The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Iron Lady Had Class

Baroness Margaret Thatcher, who became leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1979, and held both positions until forced from office by an in-party coup in 1990, passed away on Monday, April 8th, 2013. In the days since her passing, leftist politicians and media commentators, progressive bloggers, union leaders, student activists and other leftist riff-raff have been celebrating, rejoicing, partying, and basically making a loud, crude, rude public spectacle of themselves. The song, “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead”, from the 1939 MGM musical-movie version of The Wizard of Oz even made it onto the singles charts due to their efforts. By carrying on in this fashion, the Left has demonstrated the truth of what I have long said about such radical ilk – that those who believe in a classless society have no class.

Lady Thatcher herself, had class.  Sadly, the same cannot be said of all of her supporters.  It saddened me to hear one of her admirers, a media personality in my own country, speak of Britain’s traditional “class society” with the same sneer in his voice that one ordinarily associates with Marxists.   The man in question is no Marxist.  I often agree with what he says, and I agreed with most of what he had to say about the rudeness and ignorance of Lady Thatcher’s detractors and in defence of her ideas and policies.   Yet for some bizarre reason, he chose to turn the death of the great lady into an opportunity for class warfare.

Yes, class warfare.  That is exactly what the talking head in question would have called it, if a union representative, leftist academic, or Marxist politician were to attack the entrepreneurial, business, or middle classes in the name of the manual labour classes or the poor.   He would have been right, too.   Marxists, however, are not the only ones to engage in class warfare.

This man rightly praised Margaret Thatcher as a champion of liberty, economic freedom, and democracy.   She was all that.  He also was correct in saying that she attained the leadership of the Conservative Party and accomplished all that she did in her years in power against the opposition, not only of the Labour Party, but of many of the leaders of her own party.   He insisted, however, on making this into a matter of class differences.   Margaret Thatcher, nee Roberts, was of middle class origins, a grocer’s daughter, whereas traditionally, the leadership of the Conservative Party had been drawn from the upper classes.   The opposition she met from within the ranks of the Conservative leadership, he maintained, was due to snobbery on the part of Tory aristocrats, whereas her success as Primer Minister was due to virtues that arose out of her middle class background.   While there is some truth to both of these assertions, the contempt for the upper classes that was dripping from every word displayed a remarkable affinity with the spirit of socialism.  Lady Thatcher herself, on occasion, had said that sometimes members of the upper classes were susceptible to sympathy with socialism due to misguided guilt over wealth they had inherited rather than obtained through work and entrepreneurship.  Unlike a certain broadcaster, she remained classy in saying so, and did not try to make the upper classes into a scapegoat.   She believed socialism to be bad for all classes of society, and economic liberty to be good for all classes of society.

The media commentator that I am referring to wished to emphasize the differences between Margaret Thatcher and the traditional Tories that he dubbed “the far right” – differences in class, training, and ideas.   While these differences were there, they were perhaps not as large or as significant as some people might think.   In her memoirs Lady Thatcher wrote that “both by instinct and upbringing I was always a ‘true blue’ Conservative.” (1)   She seems to have been speaking both of her party affiliation and personal philosophy.  With regards to the latter, she was both a conservative and a liberal.  A conservative is someone who believes in and defends his community, society, and country, their social, political, and cultural institutions, and the traditions which uphold those institutions.   A liberal is someone who believes in the abstract ideals of individual rights and liberty, the free market, and democracy to the extent that it is consistent with liberty.    While the latter are the set of ideas with which she was most often identified, at least by her North American admirers, she was also a classical conservative.   Consider her treatment of the subject of human rights in the chapter entitled “Human Rights and Wrongs” in her book Statecraft.  She started out by pointing to the religious origin of the idea that “an individual human being has a moral value in his or her own right”, then briefly described how the English concept of rights and liberties had organically evolved over centuries, so that “the English-speaking peoples’ conception of human rights is one that has an institutional context and is the fruit of a living tradition”.  This she contrasts with the “tendency to generalize about natural or human rights which predate and are not contingent upon specific laws” which produces the paradox that “the more ambitious and far-reaching natural rights are taken to be, the more likely it is that in the end liberties are going to be lost”, as is evidenced by the French Revolution.   Therefore it is clear that “the guarantees offered to individuals by habit, accumulated tradition and the common law were a great deal sounder than ‘democratic’ principles applied by demagogues.”  This is a clear enunciation of classical conservative thought. (2)  

Was liberalism more predominant in Lady Thatcher’s philosophy than conservatism, or the other way around?   The quotations in the previous paragraph would suggest that conservatism was predominant, as would her statement elsewhere in the chapter quoted from, that for her “duties precede rights”.  Her oft-quoted remark that “there is no such thing as society” would suggest that liberalism was predominant. (3) 

Ultimately, the answer to the question is not important.  Margaret Thatcher was the right person to lead the United Kingdom because she was both a conservative and a liberal, for at the time Great Britain was threatened, both domestically and abroad, by socialism, the common enemy of both conservatism and liberalism.  Liberals are opposed to socialism because it is an inefficient economic model and because they see it as a threat to individual liberty that leads inevitably to tyranny.   Conservatives are opposed to socialism because of its revolutionary and utopian nature and its threat to things such as property, order, and social institutions.  

