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Celebrating the Iron Lady

One reason for the limited output of bloggage from some of us tonight was that several of us went to an extremely well attended party. This was hosted by the Adam Smith Institute in order to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the start of the Thatcher Revolution. The event at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London.

It is easy today to look back and scoff at what went wrong in those days, but those of us who lived through the steady economic and social collapse wrought by the likes of Jim Callaghan, Harold Wilson and Ted Heath, I have no hesitation describing what Thatcher presided over, which was nothing less than turning the tide of socialism, as a glorious revolution.

We are older and wiser now and all too aware of the missed opportunities and wrong turns of that era, but credit where credit is due. The future could have been very much darker indeed without Margaret Thatcher.

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Update: More pictures on the Adam Smith Institute blog

33 comments to Celebrating the Iron Lady

  • Matt W.

    She stopped socialism during her term as PM…but it doesn’t seem to have helped much, at least from what I read, and what is said on this blog, it only seemed to delay…well not the inevitable, but what all the intelligentsia had been gunning for. I don’t know, seems the celebration would be pretty bittersweet.

  • Does not seem to have helped much? You need to get out more. Top taxation is not at 98%, Marxist unions are not strangling the country and vast areas of the state owned economy have been privatised. We do indeed write about where things are going badly wrong here on Samizdata.net but please, a little proportion is needed… there is simply no comparision with the dire state of Britain circa 1978.

  • Hear, hear. The comparison is to the alternative to Thatcher, not to some imaginary, non-existent, utopian scenario. The options were, more socialism, more of the go-along-with-decline Toryism, or the nearly miraculous appearance of Mrs. Thatcher. She did as much as she could, and that was plenty. Thank God for her.

    On this point, see this terrific review essay from the Claremont Review, Interests Have Consequences, Too, by Gerard Alexander (which reviews Just in Time: Inside the Thatcher Revolution, by John Hoskyns; Keith Joseph, by Andrew Denham and Mark Garnett; and Friedrich Hayek: A Biography, by Alan Ebenstein).

  • I will raise a beer to toast her 25th anniversary tonight. Alas, there’s been no one like her in power in Australia… maybe one day.

  • Johanthan Pearce

    Nicely put, Perry. Against a utopian benchmark, no politician will ever satisfy. By the standards of Western pols, Maggie is a giant. She saved this country, it is as simple as that.

    I read that the old girl is a lot better and sparkier these days after he illness and loss of Sir Denis. Good on her.

  • Sorry I was under the weather and couldn’t make it. Looks like a good time.

    I was talking to someone the other day about Thatcher, who said: “Frankly, any libertarian who isn’t a Thatcherite is living on the moon. It’s like rejecting 99.9 per cent of the pie because you want the lot.”

  • I think it is a great mistake to identify libertarianism so strongly with Thatcherism. Libertarianism is a penetrating critique of government and the state per se not just of particular policies and Mrs. Thatcher was a power politician par excellence. She made some significant changes in the right direction it is true but don’t let yourselves be so easily bowled over. Libertarians should shine the light of unsparing criticism on all who presume to wield political power. We can do so much better than waste time worshipping false idols.

  • Verity

    Yes, Jonathan, it was very cheering to hear she is on the mend after a terrible, terrible year for her.

    It is wonderful, too, that she is getting these tributes during her lifetime and not 20 years after she has died. She did indeed save Britain, and she is indeed a giant.

  • A really good night was had by all. Cheers to the ASI for holding such a great event. It was almost as good as a blogger bash.

    Three cheers for dear ole’ Maggie!

  • Verity

    Hip, hip!

  • Cobden Bright

    Thatcher is not to be admired as a libertarian per se, but rather as an arch-destroyer of socialism and the worst excesses of statism. In the latter regard she did a hell of a lot, and that should be rightly commended.

    However, let us not overlook her faults. Firstly, and most importantly, she did nothing to ensure liberty and small government beyond her period in office. She left no permanent alterations of the institutions responsible for socialism & statism for the 70+ years before she came to power. Thus the UK still has no protection against this, unlike say the US where the constitution, whilst not perfect, has definitely done a lot to preserve liberties for American citizens against the grasp of politicians such as Roosevelt. It is no good having a Thatcher for a decade if it is then followed by 10 years of Blair, 10 years of Brown, and then 10 years of god knows what awful creature the Labour party can throw up.

