Six years and two days ago, our greatest postwar Prime Minister passed away. To remember her, I’d like to take you back a few years, to 1979. Envisage the following:
You wake up in the morning and you turn on your light, powered by government monopoly electricity, powered itself by government monopoly coal. For breakfast, you put your egg into a pan of water – government produced water of course, and you would heat it on the hob using government monopoly gas. Perhaps the state monopoly phone would ring, that’s if you were lucky enough to get one. Because it did take three months to get one installed, and you would then proceed to take your children to school in your state monopoly bus, or indeed your state monopoly produced car, which of course ran on state petrol, and was made of state steel and you would probably give a cheery wave on your way to the state refuse collectors. In other words, before you’ve even got to work in your state industry, the state has absolutely monopolised your morning, and indeed your entire work. Except of course so many were on strike in 1979, it is quite probable that there would be no work to go to in any case.
We were running make-believe industries. They were outdated, over staffed and declining. It cost more to mine coal in Yorkshire and to take it to Newcastle than it cost to mine it in Australia, ship it around the world and then take it to Newcastle. Yet, domestic industries remained, propped up by billions in subsidies. These industries were consuming wealth, not producing it.
Thatcher changed all this.
Yes, you could say that the speed and brutality with which she eradicated these industries without investing in viable alternatives led to rapid deskilling of entire areas of Britain, leading to long term unemployment, lowering aspirations, educational attainment and so forth. And this is an important point to address because the socioeconomic consequences of her policies were in some areas undeniable.
The declining industries had to be changed. However, one should blame what it was that caused that need for change. The years and years of neglect, and abuse, and centralism – don’t blame the medicine that made the country stand on its feet again. There was only one person with the guts and conviction to haul the nation from its supine position as the sick man of Europe, and that was Mrs Thatcher. Preceding her there was just a culture of control from the centre and steady decline, there was no social mobility, no prospects for the working class, it was an economy for the few, run by politicians, by officials, and, by toffs.
In 1979 there were 340,000 shareholders in the UK. The city traders wore top hats, it was run by a network of old boys. But by 1989, thanks to a privatisation program which gave differential shares to the general public, there were 9 million shareholders, she turned the country into a nation of share owners. That’s more than the number of union members in 1979.
And then there was of course the housing revolution. Mrs Thatcher sold over two million houses to the people who lived in them, who were tenants of the state. Even labour councillors bought the houses because it was such a good deal. It was the biggest transfer in wealth that this country had seen since Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1536. And state employees themselves set up businesses using the capital of their homes. This was, in no uncertain terms, a working-class revolution.
You see, she recognised that immortal maxim, best articulated by Adam Smith in book 3 of the Wealth of Nations.
“Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice: all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things”.
She embodied the Anglo-Saxon liberalism of which we should be so proud.
Her philosophy had at its core the ancient English values and virtues she learnt from her father, an honest village grocer. Thatcherism is a creed of freedom in its purest sense. It was also one of unswerving patriotism – seen most clearly through her decision to launch a task force to reclaim the Falkland Islands, when so many suggested she let the Argentinian junta’s aggression stand.