A spectre is haunting British politics: the shadow of Thatcherism. Fully three decades after Margaret Thatcher entered Downing Street, the waves of creative destruction unleashed by the most radical premiership of the 20th century are even now revealing themselves.
At the moment of Thatcher's defenestration in 1990, her record appeared dominated by battles fought and won. She had sought to vanquish British socialism and the accommodationist 'wet' Tory elite. She claimed to have reversed British decline: economic, geopolitical and psychological. Having embraced the Soviet description of her as the Iron Lady, she could celebrate victory in the Cold War, too. It was now the Anglo-American New Right which was certain that history was moving inexorably its way.
Two decades on, history has referred the case of Margaret Thatcher back to the court of appeal. Yet the now commonplace observation that the financial crisis of autumn 2008 closes the era begun by the Winter of Discontent 30 years earlier remains unproven. After all, if true, this must require somebody to convincingly articulate what will or should come next. There is little sign of that happening yet. The great ruptures caused by Thatcherism remain a large part of the reason why that is missing.
What is striking is how neuralgic the Thatcher legacy remains. The 30th anniversary of the 1979 election is a natural moment to take stock of economic, social and political change. Partisans once again contest the prosecution and defence with passion. Yet neither the government nor opposition frontbench has seemed able or willing to contribute contentfully to this season of retrospectives.
That British politics remains in Maggie's shadow can best be seen in how both the Conservative and Labour parties remain, in crucial respects, unable to publicly articulate their full, frank and honest accounts of the Thatcher legacy. Until they can do so, any governing project that seeks to give birth to a post-Thatcherite politics is likely to remain stillborn.
The legacy of Thatcherism
British politics has been shaped by Thatcherism, and by reaction and adaptation to it. It is not that Thatcher's successors have been Thatcherite, at least not straightforwardly so: to claim that is to caricature each of them. What is true is that none has yet been able to escape the consequences and contradictions of the post-Thatcher inheritance.
John Major's attempt to reassert broader conservative traditions were destroyed by a newly ideologised party in a civil war whose pathologies owed much to the traumatic regicide of 1990.
So Tony Blair rose to public prominence with a communitarianism that spoke to widespread public unease in the mid-1990s at the social consequences of market individualism. Yet Blair believed too that New Labour's permission to govern depended on leaving largely intact the economic settlement whose social consequences he sought to reverse, or at least mitigate.
Gordon Brown, who provided much of the domestic social democratic content of New Labour's Blair-Brownism, similarly staked his Croslandite egalitarianism on the finance-led growth which could pay for investment in public services, and modest redistribution. That the reckoning came with Brown in Number 10 dramatised the Faustian nature of the pact.
Meanwhile, Thatcher's legacy had proved more troubling still for her own party. Since the hapless Austen Chamberlain, every Tory leader for seven decades had made it into 10 Downing Street. Now John Major's three successors each came up blank. Its presumptive right to govern disrupted, the Conservative party still failed, for a decade, to begin any serious inquest into its successive failures. The party's traditional ruthless instinct for power, at whatever price, lost out to new found Thatcherite and Eurosceptic convictions.
David Cameron seeks, pragmatically, to return his party to power. He has successfully decontaminated the Conservative brand even while pulling back from any direct challenge to the core beliefs of his party's right. A lack of clarity about Thatcherism has been central to Cameron's masterclass in political ambiguity. According to audience and mood, 'progressive Conservatism' is presented as both corrective to and continuation of the Thatcher legacy.
Thatcherism as the politics of creative destruction
Margaret Thatcher was a politician: ideology can never be served neat in power. Inevitably, there are Thatcherism-sceptics. It could never be difficult to find compromises and contradictions in 11 years of government. It has been argued that there would have been Thatcherism without Thatcher (with Healey and Callaghan converted to monetarism by 1976); that Thatcher was never as Thatcherite as her supporters believed; that the strands and tensions within Thatcherism made it more of a cluster of beliefs and gut instincts as an ideological project.
Up to a point, each claim captures partial truths. Yet, if we are to allow that ideology can play a role in the real world and not only in the political theory text, then Thatcher must stand as an ideological politician who headed, and by some distance, the most ideologically-motivated British government of the 20th century.
What drove the Thatcher governments was the New Right's attempt to challenge and overturn the post-war consensus that dominated British politics from 1945 to 1975. Thatcher was clear that consensus was 'the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies'. So Thatcherism may be best understood as a politics of rupture and creative destruction. Yet Thatcherism failed in most of its central objectives. Its legacy was not that which Thatcher intended and its most profound consequences were unintended.
Smaller government? The free economy and the strong state
Andrew Gamble anatomised perhaps the core paradox of Thatcherism: the extension of state power to pursue the project of the free economy (Gamble 1988). In this respect, the neoliberal project of 'rolling back the state' bears an uncanny resemblance to Marxism: as power is used to pursue the ideological project, the utopian withering away of the state never quite arrives.
Even in the social and economic sphere, Thatcher did much more to transform political discourse about the state than to shrink its role. The state did withdraw from owning most public utilities, though retaining a significant regulatory role. But the core social commitments of the post-Beveridge state proved harder to roll back. She slowed public spending, yet still with real-terms increases. Thatcher did more to redistribute taxation - from direct to indirect taxes, and from higher rate taxpayers to middle and lower earners - than to reduce it. Public spending was 44.7 per cent of GDP in 1979/80 and 41.8 per cent in 1995/96 (HM Treasury 2008) - a level similar to that of the early 1970s. If less state and more freedom was a powerful message, its practical implications were never popular.
Protecting our way of life? The creative destruction of the market
There were two New Rights. Thatcherism was championed by both the Hayekian market liberals of the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute, and by the social conservatives led by Roger Scruton at the Salisbury Review. This uneasy alliance brought Thatcherism a breadth of intellectual and political support which a more coherent economic and social liberalism could not have emulated, and could make common cause in reducing union power.
But what John Gray has described as 'the power of unfettered markets to unravel traditional forms of social life' made Thatcher's anti-conservative market radicalism increasingly prominent (Gray 1996). Social conservatism won the odd eye-catching skirmish - 72 Tory MPs rebelled to throw out the government's Sunday trading bill in 1986 - but economics dominated. With the rhetorical commitment to Victorian values, Ministers produced no concrete ideas to make the family central to social policy. Economic productivity meant encouraging more women to work. Impotent to challenge rising divorce rates or the rate of birth outside marriage, ministers railed against 1960s liberalism, never acknowledging that their vigorous promotion of market individualism reinforced it.
A property-owning democracy? The concentration of wealth
Thatcherism's flagship domestic projects of selling council houses and extending share ownership from three to nine million made the 'property-owning democracy' her central theme. Yet the Thatcher era was marked by an unprecedented concentration of wealth. Phillip Blond notes that the share of non-property wealth and assets of the bottom 50 per cent of the population fell from 12 per cent in 1976 to just 1 per cent in 2003.
If compassionate conservatives claim that increased inequality was an unfortunate and unintended by-product, that is not what was argued at the time. Thatcher made an explicit public case for greater inequality: 'the pursuit of equality itself is a mirage ... I would say, let our children grow tall and some taller than others'.
Thatcher had a class politics of redistribution. Supporting the deserving silent majority against scroungers and shirkers in practice meant prioritising the top 40 per cent of the income range against the rest. Maggie knew that these were 'our people': so did many of them. Yet Thatcherism's cultural politics insisted on seeing the old class distinctions as increasingly irrelevant.
This was primarily a triumph in 'framing' public and media discourse. Public attitudes stubbornly insisted that class still mattered: in 2007, 89 per cent of Britons believed that people were judged by class, and 55 per cent believed they were working-class. Tony Crosland in The Future of Socialism (1956) had asked why Britain retained such a high degree of class consciousness despite greater post-war socio-economic equality. Thatcherism reversed the paradox. Class disappeared from mainstream political discourse, precisely as rising inequality and reduced mobility saw opportunity depend more on entrenched advantages of wealth, income and family background. The dilemma for those concerned to reduce class disadvantage was how to sustain the cross-class political coalition needed in order to do so. 'Progressive universalism' offered a quiet strategy to make incremental progress but concern about social mobility, fairness and inequality ultimately depended on bringing class back in.
In defence of the Constitution? Tested to destruction
Margaret Thatcher believed in the innate superiority of the Westminster model of democracy. The Anglo-Irish agreement had, uncharacteristically but far-sightedly, accepted that the Westminster model could not apply to Northern Ireland. After the poll tax, it could not apply in Scotland either. Devolution was necessary to save the union.
Thatcher tested the British Constitution to destruction, refusing to believe that untrammelled parliamentary sovereignty would survive only if majority governments were restrained in its use, proving herself wrong in the counter-reaction she provoked. The gradual half-revolution in British constitutional governance of New Labour's first term was a Thatcher legacy too, though it remains unfinished and some way short of the new constitutional settlement that is needed.
In Europe, having won the British rebate with her handbag in 1981, Thatcher seemed to recognise the consequences of her own policy only at the end of the decade, after the Single European Act. Her rage at becoming the prisoner of her cabinet over the exchange rate mechanism led directly to her downfall. The depth of the subsequent Tory civil war over the Maastricht treaty reflected that it was only after 1990 that her supporters could pursue the purist sovereignist argument which she had, in office, tacitly recognised was incompatible with the governance of Britain as a member of the European Community.
Sound money? Setting the financial system free
The gut instincts of Thatcherism owed more to Methodism than monetarism. The Grantham shopkeeper's daughter cycled miles to chapel and back to attend services four times every Sunday. Her anti-Keynesian homilies on household economics and sound finance captured a deeply felt lifelong aversion to debt. Yet these non-conformist values were swamped in the consumerism that market individualism unleashed. A project rooted in the morality of 'sound money' never anticipated the consequences of financial deregulation, symbolised in the 'big bang' of 1986, which stands indicted as a root cause of the deepest economic crisis for several decades.
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Thatcherism's legacy is increasingly defined by its unintended consequences. 'The project failed in almost all of the main goals of its positive agenda,' as John Gray wrote back in 1996. Yet that could not prevent Thatcherism having profound, transformational effects on British politics.
Progressive Conservatism after the Thatcherite rupture
'It was only in April 1974 that I was converted to Conservatism. I had thought that I was a Conservative but now I see that I was not one at all.'
- Keith Joseph, quoted in Denham and Garnett 2001
'Are you a Thatcherite now is a meaningless question. Thatcherism wasn't now.'
- Oliver Letwin, Demos progressive conservatism launch, January 2009
Revolutions devour their own children. Amid the chants of '10 more years' in May 1989 or as John Major won the first post-Thatcher general election in April 1992, how many could have imagined that the principal political victims of the Thatcher revolution might be the Conservative and Unionist Party?
Thatcher gave the political right an ideology to believe in. But what makes Thatcherism the great rupture in British Conservativism was that the ideology came wrapped up in something else: a 'betrayal' thesis, as Keith Joseph declared with enormous clarity that post-war Conservatism had been apostasy and heresy.
High Tory wets like Ian Gilmour could argue convincingly that Joseph's statement demonstrated the opposite of what it claimed. Surely had Salisbury or Disraeli, icons of the Tory nationalist and one nation traditions respectively, been asked whether the compromises necessary to hold office were a price worth paying, neither would have understood the question. Thatcherism had ditched the pragmatic arts of conservative statecraft to become intoxicated by neoliberal ideology. As Joseph and Thatcher anointed Friedrich Hayek as high priest of Tory thinking: did not Hayek's famous personal essay of 1960 'Why I am not a Conservative clinch the point?'
Yet this argument that Thatcher was not truly a Conservative cannot ultimately be sustained. However coherent as theory, it was disproved by events. Thatcher changed Conservatism, bringing the Tory nationalist tradition back to the mainstream and became the most prominent icon in the modern Conservative pantheon. Why did she win her argument with the Tory wets about what conservatism was for? It was surely because - particularly as 1945 receded from view, and the Macmillan/Heath generations were supplanted - Tory political restraint had become primarily about prudence, not principle. If the opportunity arose - through economic crisis and the collapse of a divided opposition - for a New Right revolution, then the party in Parliament and the country was for it.
If the party could win on that ticket, it would rather do so. Yet the regicide of 1990, like the peasant's revolt of 1975, showed that the party's ideological preferences were heavily contingent on what was thought electorally sellable. That same tension today illuminates why the Thatcher rupture still presents a substantive as well as symbolic dilemma for the Cameron generation. A decade of defeat has shown that right-wing attempts to revive Maggie's winning formula can be a very unpopular populism. Yet most thinking in the party remains rooted in the core New Right idea that 'less state' means 'more freedom' while alternative accounts remain opaque, and primarily electoral.
The reading of David Cameron offered by David Marquand is that the Tory leader stands in the adaptive tradition of the Tory Whigs (see also Marquand 2008). But progressive Conservativism, being conservative, has a past. Can Cameron be said to substantively inherit the tradition of Baldwin, Macmillan and Heath if he remains publicly unwilling to say so, and claim the legacy?
What have the 'progressive Conservatives' had to say about Thatcherism? The broad answer is 'as little as possible'. It is, however, possible to identify at least one unequivocal repudiation of a Thatcher policy. Indeed, a front-page story in the Observer reported David Cameron's 'ditching of a key Thatcher legacy' and 'most forceful break yet with the Thatcher years'. The headline? 'Cameron: we got it wrong on apartheid'. Sixteen years after Nelson Mandela's release from prison, this was archetypally conservative in being willing to adapt to change after the event. Is the broader acknowledgement of social liberalism substantially different?
Cameron on Thatcher remains a master class in shades of political ambiguity. 'There is such a thing as society; it is just not the same as the state' was designed to sound like a decisive break with Thatcher's most notorious public statement. But was that not precisely what she was herself trying to say in that infamous Woman's Own interview of 1987? Cameron did not think up his most famous Thatcher-distancing soundbite for himself. It is revealing to discover his source. ('To set the record straight -- once again -- I have never minimised the importance of society, only contested the assumption that society means the State rather than other people.') Cameron's Davos speech of 2009, his most important on the future of capitalism, wonheadlines for being inspired by Thatcher's vision of a property-owning democracy and for breaking with Thatcherism to remoralise capitalism.
Those frontbenchers reputed to have multiple brains talk animatedly of the need to 'rediscover' pre-Thatcher conservative traditions, yet ignore the elephant in the room. The Joseph-Thatcher rupture makes it impossible for Cameron to connect to pre-Thatcherite traditions without an account of Thatcherism itself. Perhaps they claim that Cameronism inherits the Tory tradition of Disraeli, Baldwin, Macmillan and Thatcher too. If that might be trivially true, such a smoothing out of history amounts to the claim that Joseph and Thatcher were mistaken: there was no breach with the Tory past; perhaps Thatcherism itself was not really about anything much at all. That would return the role of the state to a pragmatic, empirical question of 'what works' rather than smaller government being a matter of ideological preference. Oliver Letwin does indeed argue for agnosticism, 'not dogma', about the state (Letwin 2009).
Can the party accept - and state - that 'the era of minimal government is over?' Even now, Cameron does not. Instead he insists that the state has failed - and must inevitably fail - in pursuing the progressive ends he asserts. This enables him to carefully pitch to both Guardianistas and Hayekians, though the means by which he might 'roll forward society' are enormously opaque. David Cameron is not an unreconstructed Thatcherite. He is attempting to construct a high Tory Court politics, where all will have his ear and none his allegiance, where the lack of coherence can be presented as a pragmatic, pluralist, non-doctrinaire Toryism where, once again, much will depend on Events.
This is why Cameron has gone out of his way to give airtime for exotic new species of Green and Red Toryism which would barely exist in the party without his patronage, and which are likely to remain marginal even with it. A true-blue-deep Thatcherite would never do this.
Cameron is practising deft opposition politics and preserving maximum room for Tory statecraft to respond pragmatically to events. Yet if Cameron appears to have a conscious strategy to avoid becoming the prisoner of his party's right, he has also taken care not to break substantively with either Thatcherism (and still less with Euroscepticism) and the right retains, by some distance, the most significant share of voice.
In response to the economic crisis, the Conservative leadership has itself shown a strong tendency to 'default' to both the public narratives and economic philosophy of Thatcherism's 'household economics', re-emphasising their distance from the European centre-right. This also suggests that any future Conservative government would include strong internal pressure to adopt a gradualist strategy to pursue a traditional small state, low tax agenda over time ('Thatcherite ends by Fabian means?') - particularly if it were to find itself relatively unconstrained by either parliamentary arithmetic or facing weak opposition. Rehabilitating that agenda might or might not be a project favoured by the party leadership, but defaulting to a pragmatic 'Thatcherism lite' seems a likely outcome unless the leadership were to attempt to pursue a different substantive direction of its own.
So 'Progressive Conservatism' will remain primarily an exercise in political positioning until it does find something coherent to say about Thatcherism. The risks in whether or not to do so are not only on one side. Failing to make any substantive attempt to reframe the internal arguments within the political right will sow the seeds for a future 'betrayal thesis', which might be fuelled by the infrastructure of the right's new 'movement politics' through advocacy groups and the blogosphere. Whether or not Progressive Conservatism does seek to emerge from Maggie's shadow - particularly by attempting to offer a substantive New Tory account of the role of government - is the central test of whether it can stake a more significant claim to be taken seriously as a contentful rethinking of the political right.
The left after Thatcher
'I think Lady Thatcher saw the need for change. And I think whatever disagreements you have with her about certain policies ... we have got to understand that she saw the need for change. I also admire the fact that she is a conviction politician.'
- Gordon Brown, August 2007
The left first misunderstood Thatcherism. Labour's instincts that Margaret Thatcher would prove too shrill to be elected, or too right-wing to be re-elected, underestimated her. The Bennite reading that Thatcher could be defeated by emulating her ideological fervour brought Labour to a near death experience. Labour returned to the centre-left mainstream and the long road back to electability.
Perhaps had Thatcher won a handful more votes against Heseltine in 1990, she would have made it to the general election and lost. But, serially defeated, the centre-left came to occupy post-Thatcherite politics first. Yet Labour never truly worked through the terms of its adaptation to her political success.
No Blair, Brown or Mandelson speech has ever substantively attempted a frank audit of Thatcherism and the response to it. Neither yet has any of New Labour's next generation, though that would have to be foundational to their emerging analysis that the 2008 crisis makes it possible to revisit and rewrite those terms. Ed Miliband (Miliband 2009) and James Purnell both offered versions of that argument at the Fabian new year conference in 2009, leading columnist Steve Richards to write: 'ministers spoke like liberated prisoners emerging from the darkness'. This amounts to an acknowledgment within New Labour that while it had a mandate for some significant policy shifts, it neither achieved (nor attempted) a deeper realignment of British politics. 'Thirty years of hurt never stopped us dreaming' is not, apparently, a song that exists only in the hearts of the party's left.
So Labour, too, offers different arguments about Thatcherism according to mood and audience. To party supporters, the social costs of Thatcherism are emphasised. Publicly, there is tacit acknowledgement that some modernisation was necessary.
And the public unravelling of the Thatcher legacy may make it too easy for the left to evade the more difficult questions. Why did Thatcherism get its chance to shape British politics? The answer is that the social democratic post-war settlement collapsed. The Beveridge-Attlee welfare settlement remains the greatest domestic achievement of any British government, though it can be said to have done more to solve the problems of the 1930s than the 1960s (Hennessy 1995). But the centre-left failed to entrench, deepen or defend its achievement. The unions, emboldened by the retreat of Wilson and the destruction of Heath, made fatal miscalculations in exerting power which exceeded their public legitimacy in both the crisis of 1978/79 and Scargill's confrontation with Thatcher.
The taxpayers' revolt and retrenchment of the 1970s were common currency across the market democracies. But the British, Thatcherite response was the most ideologically defined and harshest of any western democracy, with the (partial) exception of Reagan's US administration.
What now remains elusive is the content - perhaps even the contours - of a progressive politics after New Labour which is not a 'restorationist' attempt to cleave either to the politics of 1997 nor to restore the pre-Thatcher social democratic settlement as it was.
A 1990s revisionist account of social democracy did form part of the motivation of the third way. But political positioning dominated, with ambiguity even to whether the triangulation was between Old Left and New Right, or between the New Right and social democracy itself. If New Labour has not done this, the charge against those of us offering a challenge from its (inside or outside) left might be that the critique has often been clearer than the alternative.
Above all, the centre-left can escape the shadow of Thatcherism only by ceasing to understand its accommodation with markets as a forced consequence of political defeat. Instead Labour must work through in its own social democratic terms the model of the market economy which it wants to advocate - in order to meet economic, social and environmental objectives - as part of its mission of greater equality and opportunity; and the political arguments and strategy for constructing a majority coalition to make that possible. After all, Thatcher may have won, but the historic achievement and mission of social democracy - achieved by both Attlee and Roosevelt - was to reform and so save capitalism, rather than to achieve a fundamental break with it. This can only be a centre-left moment if that is understood to be the animating goal.
Thatcherism as ideology in politics
The consequences of Thatcherism reflect the content, and flaws, of the particular ideology she sought to impose. That is a separate issue from her effectiveness as an agent of political change in pursuing that agenda. So perhaps Thatcherism stands, finally, as a case study in both the potential and perils of ideology in politics. This enabled her to be among those who did most to reshape British politics, yet the increased urgency and over-reach of her third term also led also to the hubris of her downfall, and the long Tory hangover beyond it.
Her record shows that translating ideology into practical politics is more often a question of public mission and direction of travel than an impossibilist demand for consistency. (Perhaps counterintuitively, this could make effective ideological politics easier in government than opposition.)
The political strength of Thatcherism was three-fold. Firstly, the values, instincts and prejudices of Thatcherism offered a clear enough framework to give the government an overall mission and agenda. Junior ministers, or civil servants, not sure how to address any policy issue could always use 'less state' as a ready reckoner about which policies might win favour. By contrast, a commitment to 'reform' does nothing to discriminate between five possible reforms, while 'what works' depends on what objectives are being pursued. New Labour did have a clearer strategic framework in its commitment to 'progressive universalism': this addresses both the policy content and politics of support to improve opportunities and narrow inequalities. Neither this nor the means of an 'enabling state' was effectively translated into a defining public mission for the government.
Secondly, the Thatcher governments were able to mobilise social constituencies who felt that the government was on their side, not least because they knew who it was against too. Thatcher's willingness to choose enemies was often effective, framing her first term against General Galtieri and her second against Arthur Scargill. The choice of Jacques Delors for her third term played to the Sun, but split her cabinet, by which point a scattershot selection of targets (Scotland, the North, the universities and professions, minorities who did not cheer for England, and middle England's sense of fairness over the poll tax) united a broad coalition against the government. Being clear about who you are against is not everything in politics. But, after New Labour backed away from Tony Blair's assault on the 'forces of conservatism', the leaderships of both parties now seem willing to go on the offensive only when they can agree on a target, as with Sir Fred Goodwin's status as the face of greedy, irresponsible banking.
Thirdly, Thatcher understood that effective political change depended not just on electoral success, but on a longer-term project to shift the environment in which elections are held. Like Reagan, she often ran against the government she headed, making public-facing political arguments to shift discourse to the right. By contrast, New Labour in government too often continued to seek public definition by contrasting itself with traditional Labour instincts, closing down progressive space ahead of government. This is partly about public argumentation, and also about how policies and public institutions could reshape political sociology. She sought to challenge Attlee's universalist legacy through the use of council house sales and privatisation to reinforce demographic change.
Perhaps, as Norma Desmond complains in Sunset Boulevard, it was the movies that got small. Politicians cannot easily hope to emulate a Lincoln, Roosevelt or Thatcher in ordinary times. Yet we now have a deep economic and political crisis. The nature of the crisis sees an international battle of ideas fought on centre-left territory. But neither left nor right is prepared for it in the way that the New Right was ready in the late seventies. And if British politics remains in Maggie's shadow, perhaps this is because even those who recognise the scale of her political achievement have taken the primary lesson to be that ideas in politics can be a very dangerous thing.
This article was first published in issue 16(1) of PPR, now Juncture, IPPR's journal of politics and ideas.
Denham A and Garnett M (2001) Keith Joseph, London: Acumen
Gamble A (1988, 1994) The Free Economy and the Strong State, London: Macmillan
Gray J (1996) After Social Democracy, London: Demos
Hayek F (1960) 'Why I am not a Conservative', In The Constitution of Liberty, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press
Hennessey P (1995) Never Again: Britain 1945-1951, London: Penguin
HM Treasury (2008) 2008 Pre-Budget Report, London: HMT
Letwin O (2009) speaking at Progressive Conservativism launch, Demos. See also 'Will the Red Tories spill blue blood?', Liberal Conspiracy website, 23 January 2009
Marquand D (2008) Britain since 1918: The strange career of British democracy, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Miliband E (2009) speech to Fabian New Year Conference 2009
Her spokesman, Tim Bell, said she died of a stroke at the Ritz Hotel. She had been in poor health for months and had suffered from dementia.
Prime Minister David Cameron cut short a visit to Continental Europe to return to Britain after receiving the news, and Queen Elizabeth II authorized a ceremonial funeral with military honors — a notch below a state funeral — at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. A statement from the White House said that “the world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend.”
Mrs. Thatcher was the first woman to become prime minister of Britain and the first to lead a major Western power in modern times. Hard-driving and hardheaded, she led her Conservative Party to three straight election wins and held office for 11 years — May 1979 to November 1990 — longer than any other British politician in the 20th century.
The strong economic medicine she administered to a country sickened by inflation, budget deficits and industrial unrest brought her wide swings in popularity, culminating with a revolt among her own cabinet ministers in her final year and her shout of “No! No! No!” in the House of Commons to any further integration with Europe.
But by the time she left office, the principles known as Thatcherism — the belief that economic freedom and individual liberty are interdependent, that personal responsibility and hard work are the only ways to national prosperity, and that the free-market democracies must stand firm against aggression — had won many disciples. Even some of her strongest critics accorded her a grudging respect.
At home, Mrs. Thatcher’s political successes were decisive. She broke the power of the labor unions and forced the Labour Party to abandon its commitment to nationalized industry, redefine the role of the welfare state and accept the importance of the free market.
Abroad, she won new esteem for a country that had been in decline since its costly victory in World War II. After leaving office, she was honored as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven. But during her first years in power, even many Tories feared that her election might prove a terrible mistake.
In October 1980, 17 months into her first term, Mrs. Thatcher faced disaster. More businesses were failing and more people were out of work than at any time since the Great Depression. Racial and class tensions smoldered. Even her close advisers worried that her push to stanch inflation, sell off nationalized industry and deregulate the economy was devastating the poor, undermining the middle class and courting chaos.
At the Conservative Party conference that month, the moderates grumbled that they were being led by a free-market ideologue oblivious to life on the street and the exigencies of realpolitik. With electoral defeat staring them in the face, cabinet members warned, now was surely a time for compromise.
To Mrs. Thatcher, they could not be more wrong. “I am not a consensus politician,” she said. “I am a conviction politician.”
In an address to the party, she played on the title of Christopher Fry’s popular play “The Lady’s Not for Burning” in insisting that she would press forward with her policies. “You turn if you want to,” she told the faltering assembly. “The lady’s not for turning.”
Her resolve did the trick. A party revolt was thwarted, the Tories hunkered down, and Mrs. Thatcher went on to achieve great victories. She turned the Conservatives, long associated with the status quo, into the party of reform. Her policies revitalized British business, spurred industrial growth and swelled the middle class.
But her third term was riddled with setbacks. Dissension over monetary policy, taxes and Britain’s place in the European Community caused her government to give up hard-won gains against inflation and unemployment. By the time she was ousted in another Tory revolt — this one over her resistance to expanding Britain’s role in a European Union — the economy was in a recession and her reputation tarnished.
To her enemies she was — as Denis Healey, chancellor of the Exchequer in Harold Wilson’s government, called her — “La Pasionaria of Privilege,” a woman who railed against the evils of poverty but who was callous and unsympathetic to the plight of the have-nots. Her policies, her opponents said, were cruel and shortsighted, widened the gap between rich and poor and worsened the plight of the poorest.
Mrs. Thatcher’s relentless hostility to the Soviet Union and her persistent call to modernize Britain’s nuclear forces fed fears of nuclear war and even worried moderates in her own party. It also caught the Kremlin’s attention. After she gave a hard-line speech in 1976, the Soviet press gave her a sobriquet of which she was proud: the Iron Lady.
Yet when she saw an opening, Mrs. Thatcher proved willing to bend. She was one of the first Western leaders to recognize that the Soviets would soon be led by a member of a new generation,Mikhail S. Gorbachev, and invited him to Britain in December 1984, three months before he came to power. “I like Mr. Gorbachev,” she said. “We can do business together.”
Her rapport with the new Soviet leader and her friendship with PresidentRonald Reaganmade Mrs. Thatcher a vital link between the White House and the Kremlin in their tense negotiations to halt the arms race of the 1980s.
Brisk and argumentative, she was rarely willing to concede a point and loath to compromise. Colleagues who disagreed with her were often deluged in a sea of facts, or what many referred to as being “handbagged.”
“She had high standards, and she expected everyone to do their work,” John O’Sullivan, a special adviser to the prime minister, recalled in 1999. “But there was a distinction. She was tougher on her ministers than she was on her personal staff. The more humble the position, the nicer she was.”
Though she was the first woman to lead a major political party in the West, she rubbed many feminists the wrong way. “The battle for women’s rights has largely been won,” she declared. “I hate those strident tones we hear from some women’s libbers.” She relished being impolitic. “You don’t follow the crowd,” she said. “You make up your own mind.”
The arts and academic establishments loathed her for cutting their financing and called her tastes provincial, her values narrow-minded. In 1985, two years into her second term, she was proposed for an honorary doctorate at Oxford, a laurel traditionally offered prime ministers who had attended the university, as she had. The proposal, after a faculty debate, was rejected.
Yet her popularity remained high.
“Margaret Thatcher evoked extreme feelings,” wrote Ronald Millar, a playwright and speechwriter for the prime minister. “To some she could do no right, to others no wrong. Indifference was not an option. She could stir almost physical hostility in normally rational people, while she inspired deathless devotion in others.”
The Grocer’s Daughter
Margaret Hilda Roberts was born on Oct. 13, 1925, in Grantham, Lincolnshire, 100 miles north of London. Her family lived in a cold-water flat above a grocery store owned by her father, Alfred, the son of a shoemaker. Alfred Roberts was also a Methodist preacher and local politician, and he and his wife, Beatrice, reared Margaret and her older sister, Muriel, to follow the tenets of Methodism: personal responsibility, hard work and traditional moral values.
Margaret learned politics at her father’s knee, joining him as he campaigned for alderman and borough councilman as an independent. “Politics was in my bloodstream,” she said.
She won a scholarship to Kesteven and Grantham Girls School. In 1943, at 17, she was admitted to Somerville College, Oxford, to study chemistry. Barred from joining the Oxford Union debating society — it did not admit women until 1963 — she became a member of the Oxford University Conservative Association and its president in 1946. She graduated in 1947 and earned a master’s degree in chemistry, then worked as a chemical researcher and studied law.
Entering politics, she was selected at 23 to be a Conservative candidate for Parliament, and in 1949 she met Denis Thatcher, a well-to-do businessman and former artillery officer who had been decorated for bravery during World War II. They married in December 1951. In August 1953, Mrs. Thatcher gave birth to twins, Mark and Carol, who survive her, along with grandchildren. (Sir Denis died in 2003.) That December, she was admitted to the bar and came to specialize in patent and tax law.
As the couple prospered, Mrs. Thatcher gained the financial independence to devote herself to politics. “Being prime minister is a lonely job,” she wrote in her memoir, “The Downing Street Years” (1993). “It has to be; you cannot lead from the crowd. But with Denis there, I was never alone.”
In 1950 she campaigned to be a member of Parliament from Dartford, a Labour Party preserve. She was the youngest woman to run for a seat that year, a time when Prime Minister Clement Attlee, who had oustedWinston Churchillin an upset on July 5, 1945, was seeking re-election. Mr. Attlee had gone on to create a welfare state that promised full employment, state ownership of industry, public housing and a national health service. As expected, Mrs. Thatcher was defeated. She ran again the next year, and lost, but she did better than expected in both races.
In 1951 the Tories began a 13-year run as the party in power, first under the aging Churchill and then under Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home. But in exchange for support on foreign affairs, the Tories compromised with the unions and accepted the government’s growing role in the marketplace. This “policy of consensus” was successful. Mr. Macmillan, seeking re-election in 1959, said, “Most people have never had it so good.”
Few Tories dared voice misgivings as inflation spread, productivity dropped and deficits grew. Mrs. Thatcher, elected to the House of Commons that year from the largely middle-class Finchley district in north London, was among those who swallowed their doubts.
In 1964, the Tories, exhausted by scandal, a souring economy and internal divisions, lost power to Harold Wilson’s Labour Party. But as the economy grew more feeble and the unions more militant, Mr. Wilson was ousted in 1970 by the Conservative leader,Edward Heath. He appointed Mrs. Thatcher secretary for education.
As a Conservative cabinet minister, she fought budget cuts in the university system and pushed to rebuild schools in poor areas with a zeal, as Hugo Young wrote in his critical 1989 biography, “The Iron Lady,"that “would have done credit to the best of the socialists.”
But it was her effort to restrict a free-milk program for schoolchildren that made her a national figure. Though poor children were exempt from the cutbacks, and the previous Labour government had also reduced free milk in schools, the opposition leapt to the attack. When Mrs. Thatcher argued in Parliament that the cuts would help finance more worthwhile programs, she was jeered. The tabloids labeled her “Thatcher the Milk Snatcher.” Her children were taunted at school. Her husband, worried, suggested that perhaps she should quit politics.
The government stood firm on the milk issue. But as the economy worsened, Mr. Heath retreated, imposing wage and price controls as inflation surged and igniting strikes. His U-turn angered the Tory right. Moreover, it proved futile. In the wake of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the oil-producing nations of OPEC imposed huge price increases that stoked inflation. By winter 1974 Mr. Wilson was back in power.
The following December, the Conservative Party revised its rules for choosing a leader and opened a series of votes to the rank and file. Mrs. Thatcher, in what many regarded as an act of political gall, declared her candidacy. One British bookmaker, Ladbrokes, put the odds against her at 50 to 1.
Mrs. Thatcher finished ahead of Mr. Heath on the first ballot, 130 to 119. It was not enough for victory, but Mr. Heath was forced to drop out. In the second ballot, on Feb. 11, 1975, Mrs. Thatcher defeated the other contenders, all of them men.
For the next four years, as Labour ran the country, she fought to reshape her party. The conservatism she espoused was guided by the tenets of classic liberalism: faith in the individual, in economic freedom and in limited government power. But she had to contend with conservatism’s basic reluctance to change with the times.
As the party of tradition, the Tories had little place for women in its upper echelons. All party leaders, for example, joined the Carlton Club, which excluded women. The club would not change its rules for Mrs. Thatcher, but she was accorded an honorary membership. Still, resentment lingered. At a party conference Mr. Heath studiously ignored her.
Mrs. Thatcher’s prescription for change was based on the ideas of the conservative economists Friedrich von Hayek andMilton Friedman. Hayek believed that political and economic freedom were inseparable; Friedman argued that economic productivity and inflation were determined by the amount of money the government put into the economy, and that the heavy government spending advocated by Keynesian economics distorted the natural strength of the marketplace.
Mrs. Thatcher and her allies asserted that the Tory policy of consensus had allowed the country to lurch leftward as each successive leader, seeking the middle of the road, was forced to compromise with a leftist agenda. For her part, she cared little for theories. She called for an all-out attack on inflation, pledged to denationalize basic industry and promised to curb union power.
By the mid-1970s, Britain was the sick man of Europe. Nearly half of the average taxpayer’s income went to the state, which now determined compensation for a third of the nation’s work force: those employed by nationalized industries. In late 1978 and early ’79, strikes paralyzed Britain. As the “winter of discontent” dragged on, Prime Minister James Callaghan, of the Labour Party, failed to survive a no-confidence vote and called an election for May 3.
Callaghan, who was known as Sunny Jim, drew higher personal ratings in opinion polls than Mrs. Thatcher. But on election day the Tories walked away with 43.9 percent of the vote. Labour received 37 percent and the Liberals 13.8 percent. It was the largest swing to the right in postwar history.
Mrs. Thatcher moved swiftly. “I came to office with one deliberate intent,” she later said. “To change Britain from a dependent to a self-reliant society, from a give-it-to-me to a do-it-yourself nation.”
It was a painful beginning. Income tax cuts balanced by rising gasoline duties and sales taxes fueled inflation. Unemployment spread as she slashed subsidies to faltering industries. Tight money policies drove up interest rates to as high as 22 percent, strengthening the pound, hobbling investment at home and hurting competitiveness overseas. A record 10,000 businesses went bankrupt. Saying it would take years to cure Britain of the havoc wrought by socialism, Mrs. Thatcher warned, “Things will get worse before they get better.”
In the summer of 1981 — the same one in which Charles, the Prince of Wales, married Lady Diana Spencer— discontent boiled over into days of rioting in the London district of Brixton; the inner cities of Liverpool, Manchester and Bristol; and many other areas. Televised reports of rioting, arson and looting shocked the nation. The prime minister, resisting advisers who counseled more social spending and jobs programs, called for greater police powers. Yet, in the face of national shame over the violence, she was forced to give way.
There were other compromises. Retreating from its declaration that state industries must sink or swim in the free market, the government came to the aid of British Airways and British Steel.
Mrs. Thatcher later said that 1981 was her worst year in office. But by the spring of 1982, things were looking up. Inflation was falling; so was the value of the pound, which gave a boost to Britain’s exports and, along with tax cuts, began to feed economic growth.
In foreign affairs, she won some small victories. Standing up to the European Community, she argued that her country paid out much more to the organization than it got back in benefits, and won a significant reduction in contributions. Though her rhetoric and style had caught the world’s eye, she had yet to stake a position as a world leader. Then, on April 2, 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands.
British settlers had lived on those remote islands in the South Atlantic, long claimed by Argentina, since the 1820s, and negotiations over their future had been dragging on for years. The Argentine military junta under Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri, eager to divert attention from economic and social unrest, moved to take the Falklands by force, gambling that once the islands were occupied, Argentine forces would never be ousted.
As the United States and other allies pushed for talks to avoid bloodshed, Mrs. Thatcher ordered a Royal Navy fleet to the South Atlantic. In a 10-week war, the British retook the islands in fighting that left some 250 British servicemen and more than 1,000 Argentines dead. The victory doomed Argentina’s military government and cemented Mrs. Thatcher’s reputation as a leader to be reckoned with.
Her political fortunes were enhanced by squabbling among her opponents. Far-left factions and militant union leaders were gaining strength in the Labour Party as economic discontent and tensions with the Soviet Union grew.
In 1980, Mrs. Thatcher and PresidentJimmy Carterhad agreed to deploy American intermediate-range cruise missiles in Britain in response to a Soviet buildup in Eastern Europe. Under Mr. Reagan, who succeeded Mr. Carter the next year, the United States, with Mrs. Thatcher’s support, persuaded other European allies to deploy the missiles. The arms buildups ignited demonstrations across Western Europe.
When Mrs. Thatcher called an election in June 1983, Labour’s new chief, Michael Foot, campaigned for a unilateral ban on nuclear weapons, withdrawal from the European Community, further nationalization of industry and a huge jobs program.
Mr. Foot’s turn to the left alienated Labour’s center and right wing, and this time the bookmakers put the odds heavily in Mrs. Thatcher’s favor, and they had no regrets. The conservatives won 397 of the 650 seats in Parliament, the biggest swing in voting since Labour’s landslide victory against Churchill in 1945. The working class voted heavily for the Conservatives.
It was an axiom of British politics that one never picked a quarrel with the pope or the National Union of Mineworkers. Mrs. Thatcher flouted it. The coal mines, nationalized in 1947, were widely seen as unprofitable, overstaffed and obsolescent, and in 1984 the government announced plans to shut down several mines and to eliminate 20,000 of the industry’s 180,000 jobs.
In response, Arthur Scargill, the Marxist president of the union, used union rules to elude a rank-and-file vote and, on March 6, 1984, called a walkout.
It was a violent strike. Night after night, the television news broadcast images of hundreds of miners battling the police. On Nov. 30, at a mine in South Wales, a taxi driver taking a miner to work was fatally injured when a concrete slab was dropped on his cab.
Though the episode shocked the Labour Party and many miners, Mr. Scargill refused to condemn it, alienating Neil Kinnock, the new Labour leader, and other supporters. As members of his own union sought to have the strike declared illegal, newspaper cartoons pictured Mr. Scargill flinching under Mrs. Thatcher’s flailing handbag. The strike finally ended in March 1985, after 362 days, without a settlement.
Mrs. Thatcher now pushed harder to fulfill her vision of “popular capitalism.” The sale of state-owned industries shifted some 900,000 jobs into the private sector. More than one million public housing units were sold to their occupants. And the chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, announced in 1985 that for the first time since the 1960s, the Treasury would not require deficit spending in its next fiscal budget.
Across the Atlantic, Mr. Reagan cheered Britain’s turnaround. He and Mrs. Thatcher did not always agree; he thought she was too reluctant on cutting taxes, while she was wary of his insouciance over rising federal deficits. When Mr. Reagan, without warning the British, ordered troops to invade the Caribbean nation of Grenada, a member of the Commonwealth, in the wake of a Communist coup, Mrs. Thatcher gave him a dressing down. Nevertheless, the Reagan-Thatcher axis was, in the words of Hugo Young, “the most enduring personal alliance in the Western world throughout the 1980s.”
The prime minister supported Mr. Reagan’s stand against Communism, echoing White House assertions that Fidel Castro’s Cuba was exporting revolution to Nicaragua and other Latin American states. She was equally vigorous in supporting the United States’ fight against terrorism. In April 1986, after terrorist attacks in Western Europe, the United States sought permission to launch American warplanes from bases in Britain for attacks on Libya. Mrs. Thatcher granted it. The bombing destroyed the living quarters of the Libyan leader, Col.Muammar el-Qaddafi. Mrs. Thatcher’s support for the mission outraged many Britons. But she said that terrorism demanded a united response.
Mrs. Thatcher had shown similar resolve at the Conservative Party conference in Brighton in 1984. On the evening of Oct. 12, as she worked on a speech in her hotel room, a bomb exploded on the floor below, killing four people and wounding more than 30. Among the dead was the wife of the Tories’ chief whip, John Wakeham. A cabinet minister, Norman Tebbit, and his wife were wounded. The Irish Republican Army claimed responsibility. The next day Mrs. Thatcher addressed the party as planned, declaring, “All attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail.”
Despite the sectarian violence, Northern Ireland was not high on her agenda. Mrs. Thatcher saw the troubles there as intractable and her policies as simply preserving the status quo.
She was more flexible over South Africa, where the struggle against institutionalized racism was growing more violent. Though she regarded apartheid as repugnant, she initially refused to impose economic sanctions on South Africa, arguing that apartheid would ultimately be undone by greater trade and the prosperity and yearnings for democracy that come with it. But pressured by other Commonwealth countries, she grudgingly reversed herself.
On another problem involving the British Empire’s complex legacy, Mrs. Thatcher had more success, at least at first. In 1984, Britain reached an agreement with China over the fate of Hong Kong, which was to revert to China in 1997. Under a formula of “one country, two systems,” the political freedoms and economic structure of Britain’s wealthiest colony would stand for 50 years, preserving Hong Kong’s capitalist economy under a Communist state.
But in the turmoil after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, China, fearing a democratic Hong Kong’s influence on the mainland, was far less amenable to granting the territory representative government. When the British governor, Chris Patten, handed over the colony to China in 1997, Hong Kong’s political future remained uncertain.
The Cold War’s End
“Some of these diplomatic minuets you have to go through I cannot stand,” Mrs. Thatcher once said, by way of paying a compliment to Mr. Gorbachev. He forsook rhetoric for blunt realism, she said, and “that suits me better.”
In the 1980s, the Soviet Union was rife with political disillusion and economic chaos. The Reagan administration sought to add pressure by moving ahead with high-tech weapons, including plans for the Strategic Defense Initiative, the space-based defense system known as Star Wars, which would in theory enable the United States to intercept incoming nuclear missiles.
Mr. Gorbachev was unalterably opposed to Star Wars, as were many in the West. Mrs. Thatcher was also against it, though she publicly supported it. At a White House meeting she warned that the project was a costly pipe dream. “I am a chemist,” she is said to have told the president. “I know it won’t work.”
But she changed her mind after being assured that Britain would receive a goodly share of the business in researching and developing the system. At a meeting in Washington in December 1984, she helped draft a position on Star Wars, later adopted by Mr. Reagan, that assured the Soviets that the program would enhance nuclear deterrence, not undercut it, and that it would not get in the way of arms control talks.
Nevertheless, it did. During a summit meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, in October 1986, Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev came close to an agreement to ban nuclear weapons altogether. But when Mr. Gorbachev insisted first on an American promise to drop the Strategic Defense Initiative, Mr. Reagan refused, and the negotiations fell apart.
The president’s position infuriated his critics. But many people in NATO and the Pentagon were relieved. “The fact is that nuclear weapons have prevented not only nuclear war but conventional war in Europe for 40 years,” Mrs. Thatcher said in a speech. “That is why we depend and will continue to depend on nuclear weapons for our defense.”
Mrs. Thatcher did not fare so well in other battles. In the face of popular opposition, she retreated from plans to privatize the water industry and the National Health Service, replace college grants with a student loan program, cut back pensions and revamp the social security system. Many predicted she would not win a third term. But the economy continued to work in her favor. When she called an election for June 1987, the Tories were returned to power.
That October, Wall Street crashed. In the following months, disagreements among the Tories over Britain’s future in the European Community and a series of other events forced Mrs. Thatcher to surrender hard-fought gains.
She believed that linking the pound to other currencies would erode Britain’s political independence. Mr. Lawson, her chancellor of the Exchequer, argued that it would be better to lay the groundwork for joining the European monetary system by tying the pound to the more stable German mark. Without telling the prime minister, Mr. Lawson, in January 1987, had informally begun to peg the pound to the mark.
Meanwhile, the government’s tax-cutting and easy-credit policies fed an investment and housing boom, again fueling inflation. Mr. Lawson, reluctant to allow the value of the pound to rise above the ceiling he had imposed to keep it in range with the mark, ignored calls for higher interest rates. As his actions became apparent, the prime minister accused him of misleading her and warned that the practice had to stop.
But Mr. Lawson and his supporters saw the European monetary system not only as a step toward European integration but also as a safeguard against the kind of wide swings in the pound’s value that had so disrupted Britain’s economic health in the past. On this fundamental issue the Tories were split, the two sides set on a collision course.
As inflation rose, Mr. Lawson reversed himself and raised interest rates. The sudden effort to stanch the money flow threw Britain into recession. In October 1989, Mr. Lawson resigned, but many devoted Thatcherites admitted that she bore much of the blame.
Other misjudgments were laid at her door. In an effort to make the local authorities more accountable for the way they spent tax money, Mrs. Thatcher pushed through a measure that replaced property taxes with a “poll tax” on all adult residents of a community. The tax was intended to make everyone, not just property owners, pay for local government services. In practice, the measure was manifestly unfair and deeply unpopular. In March 1990, protests flared into riots. Within her own party, there was a growing feeling that the Iron Lady had become a liability.
That November, tensions among the Tories exploded. The deputy prime minister, Geoffrey Howe, the last survivor of the original Thatcher cabinet of 1979, was known for his loyalty, though he disagreed with the prime minister’s policy toward Europe. Now their differences came to a boil. At a cabinet meeting, “Margaret was incredibly rude to Geoffrey,” Kenneth Baker, another minister, recalled. “It was the last straw for Geoffrey, and he resigned that night.”
The next day Michael Heseltine, a former defense minister who favored greater links with Europe, announced that he would challenge Mrs. Thatcher for the party leadership. On Nov. 20, as the prime minister was attending a summit meeting in Paris, the Tories took a vote. For Mrs. Thatcher, whose approval ratings in the polls were falling, the outcome was bleak: though she beat Mr. Heseltine, 204 votes to 152, under party rules her majority was not strong enough for her to keep her place.
The race, now wide open, took an unexpected turn. Mrs. Thatcher was awaiting results of the party ballot with her family and friends at 10 Downing Street when she learned that Mr. Heseltine had lost to the soft-spoken chancellor of the Exchequer,John Major, a protégé of hers. When someone said that her colleagues had done an awful turn, she replied, “We’re in politics, dear.”
Though vowing at first to “fight on and fight to win” the second ballot, she was persuaded to withdraw. After speaking to the queen, calling world leaders and making a final speech to the House of Commons, she resigned on Nov. 28, 1990, leaving 10 Downing Street in tears and feeling betrayed.
After leaving office, Mrs. Thatcher traveled widely and drew huge crowds on the lecture circuit. She sat in the House of Lords as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, wrote her memoir and devoted herself to the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, to further her values.
She remained forthright in expressing her opinions. During her final months in office, she had bolstered President George Bush in his efforts to build a United Nations coalition to oppose Iraq after it invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. At the time of the invasion, Mrs. Thatcher was meeting with Mr. Bush and other world leaders at the Aspen Institute in Colorado. “Remember, George,” she is said to have told him, “this is no time to go wobbly.”
In retirement, she continued to call for firmness in the face of aggression, advocating Western intervention to stop the ethnic bloodshed in the Balkans in the early 1990s. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, she endorsed PresidentGeorge W. Bush’s policy of sanctioning pre-emptive strikes against governments that sponsored terrorism. She also backed the war to oust the Iraqi leader,Saddam Hussein.
By then, according to her daughter, Mrs. Thatcher had begun to show signs of the dementia that would overtake her and become, to much criticism, the focus of “Iron Lady,” a 2011 film about her withMeryl Streepin the title role.
But while she was of sound mind, Mrs. Thatcher never let up on her anti-Europe views. “In my lifetime, all the problems have come from mainland Europe, and all the solutions have come from the English-speaking nations across the world,” she told the Conservative Party conference in 1999. Her words drew predictable outrage, but few doubted that Mrs. Thatcher, as usual, had meant exactly what she said.
She also did not shy from criticizing her successors’ actions, including Mr. Major’s handling of the economy. Her frankness often embarrassed the Tories. It seemed to many that Mrs. Thatcher preferred Labour’s new leader,Tony Blair, to Mr. Major.
That perception was not surprising, since Mr. Blair’s victory over Mr. Major in 1997 seemed in a curious way to emphasize the success of Mrs. Thatcher’s policies. Mr. Blair led his “New Labour” party to victory on a platform that promised to liberate business from government restrictions, end taxes that discouraged investment and reduce dependence on the state.
Mrs. Thatcher’s legacy, “in most respects, is uncontested by the Blair government,” Mr. Young, her biographer, said in a 1999 interview. “It made rather concrete something she once said: ‘My task will not be completed until the Labour Party has become like the Conservative Party, a party of capitalism.’ ”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 17, 2013
An obituary on April 9 about the former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher overstated what is known about one aspect of a 1986 bombing of Libya carried out by the United States with the Thatcher government’s support. Although initial news reports, in The Times and elsewhere, said Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s baby daughter was killed in that attack, her death was never confirmed, and reporting in recent years has shown that Qaddafi most likely lied about her death. Therefore it is probably not the case that the bombing “killed one of his children.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: July 22, 2013
An earlier version of this obituary misstated the political leanings of the British governments elected during the 35 years before Lady Thatcher took office as prime minister in 1979. There were several Conservative as well as Labour governments during those years. She did not “reverse 35 years of left-wing government.”