The socialism that was killing Great Britain in the 1970s, had its roots in the 1940s, in the Second World War.   Great Britain had emerged from that conflict a victor in the limited sense that the enemy she had set out to defeat, Nazi Germany, had thankfully been vanquished.   Her victory, however, was in many ways a Pyrrhic victory.   The price she paid, for her triumph over Hitler, was her empire, and her place as the leading power of the Western world.   This outcome had been orchestrated by the egomaniacal socialist who was then President of the United States of America, the wartime ally that was to succeed her as the primary power of the free world.   Meanwhile, the country whose liberty she had entered the war to protect, Poland, was swallowed up along with the rest of Eastern Europe, by the Soviet Union, with whom Britain and the United States had been forced to make a wartime alliance in order to bring down the Third Reich.   The territory controlled by the Soviet Union, arguably a greater evil than Nazi Germany, was greatly expanded as a result of the war, and shortly after the war Communism triumphed in China and began to spread throughout Asia as well.
If Communism had grown through World War II to become the international threat that it was during the Cold War, domestic socialism was an outcome of the war in the UK as well.  The Conservative Party had been in power, under the leadership of Neville Chamberlain at the beginning of the war.  Sir Winston Churchill took over as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister from Chamberlain in 1940 and led Britain through to the end of the war, at the head of a coalition government.   In the general election in 1945, however, he was unceremoniously thrown out of office when the election returned a landslide victory to the Labour Party, and Clement Attlee became Prime Minister.   Margaret Thatcher, who would have been twenty years old at the time, recorded her thoughts on this outcome: “I simply could not understand how the electorate could do this to Churchill…At the time I felt that the British electorate’s treatment of the man who more than anyone else secured their liberty was shameful.” (4)

What was the reason for the Labour victory?  Duff Cooper believed that it was a response to the policy of appeasement Chamberlain had practiced prior to the outbreak of war.   Evelyn Waugh believed it was due to the obsequious fawning over Stalin and the Soviet Union by the wartime government.  Anthony Burgess was of the opinion that the British soldier, tired of war, yearning for home and family,  voted en masse to turn out of office the man who wished to keep them deployed for years after the war, to defend against the Soviet threat. (5)

Perhaps it was a little of all of these.  Clement Attlee, however, believed that it was do to widespread popular approbation of his socialist ideas.   He did not hesitate to bring in a broad range of sweeping changes.  He nationalized the canals and railroads, the telecommunications services, the coal and steel industries, and the electricity and power companies.   He expanded the social safety net established by the Disraeli Conservatives in the 19th Century into a massive and expensive Welfare State.  These policies predictably produced exactly that which they were designed to combat – misery.  At a time when Britain was staggering under the debt from the recent war, the Labour Party made things worse by vastly increasing the cost of government, placing a huge tax burden on an economy that was less able to bear that burden due to socialist inefficiency.   The ineffectiveness of the government at administering the industries it had taken over combined with the Attlee government’s maintaining of war rationing well into peacetime brought about shortages and a decrease in the quality of goods produced.  All of this was brilliantly satirized by Wyndham Lewis in a collection of short stories entitled Rotting Hill. (6)

Unfortunately, the belief that the Labour landslide was due to the popular appeal of socialism was shared by the leaders of the Conservative Party. In 1947, they put out a paper declaring their support for the Attlee innovations, and, against the accumulating evidence that these policies were doing more harm than good, maintained that support for most of the next three decades. Historians call this the Post-War Consensus, and Margaret Thatcher dubbed the Conservative leaders who maintained that consensus, “Wet Tories”. Individual Conservatives occasionally spoke out against the Party’s odious policy of providing an echo rather than a choice. The most noteworthy of these was Enoch Powell, the former professor of classical Greek who had become an officer during the war and had returned to take up a career in Conservative politics. Powell, a High Tory who defended the political, social, cultural, and religious institutions of Great Britain on the basis of prescriptive authority, used his eloquence to oppose leftist plans to democratize the House of Lords, to champion free market and monetarist reforms against socialism and the Post-War Consensus, to challenge liberal immigration policies, and to speak out, on the grounds of national independence and sovereignty, against Britain’s joining the European Common Market. The Conservative leadership refused to act on any of these ideas, however, and Powell’s uncompromising stand alienated him from his own Party.