    Secondly, Thatcher unwittingly dealt a heavy blow to liberty by capitulating to Brussels and taking us into the heart of Europe. This was a catastrophic blunder (which she herself admits) and has undone and will continue to undo a good proportion of her reforms. Ghastly contraptions like the EU constitution are now a possible threat, whose adoption would have been unthinkable in the 1980s.

    Third, she failed to reduce the burden of taxation or government spending. Spending as a % of GDP was pretty much the same (actually a bit higher IIRC) at the end of her tenure as at the beginning. This is a failure by any standards, for someone whose life’s mission was to reduce the role of the state in society. The Scargills were driven out, but the Guardianistas, the Boatengs, and their ilk became stronger than ever. Thatcher bashed the obvious enemy, but lost the long game in this respect, as seen by the current dominance of Blair and the New Labourites.

    Finally, Thatcher made virtually no social reforms in favour of liberty at all. She was basically an extreme social conservative, and passed anti-liberty horrors such as the PACE act. Drugs policy got much harsher than under previous governments, pornography was intercepted more frequently, inevitable reforms on sexual liberty were delayed due to her. Furthermore, her legacy encouraged disasters such as the Criminal Justice Act passed under Michael Howard.

    Economic liberty, whilst important, is not the only liberty. Thatcher made some great reforms, and rescued the UK from economic disaster, but she was by no means a libertarian. She also made major blunders in social and European policy, which were very harmful to liberty in Britain.

    Overall I think she was, as Lexington Green puts it, far better than the realistic alternatives. She did do many things in favour of economic liberty. But I agree with Paul Coulam that someone who presumes to wield political power ought to be judged on a higher standard than being “not as bad as the other moron”. Their merits relative to the opposition may be of interest when discussing how to vote, but are of little importance when assessing their contribution in isolation. There is a school of libertarian thought which says we should be grateful for whatever scraps the political system throws at us, but I find this to be a snivelling and defeatish attitude, which sows the seeds of compromise and eventual disastrous capitulation.

    Overall, I would say that Thatcher is largely responsible for the economic improvement of Britain now compared to in the 70s. Furthermore, she inspired similar reforms around the world, for the benefit of all. That is a huge positive change. But looking at the bigger picture, did she really roll back the tide of statism for the long term? I would say definitely not. Government spending and overall taxation is now higher as a percentage than in 1979. Social liberty has only progressed since 1979 due to reforms made under Labour and various left wing institutions, and in many areas has taken a step back. So let’s keep things in perspective – Thatcher did one thing (smashing socialism) very well indeed. She made almost no contribution to liberty in any other area, and in many respects set things back. So I’ll raise a glass to her tonight, but it’ll only be the one.

  • I agree with Paul that celebrating Thatcher is only tangentally anything to do with what he correctly describes as the libertarian ‘penetrating critique of government and the state’. Nevertheless, the victories won over a toxic socialist infection in the 1980′s is indeed something worth celebrating.

    The world has moved on and we are fighting different enemies now, both within and without… yet some of those enemies are in fact the same ones wearing a different mask, and so remembering that they can be defeated is not such a bad thing. I have no problem sharing a room with people with whom I share enemies, but I am also well aware that many of those people are rather selective in their attatchment to real liberty and I like to think I see than for what they are, and are not.

  • Cobden Bright really is a clever fellow. An excellent analysis of the Thatcher era.

    I do not mean to appear critical of the ASI which does a splendid job and has achieved a great many advances and victories in the battle for liberty. Working in the way they do requires that they engage in diplomatic outreach to the ruling classes. I am in favour of any strategic approaches towards liberty that seem to work. Of course there is nothing wrong in sharing a room with or going to parties with politicians, we can only hope to move in the right direction by engaging them and others in discussion. What I am saying is that we shouldn’t be so bowled over that we suspend our critical faculties and fall into the trap of glorifying them. My comment was only a cautionary note against getting carried away.

