Yesterday Dan O’Doherty sent me a link to this contemporary piece by Richard Stone of Margaret Thatcher. Impeccable, upright, and with a glare that conceals the pent-up rage of middle England. This is Thatcher after her defeat of General Galtieri, in her Gloriana Imperatrix days.
Thatcher was a creature of the Tory right. For her and many others in the Conservative party, the post-war ‘settlement’ was never properly settled. Mounting concerns about trade unionism, inflation and nationalisation, had been steadily provoking Conservative society. The Right looked back with nostalgia to the otherwise much maligned 1930s, before Macmillan, before Atlee and before the devastation of Churchill’s 1945 defeat.
With the end of the post-war boom in the early 1970s, the failure of the Philips Curve, and levels of strike activity not seen since the General Strike, the Right broke ranks. Keith Joseph was the first senior politician to go over the top, publicly repudiating Conservative policy. Margaret Thatcher challenged Edward Heath and in Powell’s words, “didn’t funk it.”
When the new Prime Minister quoted St.Francis of Assisi on the steps of downing street, it was only partly a last-minute PR stunt. It was also a perfect evocation of what Thatcherism was about. To Thatcher and her acolytes, agencies of society were failing to function normally. Trade unions were interfering in the political sphere with undemocratic and unjust consequences. Nationalisation was interfering in business decisions to the detriment of competition and productivity. And the State was interfering in the market with damaging consequences for work incentives. Collectivist ideology was destroying conservative society, and Thatcher’s task was to reinstate societal order and harmony.
As such, Milton Freidman was off the mark when he said that Thatcher was not a Tory. On the contrary, Thatcherism was a profound expression of Conservatism. Sharp, erudite, female, and Conservative, Thatcher was the left’s worst enemy.
It is ironic to say the least that Gordon Brown, a Labour Prime Minister, should pay homage to the Tory right by hanging a personally commissioned portrait of Thatcher in Downing Street. What kind of man, who owes his career to the Labour movement, choses to commission a painting of Margaret Thatcher instead of Harold Wilson or Clement Atlee?
It was the Labour party that paid for Brown’s subscription, Labour activists who campaigned for him, Labour voters who elected him, and the Labour Party that promoted him to public office. Now he poses for the cameras with Margaret Thatcher.
Thatcher was indeed a ‘conviction politician’. Brown should learn from her example.