In his latest weekly column, Mark Steyn writes that Thatcher “saved her country—but can it save itself?”
I recall in the late Eighties being at the National Theatre in London and watching the crowd go wild over Adrian Mitchell’s showstopper, “F**k-Off Friday,” a song about union workers getting their redundancy notices at the end of the week, culminating with the lines:
“I can’t wait for
That great day when
Comes to Number Ten.”
You should have heard the cheers.
Alas, when F**k-Off Friday did come to 10 Downing Street, it was not the Labour party’s tribunes of the masses who evicted her but the duplicitous scheming twerps of her own cabinet, who rose up against her in an act of matricide from which the Tory party has yet to recover. In the preferred euphemism of the American press, Mrs. Thatcher was a “divisive” figure, but that hardly does her justice. She was “divided” not only from the opposition party but from most of her own, and from almost the entire British establishment, including the publicly funded arts panjandrums who ran the likes of the National Theatre and cheerfully commissioned one anti-Thatcher diatribe after another at taxpayer expense. And she was profoundly “divided” from millions and millions of the British people, perhaps a majority.
Nevertheless, she won. In Britain in the Seventies, everything that could be nationalized had been nationalized, into a phalanx of lumpen government monopolies all flying the moth-eaten flag: British Steel, British Coal, British Airways, British Rail . . . The government owned every industry — or, if you prefer, “the British people” owned every industry. And, as a consequence, the unions owned the British people. The top income-tax rate was 83 percent, and on investment income 98 percent. No electorally viable politician now thinks the government should run airlines and car plants and that workers should live their entire lives in government housing. But what seems obvious to all in 2013 was the bipartisan consensus four decades ago, and it required an extraordinary political will for one woman to drag her own party, then the nation, and subsequently much of the rest of the world back from the cliff edge.
Thatcherite denationalization was the first thing Eastern Europe did after throwing off its Communist shackles — although the fact that recovering Soviet client states found such a natural twelve-step program at Westminster testifies to how far gone Britain was. She was the most consequential woman on the world stage since Catherine the Great, and Britain’s most important peacetime prime minister. In 1979, Britain was not at war, but as much as in 1940 faced an existential threat.
Mrs. Thatcher saved her country — and then went on to save a shriveling “free world,” and what was left of its credibility.
But for how long, particularly given that 1970s corporatist England is — knowingly or unknowingly — Barack Obama’s preferred model for 21st century America.