  • David Gillies

    I remember vividly the news that Margaret Thatcher had been elected PM. I was nine years old and at prep school. Miss Mills, one of the formidable ladies who helped ‘Sister’ (Matron, basically) came bursting into the dormitory at 7 a.m. shouting, ‘the Conservatives have won! The Conservatives have won!’ Much relief all round, especially from the staff who quite realistically feared for their livelihoods. Had Labour won the 1979 election then, as pledged in their manifesto, private education would likely have been outlawed. It was this threat, which even at that tender age I could see was a monstrous affront to liberty, that started my hatred of socialism.

    Had the Conservatives lost in 1979, I am sure that their inevitable rise to power would have only been delayed a bit. But the situation was so dire at this point that even a few more years of the evil (and I use that word deliberately) that was Labour in the 70′s might well have put the country beyond recovery. I’m well aware of the adage that there’s a gret deal of ruin in a nation, but the mad antics of the Left had brought us close to the brink. Looking back now, when I consider the vast strides that the average Briton has made in personal prosperity, it scarcely seems real. “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven.”

    Slightly changing the subject: why is it that these right-wing/libertarian gatherings always attract the prettiest girls? P. J. O’Rourke (PBUH) had the theory that they flock to the side that’s winning. If so, very good omen.

  • ragged trousered misanthropist

    The women at that meeting certainly explode my attractiveness=political idiocy theory. The one with the fat boy who can’t tie his tie is particularly stunning.

  • Kit Taylor

    Thatcher’s social anti-libertarianism was really quite damaging, as it cemented the association in many people’s minds of economic liberalism with puritanism and mean-mindedness. Natural allies in the “Leave me alone I’m not hurting anyone” constituency were lost to the socdems.

    Thanks to her it is still, quite astonishingly, illegal to sell hardcore pornography via mail order, hardcore itself only becoming legal a few years ago.

  • Kit Taylor

    I’m reminded of Sean Gabb’s article on the censorship of entertainent, reprinted here.

    In 1977 the Callaghan Government appointed a Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship…”to review the laws concerning obscenity, indecency and violence in publications, displays and entertainments in England and Wales…The result was one of the clearest and most liberal state papers of modern times.

    The paper recommended abolishing censorship of consensual adult activity provding some modest controls were introduced to prevent offence to the general public. Nothing terribly radical as this was what most of the rest of Europe had been doing for some years. Nearly three decades down the line and we’re still behind the mainland.

    “But the Thatcher Government, which came to power almost immediately after publication of the Williams Report, did little to bring about its suggested reforms. It did implement those that, by themselves, tended to further control. There was the Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981 – brought in by Tim Sainsbury, but given Government support. This obliged sex shops to black out their windows, to prevent access to young persons, and to warn all other customers of what lay behind the blackened windows. There was a provision in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. This empowered local authorities to license sex shops and similar premises. The effect of this was to allow total suppression in some areas, where Councils just would not grant licences. Where there was not suppression, there was often tight restriction. Of course, not demand, but only competition, was reduced; and the remaining shops were able to profit enormously from the closure of their rivals.”

    *sigh*

  • Euan Gray

    Natural allies in the “Leave me alone I’m not hurting anyone” constituency were lost to the socdems

    But in practical politics, you get this choice – economic liberalism with social conservatism, or social liberalism with economic interference. Now you could also have everything restricted with the Socialist Workers Party or whatever they call themselves this week, or everything unrestricted with…er…ok, in theory you could have this.

    However, the last two choices don’t seem to be exactly popular with the electorate or any significant minority thereof – not even in the Land of the Free ™. Pragmatically, since you can’t do much of anything without a functioning economy, the conclusion is plain – vote Conservative and with luck you’ll have the cash to indulge your lifestyle.

    I find myself compelled to agree with Paul in that Thatcher could not be described as libertarian. Then again, the essence of Conservatism is not libertarian anyway. I doubt if the Tories are going to turn libertarian any time soon, partly because it’s not really in their tradition and partly because they would see it as a vote loser (and a big one at that). Start advocating things like privatising the police and flogging off the navy to the highest bidder and see how the electorate treat you – you will be seen, rightly or wrongly, as the “loony libertarian right” and will vie with the Communists for record low votes. I’m sure it’s possible to get a Conservative government and steer it much closer to libertarianism or minarchism, but I doubt very much you could do this and still carry enough of the people with you.

    IMO, Thatcher had the balance about right, bar one or two strategic errors in European policy.

