Thursday, 13 January 2011
Not for turning
I’ve been busy catching up with some of the things I’ve missed over the New Year break. My people have been jolly decent, compiling a little archive of clippings, news items that they knew I would be interested in. One of the more important is information about Baroness Thatcher’s period in government, all contained in official papers released under the thirty year rule by the National Archive at the end of December.
There are really no great surprises, I suppose. Opposition to her economic policies came as much from within her own ranks as without. The most revealing document is a wittering eleven page memorandum – lecture might be a better word- from Harold Macmillan, a former prime minister whose antediluvian politics might best be described as old fashioned Tory guilt, warning that her tough stand on monetary policy – this was a time when inflation was running in double figures – would lead to a “constant recession.” He goes on to berate her for abandoning “consensus politics”, in other words the lazy thinking that had done so much to undermine this country since 1945. Her actions, as he saw it, were “against the essence of Tory democracy.”
The best riposte to this silly meandering came years later when Baroness Thatcher published her post-premiership memoirs. “What great cause”, she asked, “would have been fought and won under the banner ‘I stand for consensus’?” Indeed. But Macmillan, though doddering and long out of power, was still an influential figure within the Conservative Party, which made her task all the harder, opposition to change coming even from within the government itself from an intellectually impotent old guard.
It has to be a matter of some celebration that she was neither Macmillan nor Heath, his unhappy protégé; she knew what was necessary and had enough Churchillian courage to proceed regardless. Within a few years inflation had come down from twenty-seven to four per cent, putting the country on the path of sustained economic recovery, not artificially fuelled by taxation and public spending of the Macmillan variety. The lady truly was not for turning.
The documents also reveal her admiration for President Reagan, written off in 1980 as stupid by so many of her advisors. Within a few years he was to show himself a figure of commanding political stature, in my estimation one of the great presidents, standing even among the greatest. The partnership between the President and the Premier was in large measure responsible for the spring time of the people, a revolution that swept communism away from Eastern Europe. In the end that will surely stand as the greatest achievement of all.