Sunday, 14 April 2013

Tebbit on the Iron Lady

I was in the Visitors' gallery of the House of Lords and saw Norman Tebbit, amongst others, pay their tributes to Margaret Thatcher. Tebbit's speech was remarkable for the level of bitterness it expressed towards those Tories who finally brought her down. In expressing the wish that he had been able to serve in her final cabinet, and so, as he put it, to save Thatcher from her friends, Tebbit hinted at something that has been missing from the recent reactions to her death. It was fascinating to observe the level of protectiveness that Tebbit evidently felt (and still feels) for his leader, but it also indicates how much Thatcher depended on the support of others in what she did, and there has been too much in the recent responses that has suggested that she was the sole architect of massive change. The vilifying that Thatcher has received from commentators on the left has been unwise in its emphasis because it concedes ground to right-wing thought in the assumption that individuals play a massive role. Another of Thatcher's ex-colleagues in this Lords tribute declared that she played an important part in the downfall of the Soviet bloc because she advised the Polish head of state to speak to Lech Walesa: this sort of approach ignores the pre-eminent role of economics and ignores to what an overwhelming extent the Soviet Union collapsed because of its economic weakeness in the late 1980s. Similarly, Thatcher's changes were possible because of wider cultural and economic conditions in her period of power, and far too little has been said, in the recent responses to her death, about the role of monetarist theory in structuring her policies and of its most fervent adherents in her circle - ideologues such as Keith Joseph.
That's not to say, though, that individuals don't make an impact and some, like Thatcher, make a much bigger impact than most. For that reason I'd want to join in the vilification:  in 1979 Britain was the second-most egaltarian country in Europe and we're now we're about eleventh. The changes brought about by Thatcherism (which is bigger than Thatcher the individual) have ensured that no-one from Thatcher's background will be prime minister in the foreseeable future.