The passing of Margaret Thatcher will cause much debate and argument as regards her legacy. She has always been a person who brought out the strongest of opinions in even the meekest of people. She would have been proud of that to a large extent as she never shied away from an argument or from a decision.
There is no doubt that she was a formidable woman. She was certainly one of the most able politicians of the last 50 years irrespective of whether you agreed with her or not. She knew how to win elections, she knew how to play politics. For those of a right wing perspective she will always remain a hero. Over the course of a decade she smashed socialism within the UK. She championed right wing policy and the idea of free markets fearlessly. She led her country through the Falklands war and did so determinedly.
This was not a Prime Minister to be messed with. She was also a product of her times. The cold war world was one that was deeply split along the left/right divide with both sides going to extremes in order to prove their ideology. Thatcher and Regan could both rejoice at the fall of their old enemy Communism, where its leaders had tried so hard to prove an extremist left wing position that their people eventually could take no more. However, some of those old communists might also have a smug smile in recent times as eventually the right wing extremism of Thatcher and Regan would see many western populations suffering and their policies questioned. It was a time when politicians felt that they had to talk and act tough. Compromise of any sort was seen as a weakness.
Margaret Thatcher did achieve much in her career. She viewed her role purely through the prism of economics. From that point of view she helped to stabilise matters in the early ‘80s and to lead Britain through tough recession. Ironically one of the main reasons she achieved this was through, raising taxes and also having a 90% tax on oil extraction from the North Sea, neither of these policies seemed in line with her ideology but they were necessary. She took over a country that had become accustomed to a lack of competitiveness and inefficiency. She completely reformed the state sector and her policy of privatisation led to much greater efficiency in the British Economy. All of this came at a price however. She was not one to try negotiating or changing over time she was more of a sledge hammer than a surgeon’s blade. The pace of reform caused problems even for the private sector and customers.
Thatcher produced one of the most divided societies in the world. While some policies may have looked good on a macro level she brought untold misery to many families in Britain. Certain sections would benefit, but working class Britain was hit hard, she destroyed many services and cut funding in many areas that was to Britain’s disadvantage in the long term. The policy of deregulation and free markets was something that attracted business and encouraged investment in the short term, however as the world began to follow suit the effects of government backing off in such areas as banking are now being felt. Unemployment was higher in Britain in the 80’s and 90’s than it ever was in the 50’s or 60’s. Thatcher may have briefly halted the rise in Government Spending but she did not really reduce it and that was a particular failure. The same economies that followed her thinking suffered worst in the financial crisis and now carry huge deficits.
In Ireland, Margaret Thatcher will mostly be remembered for her intransigence. She showed absolutely no understanding of the issues in Northern Ireland and was one of the most divisive figures ever to appear in Anglo Irish relations. Her policies not only caused more pain and suffering but they also prolonged the conflict in Northern Ireland and led to even further loss of life. It is no surprise that it was only after her departure when John Major took a far more pragmatic view, that peace became a genuine hope in Ireland.
If Thatcher was to be admired for something it should be that she was clear about what she wanted to do and never hid from it, that she was decisive and strong. She was, however, far too attached to an ideology. She was completely unable to understand alternate view points. She seemed to have an innate fear of changing tack or seeming weak. This meant that she was completely unable to empathise with many of those that her policies hurt, at home and abroad. The good that her policies did was lost in the havoc caused by the means of getting them through.
Her name will spark debate all over the world. Love her or hate her, Margaret Thatcher was a politician and a leader that will never be forgotten.