As I write this I am on a plane returning from London. I’ve spent the first part of the flight reading the British newspapers about the passing of Margaret Thatcher who died yesterday at the age of 87. As I am sure most of you know, Mrs. Thatcher was the Conservative Prime Minister of Britain from 1979 to 1990. She was one of the longest serving Prime Ministers in British history and during her premiership she saw the end of the dominance of the British labour unions, the privatization of British national companies, survived a bombing by the IRA that killed five people in an English hotel, won the Falklands War, and helped bring about the end of the Cold War and the Soviet Union.
I lived in England for three years during the mid-1980’s – almost in the middle of her term of leadership – so I had a chance to see “Thatcherism” first hand. There were two things about Mrs. Thatcher that have always stuck with me in addition to her political outlook (which, I admit, I agreed with her on almost all of her points and actions).
Foremost was her projection of confidence and conviction. Mrs. Thatcher seemed to know what she believed and what her course of action must be. I use the word “projection” in the first sentence of this paragraph after reading today’s articles and commentaries that told while she always put on a public persona of confidence those close to her said that she often had doubts. I can say that, as one of the British public at that time, she never showed any signs of wavering. In fact, her determination was often cited as one of her greatest weaknesses by her critics.
It can be argued that this type of conviction politics has gotten us into the political impasse that we are suffering in the US today. But I admire someone who makes a determination as to the right way forward and continues on that path until empirical evidence shows that it was the wrong course of action and then makes the modifications necessary to obtain the ultimate goal. To translate into today’s politics: believe in something and do it but if it doesn’t work, modify. If you can’t make people see your point of view on the budget bill change your stance to work with others but keep moving towards the greater good.
The second memory of my Thatcher years was the feeling around Britain as its businesses and industries began to privatize and start to compete in the global market. When I first arrived in England I felt that the business world was very insular and inward looking. I arrived and started a business there just as new technologies (personal computers!) and markets were being developed. You could almost feel the metaphorical shutters being flung open and small businesses starting to have a spring in their step.
This was a time of shrinking government, liberalized work practices, lowered taxes, and encouraged competition. Small businesses began to flourish and my fellow businessmen felt that they could control their own destinies. It is something that I think our current government has started to forget. Less regulation (without sacrificing the safety of the public) provides economic stimulus. Lady Thatcher knew this, believed this, and lived this.
Margaret Thatcher (1925 – 2013) RIP