Margaret Thatcher actually stood for something

John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — Margaret Thatcher, the British Conservative Prime Minister, between 1979-1990, was a Revolutionary.

As the first female Prime Minister she emerged as a truly transformational figure both on the domestic and foreign front and soon challenged the entrenched interests with a stance that promoted freedom and economic liberty. She stood on principle and thus became a lighting rod for the continuing scorn of the collectivist left and the former Soviet Union who dubbed her “The Iron Lady.” She died at 87 in London.
In 1979 when her Conservative Party was voted into office in an electoral landslide, Britain was the “Sick Man of Europe.” Thatcher inherited a Britain in decline; economically, militarily and psychologically, not unlike the USA at the time.

She would soon turn the tide through a resolute belief not only in her philosophical values but the courage and conviction to pursue them. She stood for something, and would righteously and often controversially push forward to achieve the freedom agenda whether it would be against Britain’s paralyzing trade union powers, standing up to the Soviet Union, or defending the remote Falkland Islands from an Argentine invasion.

Not unlike today, the world was mired in moral relativism and a political log-jam.

Nicholas Jones, longtime BBC labor correspondent opined, “Margaret Thatcher’s demolition job on the industrial might of the British trade union movement helped generate an economic revolution.” During the 1970’s, strikes paralyzed the country. By the end of her premiership in 1990, stoppages had dwindled to a fraction.

Later her “popular capitalism” movement saw the sale of lumbering state-owned industries and the shift of 900,000 jobs to the private sector. A million often run-down “Council Housing” units were sold to their inhabitants who became homeowners and thus had a personal stake in the survival of their neighborhoods. Her policies fostered entrepreneurialism and the opportunity it creates versus socialist stagnation.

Gerry Grimstone, formerly in charge of privatization told the BBC, that firms like British Airways, British Telecom and Jaguar were taken from the government sector as a start. He recalls, “Britain was a very, very socialist country.”

Nothing was stronger than the revived special transatlantic relationship with the U.S. and President Ronald Reagan, her philosophical soul mate. As committed disciples of economic freedom and global liberty, both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan challenged the lurking dragons of entrenched interests and then thawed the permafrost of the Cold War.

In 1979 the geopolitical chessboard in Central Europe appeared locked. But a Polish Pope John Paul II had been elected, and would soon unexpectedly challenge the Soviet bloc and their local rulers with a philosophical and religious challenge which would emerge as a political movement for freedom throughout the East Bloc.

Radek Sikorski, Poland’s Foreign Minister who himself lived in Britain during Warsaw’s communist rule opined, “For those behind the Iron Curtain, she was a member of the anti-communist ‘Holy Trinity’ consisting of John Paul II, Ronald Reagan and herself,” who changed the fate of the West.

Her role in opposing the Soviet imperium in Eastern Europe earned her a nickname from the Russians, “The Iron Lady.” Mrs. Thatcher wore the title proudly.

Half a world away in the depths of the South Atlantic, she was confronted by another challenge; the unprovoked Argentine invasion of the British Falkland Islands in 1982.

The unfolding of the Falkland Conflict was a diplomatic and military showdown in slow motion. Against most advice, Thatcher decided to fight back and send a Royal Navy task force 8,000 miles away to confront the Argentines. I recall the UN deliberations at the time where diplomacy ticked on while the Task Force plowed the waves into the South Atlantic. Britain retook the islands; my column headlined, “The Empire Strikes Back.”

The deal over the fate and future of Hong Kong was another matter. Deng Xiaoping’s reformist China was pressing for a return of the British Crown Colony to Chinese sovereignty. A 1984 agreement saw Mrs. Thatcher agree to the formal end of British rule in 1997 but with the important legal caveat for the preservation of the former Colony’s freedoms and way of life for another fifty years.

Her UN speeches had an uplifting and magisterial tone not unlike Ronald Reagan’s. Her eleven year tenure at 10 Downing Street left an extraordinary legacy.

In an age where statesmanship and leadership is so sadly lacking. In a period where principle is bent on the anvil of moral relativism. And, in a time of unexceptional popular culture, her saga is inspiring.

Lady Thatcher, the grocer’s daughter, will have an unprecedented state funeral not seen since the passing of Sir Winston Churchill. This is most fitting.

Margaret Thatcher put the Great back in Britain.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for

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