Meanwhile, socialism continued to have a deleterious effect on Great Britain.  Government spending continued to grow, and, unsurprisingly, so did inflation.  Unemployment, which many of the Attlee programs had been intended to prevent, began to rise.   Realizing that Britain was facing an economic crisis, James Callaghan, who in 1976 had succeeded Harold Wilson as leader of the Labour Party, and Prime Minister, attempted to control inflation through caps on pay raises and found himself in conflict with the Trades Union Congress.   This conflict erupted into strikes in the winter of 1978-79.  Things got so bad, that commentators, borrowing a phrase from the opening monologue of Shakespeare’s Richard III, bestowed upon that winter the sobriquet “the Winter of Discontent”.  

That was the last winter of Labour government for almost two decades.  Margaret Thatcher had become leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, and had broken with the Post-War Consensus, calling for free market reforms.   In the general election of 1979, the Conservative Party won a majority and Margaret Thatcher was summoned to Buckingham Palace where Queen Elizabeth II invited her to form the next government.

The rest is history.   As Prime Minister, she introduced monetarist policies to combat inflation, set out to promote economic growth through deregulation and free market reforms, cut government expenditures, and privatized industries that should never have been nationalized in the first place.  She declared war on the unions, with the purpose of breaking their power, derived from the threat of nation-crippling strikes, to dictate terms to Parliament .  Furthermore, she stuck to her guns.  It took time for the benefits of her reforms to become apparent and in the meantime progressives sought to pin the blame on Thatcher and her economic liberalism for every slightest bit of human suffering they could dig up in Britain.   The reforms worked however.  Inflation went down, and eventually, as the economy grew, unemployment went down too.   She succeeded in breaking the power of the unions as well.

In the international theatre, she helped bring about an end to the forty-year Cold War, by standing with American President Ronald Reagan against the oppression and aggression of Communism.   Progressive intellectuals will, of course, deny that the policies of Thatcher and Reagan had anything to do with the Soviets suddenly becoming more reasonable and the collapse of Communism in Russia, preferring to give the credit, if to anyone, to Mikhail Gorbachev, but as these are the same bloody fool idiots who could not see the terror famines, show trials, Gulag concentration camps, the utter misery of the masses, the persecution of the faithful, and other countless Soviet atrocities going on in their precious workers Paradise through the Potemkin villages, until forced to by the testimony of men like Solzhenitsyn, their opinion is worthless.

By the strength Lady Thatcher displayed in conflicts – whether with Communism abroad in the Cold War, with socialists and unions at home, or with Argentina in the 1982 war over the Falkland Islands, she well earned her nickname the Iron Lady.   Whatever else may be said for and against economic liberalism, her economic policies repaired much of the damage done by three decades of socialism.   She was a champion of democracy, but of democracy grounded in a living tradition, and she was also a supporter of Britain’s other traditional institutions, notably saying with regards to the continuing relevancy of the monarchy that those who imagine that a politician would make a better figurehead than a hereditary monarch might perhaps make the acquaintance of more politicians.”   Her virtues were such that she won over the support of such hardnosed, traditional High Tory critics as Enoch Powell and Peregrine Worsthorne, who had been highly critical of her in her early years in office, but who wrote and spoke in defense of her in her unsuccessful struggle to retain her leadership of the Conservative Party in 1990.   She displayed the traditional virtues of loyalty, gratitude and honour, against a sea of progressive criticism and hatred, when she came to the assistance of General Pinochet, a man whose support had been invaluable to Great Britain during the Falklands War,  after his 1998 arrest during a visit to Britain. (7)

She was a classy lady and she will be missed. May she rest in peace.

(1) Margaret Thatcher, The Path To Power (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995) p. 28. This is her second volume of memoirs, although the events recorded within it take place prior to those in the first volume, The Downing Street Years, which was published in 1993.

(2) Margaret Thatcher, Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002), pp. 250-254. In the sentence after the last one quoted, Lady Thatcher quotes from Edmund Burke, the “father of conservatism”.

(3) The conservative view of society and the individual was expressed by Enoch Powell in a 1992 interview with Naim Attallah thus “Society is in the end normative, and politics is about the management and governance of a society. Society is prior (in a logical sense) to the individual; the individual in the last resort is an abstraction. Nobody has ever met an individual, we didn’t start as individuals, we don’t live as individuals, we only know ourselves as members of a collectivity.” (

(4) The Path To Power, p. 46.

(5) For Cooper and Waugh’s views, see Christopher Sykes Evelyn Waugh: A Biography (London: Penguin, 1975, 1977), p. 446. For Anthony Burgess’ views see Little Wilson and Big God: The First Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess (London: Vintage, 1987)

(6) Wyndham Lewis, Rotting Hill (London: Methuen, 1951)

(7) For her own account of this action, see Statecraft, p. 267-274.

1 comment:

  1. Actually we gave up our empire to the USA in 1914 when we went to war with our ally and protestant neighbour.