April 9, 2013
It was perhaps her most famous speech. She had beenBritain’s first female Prime Minister. She had been in residence at No. 10 Downing Street for barely fourteen months. The economy did not look bright. As disorder spread and riots greeted her every move at liberalization and deregulation of the economy, senior leaders of the Conservative Party grew worried.
They began to urge a U-turn in policy. Former Prime Minister Edward Heath, a recognized leader of party moderates--those who were then called Tory “Wets”--led the effort to turn Mrs. Thatcher around. She faced down the old bulls of her party at a dramatic conference in October 1980.
We Americans were absorbed with our own presidential election then. The hapless Jimmy Carter was thrashing about, desperate to avoid the voters’ judgment on his singularly failed administration.
In Britain, though, the iron will of Mrs. Thatcher was being demonstrated. She told the nervous party leaders:
If our people feel that they are part of a great nation and they are prepared to will the means to keep it great, a great nation we shall be, and shall remain. So, what can stop us from achieving this? What then stands in our way? The prospect of another winter of discontent? I suppose it might.
But I prefer to believe that certain lessons have been learnt from experience, that we are coming, slowly, painfully, to an autumn of understanding. And I hope that it will be followed by a winter of common sense. If it is not, we shall not be--diverted from our course.
To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the 'U-turn', I have only one thing to say: "You turn [U-turn] if you want to. The lady's not for turning." I say that not only to you but to our friends overseas and also to those who are not our friends.
“The lady’s not for turning” was a pun on the popular British play, “The Lady’s not for burning.” It was an unusual phrase and it caught on. It signaled the difference between this courageous woman and the timorous men.
Those Wets would always run at the first sign of trouble. Knowing they had weak-kneed men to deal with at Number 10 Downing Street had empowered dangerous Communist-led union bosses. Those bosses knew that if they rioted, banged some heads, and burned a few police cars, the Wets would give way. Not Mrs. Thatcher.
What was seen in Britain in 1980 was practically a dress rehearsal for what President Ronald Reagan would face in America two years later. As the U.S. economy in 1982 struggled, the media howled that Reaganomics was to blame. He should never have given working families and businesses all those tax cuts in 1981. He should never have tried to deregulate the economy. He should content himself--as Nixon and Ford had contented themselves--with wage and price controls or with silly lapel buttons that said:WIN--Whip Inflation Now.
Just in time to save Mrs. Thatcher’s Prime Ministership, the Argentine military junta in 1982 invaded the British Falkland Islands. Margaret Thatcher rallied the nation and dispatched a war fleet to the South Atlantic. No sooner had the fleet sailed than one junior Cabinet minister, a Wet, suggested offering peace terms to the Argentine dictators.
Mrs. Thatcher’s response was said to be “thermonuclear” and we have not heard that young Wet’s name since. The British won the Falklands War in a walkover. When a journalist asked a tough war veteran why make such a fuss over a few thousand British sheep herders on remote rocky crags, the Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer replied: “It’s so we can walk around in the world with our heads up.”
Under the British system, the Prime Minister can ask the Sovereign to dissolve Parliament and call for new elections. Mrs. Thatcher took advantage of her sky-high ratings to ask for an electoral mandate from the voters. She got it--and the rebounding economy in her second term solidified her leadership.
Ronald Reagan, too, was coming off a lightning military victory when he again faced the voters. He had invaded tiny Grenada in 1983 when the Caribbean island nation’s Marxist Prime Minister was assassinated by even more extreme, Cuban-directed Communists. Reagan liberated Grenada and, in so doing, gave dramatic proof the Carter policies that gave us a hollowed-out military, humiliation abroad, and a nation mired in “malaise” were past.
Soon, the U.S.economy, too, took off, helped in no small measure by increased trade with a rebounding United Kingdom. It was said Mrs. Thatcher put the “Great” back in Great Britain.
Facing re-election, President Reagan took his improved prospects in good nature. He winked as the recovery gathered steam and said: “I notice they don’t call it Reaganomics any more.” Asked by a friend what to wear to a Halloween party, he said: “Just put egg on your face and go as a liberal economist.”
Both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher dared to envision a world without Communism. Mrs. Thatcher never tired of pointing out that while you may not like her policies, you were free to vote her out. No one in Eastern Europe, walled in and held back by barbed wire and armed guards, had that opportunity.
President Reagan was the first American leader to address the British House of Commons. He boldly told his audience, even the Tory Wets, even the leftwing Labourites, that Communism “was destined for the ash heap of history.”
A recent Pew poll of Americans showed that young people here prefer socialism to capitalism by a margin of 48% to 46%. This poll is alarming some of their elders. We should not panic over such skewed questions and confused poll results. The fact is the term “capitalism” is Karl Marx’s own pejorative word for free enterprise.
Abraham Lincoln, Marx’s contemporary, never campaigned for capitalism. Instead, he spoke eloquently of “the right to rise.” And as for socialism, Mrs. Thatcher pointed to its inherent flaw: “Pretty soon, you run out of other peoples’ money.”
The Wets eventually ganged up and turned out Mrs. Thatcher. Their names are already forgotten. Their policies will not be emulated. To this day, the names of Thatcher and Reagan are paired as good and great leaders in tumultuous times. Thank God for them.