came so naturally to Reagan.
In the final analysis, Meese said Thatcher should be remembered for her firm convictions and her commitment to improve Great Britain.
“Most people will remember her stalwartness, the fact that even though she had a great deal of opposition, even though there were a lot of difficult decisions, she always stood firmly on principle. I think this is one of the things that endeared her to people. They felt that she was true to her basic values and basic principles and that she would do the right thing and that she would not act as people often think of politicians acting on what’s good for them rather than what’s good for the country,” Meese said.
He added, “There’s no question she put her country first and did a marvelous job of leading it at a time of great crisis.”