Supporters and opponents of the late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher joined today in honoring the first woman PM of Great Britain and a close ally of President Ronald Reagan in pursuit of conservative ideas and a free-market economy.
Labour MP Neil Kinnock, who was the opposition leader facing Thatcher for most of her tenure in office, had this to say of her passing: "I recognize and admire the great distinction of Baroness Thatcher as the first woman to become leader of a major UK political party and prime minister. I am sorry to hear of her death and offer my sympathy to her family."
The outpouring of affection and condolences is global in scope. Negative fringe tweets from far left critics have cropped up, but the response to Thatcher's passing has been largely reverent, with Ulster unionists and Irish Social Democrats alike paying homage to Thatcher's contributions to peace in Northern Ireland. Thatcher presided over a virtual civil war in Northern Ireland for most of her time in office.
It has been only nine years since the death of Reagan, who was credited with one of the longest periods of economic prosperity in American history. Thatcher is considered by many students of the eighties to be Reagan's philosophical counterpart, leading a parallel economic revival on the other side of the Atlantic.
Thatcher presided over a genuine economic transformation in Great Britain, following a time high unemployment, high inflation, and government takeovers of basic industries – not dissimilar from the "stagflation" recorded in the United States over the same period. President Jimmy Carter spoke of yielding to an inevitable "malaise" and the British Labour Party advocated "more of the same" in elections despite the union-driven "Winter of Discontent" and the documented misery of average British families.
Unlike the United States in the seventies, a tradition of nationalization had solidified in postwar Britain and British conservatives until Thatcher had been unwilling to risk privatizing nationalized sectors of the British economy for fear of losing votes.
At first Thatcher's "medicine" as she said in her seminal, "The Lady's Not For Turning" speech, seemed worse than the disease. As Thatcher explained,
"If I could press a button and genuinely solve the unemployment problem, do you think that I would not press that button this instant? Does anyone imagine that there is the smallest political gain in letting this unemployment continue, or that there is some obscure economic religion which demands this unemployment as part of its ritual? This government [is] pursuing the only policy which gives any hope of bringing our people back to real and lasting employment."
After privatizing industries, and possibly as a result of the tax reform pursued under Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson, the number of British people unemployed dropped below two million. Between 1980 and 1990, three million more British jobs were created. This period is referred to either charitably or sardonically as the "Lawson Boom."
As much as employment increased, inflation decreased under Thatcher, dropping as low as four percent, in sharp contrast to the previous Labour government's average inflation rate of 20 percent.
Income mobility was on an upward trend for most of the years attributed to Thatcher's policies – with median income growth outstripping the United States and most of the nations in the OECD, all while individual shareholders rose steadily from three million when Thatcher took office to over 11 million, interpreted by many economists as reflecting a rise in the standard of living.
Thatcher also reclaimed British overseas territory adjacent to Argentina in a memorable tour de force in the "Falklands War," earning her the enduring hatred of the Argentineans [See statement of Argentine leader and veteran Ernesto Alberto Alonso], who have no resident population in the Falklands, and the eternal love of the British citizens – who inhabit the islands. The Falklands have lowered their flags to half-mast today and a Falkands native has been quoted with his reaction,
"She was probably the number one person in our history. We received this news with great sadness even though it was expected because we knew she was very poorly....There will definitely be a memorial service here…I was 25 at the time of the war. It was mind-blowing when we heard on the radio that Thatcher would send a taskforce. When she arrived afterwards, it was like a visit from the Queen."
Thatcher also is known for her role in helping to end the Cold War by standing in solidarity with Ronald Reagan and maintaining a credible British nuclear deterrent at a time when calls for unilateral disarmament were prevalent. Soviet generals later admitted that it was the willingness of the US-British delegation to "walk away" at Reykjavik that ultimately led to an unsustainable increase in Soviet defense expenditures, the subsequent collapse of the Russian economy, and the end of the Cold War.
To a category of British politicos known as "Euro-skeptics," Thatcher was a hero, fighting for British national interests and the preservation of British national sovereignty against frequent attempts on the part of European bureaucrats to federalize the European Community – now the European Union. Thatcher's biggest triumph in the domain of European diplomacy, according to foreign policy analysts, was in halting plans for British participation in the planned single currency and winning significant rebates in the billions looted as part of the Common Agricultural Policy. CAP looted British tax coffers to fund subsidies for French and German farmers, accorded to critics. Thatcher conducted diplomacy, as she jokingly remarked, with her "handbag."
Robert Oulds, a noted Euro-skeptic and president of the prominent British think-tank, Bruges Group, was contacted by WND for comment:
"Winning the Falklands War, defeating the Miners Strike and saying to George Bush Sr. 'this is no time to go wobbly' when faced with Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait – this is Margaret Thatcher."
Oulds continued, "She brought back private enterprise to Britain and revitalized the economy. She was an opponent of Communism but played a key role in the negotiations between Reagan and Gorbachev."
Bruges Group posted the following:
"The Bruges Group was founded in 1989 to turn her [Thatcher] vision for Britain and Europe into a political reality. The Group is named after her famous Bruges Speech, to the College of Europe in Bruges, where she said;
"'We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level, with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels."
"We express our sincere condolences to her family."
In one of Thatcher's most memorable speeches, she would say the following:
"To those waiting with baited breath for that favorite media catchphrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say: You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning."