This column for TPJ Magazine will be submitted on 18 April, the day after
Baroness Thatcher’s funeral which is being presented as, and will be treated
like, a state funeral. There is little to be said about it other than that it
will be executed with extravagant and solemn pageantry. It will be the biggest
event of its kind since Churchill’s funeral in 1965 – indeed, it will be even
bigger. To her admirers on the political right, she was the greatest prime
minister since Churchill. She was in office for much longer than he was; but
unlike Churchill, who, between 1940 and 1945 as a respected and admired war
leader commanded support across all sections of British society, Thatcher,
though admired by many was detested by as many, if not more.
She was admired and even adored by large numbers of mainly but not exclusively middle-class supporters who saw her as their champion against what the right-wing press denounced as overweening and irresponsible trade unions that were ‘holding the country to ransom.’ She was admired for prosecuting a successful war against Argentina over the Falklands/Malvinas in 1982 – a war that was accompanied by a media-orchestrated outburst of jingoism which succeeded in reversing her hitherto abysmal poll-ratings. She was admired for the unwavering determination with which she confronted the miners in their year-long strike to defend their jobs and communities; a struggle that broke the back of the NUM, paving the way for the dismantling of Britain’s manufacturing industries and the crippling of the industrial workers’ trade unions. In working class communities throughout Britain whose livelihoods were permanently destroyed, Thatcher was loathed. Even now, twenty-three years after she was forced from office by disgruntled members of her own cabinet, the hatred borne her by those who suffered most from the class war she waged against them, remains visceral.
But rather than boring readers with further observations reflecting the sentiments of those for whom her passing is cause for neither sadness nor lament, the remainder of this column will be turned over to two of her admirers who were close to Baroness Thatcher and served in her governments when she was Prime Minister. Both are still Conservative parliamentarians, one in the House of Commons, the other in the Lords. As they are very critical of Margaret Thatcher’s detractors, including those in the Conservative party they accuse of “stabbing her in the back”, both have asked to remain anonymous, for fear of reprisals by those who seek to stifle free speech. Their names have therefore been changed to respect this request.
Lord Lehman-Lament and Ron Deadwood MP write:
Today the whole nation, with the inevitable exception of a small minority of miserably ungrateful misfits and malcontents, will bow their heads in solemn mourning as the funeral cortege of Britain’s greatest prime minister of all time escorts her coffin from St. Clement Danes to St. Paul’s Cathedral. She will live forever in the great heart of the British people – the real British people that is – to whom she gave so much and for whom she worked so tirelessly. We both had the great good fortune to serve under her for several years. Looking back on the eleven years of her premiership, the 1980s now seem like a golden age, during which Britain Arose from the ashes of the disastrous post-war Attlee-socialist regime and the miserable fudge that followed under a succession of limping administrations, both “Conservative” and Labour. They were shackled to a “mixed economy” and a “welfare state” that rewarded scrounging and skiving and put power in the hands of over-blown trade union bosses, hell-bent on the total destruction of the free market, the free world and freedom of the individual. Margaret Thatcher took up arms against these evils and began the task of freeing Britain from their baleful influence. The job she started has yet to be completed.
The present government is an example of where compromise of principles leads. Denied an overall majority by failure to present the electorate with a full-blooded Thatcherite programme for dismantling what is left of the dependency state, David Cameron is forced to depend on the treacherous Liberals as partners in a coalition that can only proceed with the job by stealth. Therefore he has to pretend that health provision is not really being turned over to private providers – something that is wholly desirable – but that the NHS will somehow be allowed to limp on as a nationalized concern. Likewise, by lack of a robust opposition to Brussels and a clear commitment to take Britain out of the E.U., Cameron ensures that the vote for independence from Europe will be split between the Conservatives and UKIP. Then there is the matter of deficit-reduction. The government needs to cut much faster and much deeper if progress is to be made here. There are many lessons that may be learned from Margaret Thatcher’s example, but, in spite of the tributes now accorded her, most of those who claim to respect and admire her are still inhibited from mentioning aspects of her politics and personality that are considered “too contentious”, or about which, it is claimed, she was wrong. They even had to pretend that she was not getting a full state funeral, which she richly deserved. We think it needs to be said that with the exception of one or two cases where for tactical reasons she may have proceeded less forcefully than she would have liked (as in the case of her first confrontation with the NUM in 1981, where she had to back down) she was right about everything. Let’s consider some of the episodes from her past that are considered “contentious”.
Her role in the defeat of Communism.
With Ronald Reagan (by general consensus America’s greatest president), she stood up to the Soviet Union and faced it down. Together they were responsible for the collapse of Communism, thus freeing up the world for the free market. But what is often ignored is that it was not just in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe that Communism was beaten. Ronald Reagan, through his determined military support for the patriotic anti-communist militias in Nicaragua and El Salvador, helped to defeat Communism there too. Ronald Reagan stood shoulder to shoulder with Margaret Thatcher over the Falklands War - her greatest triumph and the basis of her reputation as a great wartime prime minister to rank with Churchill. But she also had the support of her other good friend at that time, General Augusto Pinochet of Chile. Let’s not forget that he was also a staunch ally in the struggle against Communism, and, as a good, brave and honourable soldier had crushed it in his own country which he liberated from the hated Allende’s crypto-communist regime. Margaret Thatcher’s other great personal quality was loyalty, particularly loyalty to friends in need. This was evident when she visited the General during the shameful episode of his detention in Britain on trumped up charges of crimes against humanity brought against him by a Spanish communist judge. From our personal experience of Lady Thatcher at the time, we can reveal that she was fuming over the indignity to which her dear friend had been subjected. She repaid his kindness for the many visits to her in London after her retirement. General Pinochet was equally complimentary about Lady Thatcher. Guillermo Gavin, retired Vice-Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean army reported that ”President Pinochet always had tremendous admiration for her, they had a very close relationship highlighted by the visit she made to his place of detention in London….They shared similar concepts of the modernization of the state.” She also understood the part that another outstanding soldier, General Suharto of Indonesia, had played in stamping out Communism in his own country. She described him as “one of our very best and most valuable friends.” And indeed he was.
Another of her sterling personal qualities was consistency in her convictions. She was a consistent opponent of terrorism. She opposed it not only in Northern Ireland (the IRA) but also in South Africa. Despite great pressure from opponents of Apartheid to try to get her to support economic sanctions against South Africa, she was steadfast in her refusal. Unlike many of her ‘wet’ colleagues, she could see through the pretension of the African National Congress, and denounced it for what it was – a Communist inspired and financed terrorist organization. Not for her the simple-minded liberal wooly-mindedness that duped so many.
Her views on Immigration
Another “contentious” issue has been her sentiments on immigration. In 1978, just before becoming prime minister, she warned …”People are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture.” And if we look around us today, who can deny that she was right to be concerned. But it is unfair to suggest that Lady Thatcher was totally opposed to immigration as such. As Lord Carrington made clear in 1979, “she had less objection to refugees such as Rhodesians, Poles and Hungarians since they could be more easily assimilated into British society.” This is entirely consistent with the view she expressed long after her retirement to Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, in the presence of his Malaysian-born wife. She told him that “if we allowed too much of it (non-white immigration) we’d see the nature of the land, the European settlers, overtaken by immigrants.” To her great credit, on this, as on most other important questions of policy, her views have remained entirely consistent and she was not embarrassed to express them forcefully. We can see no reason why Carr should have accused her of racism.
But as we said, there are some things that she was unable to achieve. She could not fulfill her mission because she was removed from power by lesser men, consumed by envy and bitterness, before her task was done. We feel strongly now that we did not do enough ourselves to defend her against their machinations. We wish we had. We cannot but agree with the great historian, Andrew Roberts, who in the best, most restrained style of his profession put it more eloquently than we can, when he wrote recently: “Those things that she did not change for the better she would have done, if she hadn’t been knifed by an over-ambitious cabal of cowards, fools and traitors, who split the Tory party and left it feuding for half a generation.”
We note that the current President of the United States chose not to attend her funeral. But no matter, we were honoured by the presence of two truly great American statesmen – former Vice-President Cheney and former Secretary of State Kissinger- both true kindred spirits of Lady Thatcher. And of course, they were in the very good company of Tony Blair, that other courageous wartime prime minister who has the courage of his firm convictions, and, like Lady Thatcher, understands the difference between good and evil. Not for nothing did she describe New Labour as her greatest achievement.
As we join with the thousands who, tears in their eyes, lined London’s streets to pay their last respects, and the many millions more in Britain and throughout the civilized world who sat transfixed in front of their TV screens, we can rejoice to have lived in the same times as she did, and, to a small extent to have been touched by her greatness.