Goodbye to Blighty?

It's revolting to watch the outpouring of morbid glee at the death of Baroness Thatcher from the British left--not from Occupy Wall Street fringe elements, but from trade union leaders and senior Labor MPs. London's Daily Mail today reports:

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, said: ‘Mrs Thatcher will be remembered by many for the destructive and divisive policies she reigned over which in the end, even in the Tory Party, proved to be her downfall. Her legacy involves the destruction of communities, the elevation of personal greed over social values and legitimising the exploitation of the weak by the strong.’

Labour shadow pensions minister Gregg McClymont came under fire for ‘condoning’ an inflammatory tweet about the former Conservative prime minister. He was accused of being ‘extremely foolish’ when he described a university student’s political views as ‘spot-on’ following a reference to Lady Thatcher a ‘f***** witch’.

Dancing on the grave of one's political opponents is unthinkable in American terms. In part this is because any American president bears the dignity of the office of head of state, while a British prime minister is a servant of the sovereign. But that does not explain the eruption of hatred against a dignified, intelligent, and principled woman who led her country longer than any 20th-century prime minister--almost as long as Franklin Roosevelt led the United States. This eruption of hatred is inexcusable. But it is not entirely inexplicable.

The victory of the West in the Cold War would have been impossible without her. The book to read is The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister, by her close adviser and friend John O'Sullivan (I reviewed it when it first appeared in 2007).

Baroness Thatcher was a great woman, one of the few political leaders to change a country's direction for the better. During the 11 years of her ministry the compound annual growth rate of per capita real national income was 2.5%, compared to just 1.9% during the preceding 11 years of (mainly) Labour governments. She believed in free markets and unleashed a wave of creative destruction that reshaped much of England.

I spent two years in London as a graduate student in the mid-1970s, when the city had a characteristic stink: few had central heating and all the buildings reeked of mildew. Civil servants wore old shirts with frayed collars and smoked their cigarettes down to the stub. Billboards advertised "barley wine" as the drink with the most alcohol for the money. The docklands looked like a post-apocalyptic ruin. When I came back to London as an investment banker in the 1990s, it was a transformed city. The docklands had become prime real estate and the city overflowed with money. Taxi drivers speculated in the real estate market and immigrants from all over Europe flocked to London; there were French bus drivers, Spanish waiters, Portuguese hotel staff, and Polish carpenters. It was a pleasure to hear Jamaican cabdrivers inveigh against the lazy (overwhelmingly white) spongers living on the dole in the Midlands and the north of England, while good jobs went to foreigners.

Last month I stopped briefly in London for business, and found myself hoping that I never would return; it reminds me too much of what might become of us. It is the great capital city of a great nation where the British are entirely marginalized. At the top, Arab and Russian money has turned Knightsbridge and Belgravia and South Kensington into an impossibly priced theme park for absentee owners. At the bottom, what used to be the Cockney London--within earshot of the bells of the Bow Church--has become Little Bengal.