    EG

  • Kit Taylor

    Hmm, the link doesn’t seem to have worked.

    http://www.melonfarmers.co.uk/nptory.htm

  • Euan Gray

    Thanks to her it is still, quite astonishingly, illegal to sell hardcore pornography via mail order

    I’m amazed anyone actually still pays money for the stuff when you can get any amount of it free on the internet? Er, allegedly.

    EG

  • ragged trousered misanthropist: Yes, she is very attractive indeed, but Frank’s tie is just fine and he is not particularly fat.

  • Leftist unions blocking one of the greatest country of Western Europe and sending it straight to the bottom of the Third World guest list, lines in front of the shops and rats in the streets of London, among other festivities.

    Yet it would appear that she put and end to that and set the country back to the lead of prosperity – while incidentally my country, just on the other side of the channel kept sinking slowly – just for some to complain that they can’t get hardcore porn by mail?

    If it urges you that much guys, why don’t you just fly to France?

    If the planes, trains, buses and roads aren’t blocked by strikes, and if the print and press delivery staffs are indeed printing and delivering, you’ll get all the filth your heart desire.

    ‘course, when I say ‘heart’…

  • Dan McWiggins

    You British do some mad, bad and dangerous things. However, it appears that in the real pinch your Island luck always brings you through. How else to explain the appearance of Elizabeth I, Chatham, Churchill and Thatcher JUST when you needed them. God may not be an Englishman…but if he isn’t, then He’s definitely a Scot!

    Yes, I’ll gladly hoist a glass to Lady Thatcher and sing a verse of “Rule Britannia” as well. I don’t expect to see the United States have a better friend in my lifetime. May we never again need one so badly as we did her then. The evil fortune that has come on the Conservative Party since they so sleazily dumped that marvelous woman is nothing more than karmic retribution. She deserved much, much better than that.

    We all owe her and Ronald Reagan a great debt for their courage in adversity. I remember what it looked like in the late 70′s under Carter and Callaghan. There was a sense that the West was failing, not so much because of the Communists but due to its own internal contradictions. What we desperately needed was inspirational, courageous leadership, and those two provided it in spades. What else could explain such vicious, violent, froth-mouthed vituperation from their enemies? Celebrate her while you can. It will probably be a long time before we see her like again.

  • Verity

    David – Nice story. But: Had the Conservatives lost in 1979, I am sure that their inevitable rise to power would have only been delayed a bit.

    Hmmm. I’m not so sure. Because I am not so sure, with the fascist lefty mindset of the time, that there would have been regular elections thenceforth. I have a feeling that a “national emergency” might have been employed to delay holding elections.

    I actually feared that Blair was going to try to pull something like this off – because he is so rigidly certain that he is the only person qualified to be the head of British government, and that his ideas have to be set in concrete whether the electorate likes it or not. I emailed a friend after Blair had been in for around six months and he and the Tsarina had already began to coil themselves around ancient British liberties and start squeezing the life out of our body politic (as in curtailment of freedom of speech) that I betted Blair would find a way to postpone the next election.

    I still think it was his ambitions in Europe and his desire not to be seen as too Hitlerian on the continent which deterred him from trying.

  • David Gillies

    Verity – I’m reluctant to go that far. I think the really pernicious thing that New Labour has done is to enervate the democratic process so that while we may still have elections, so much of their power to choose those who make our laws (and what those laws should be) has been eroded by statutory instruments emanating from bureaucrats both foreign and domestic.

  • Verity

    David – I take your point, and I did say this idea entered my head six months after Blair got into office the first time and had begun acting like Louis the Sun King with his little levées and soirées.

    By the time the next election rolled round, I agree, he’d got a handle on how to whack electoral dissent around the head and shoulders (by means of the blunt instruments of the EU and his deeply insulting “consitutional reforms”) without resorting to anything too dramatic.

    That they have enervated the electoral process, as you correctly say, David, is now working against them, as the British are getting their appetite up for a fight and they don’t want to have to pick their way through a thicket of cottonwool third way platitudes to get to the bits that are relevant to them.

    In terms of the late departed ‘Friends’, Blair is Big Tenty Guy. Millennium Domey guy. S-o-o-o not now guy …

  • Reid

    I second Dan’s sentiments. I also believe we Americans have been blessed with having George W. Bush arrive when he did and, by so close a margin. There can hardly be any doubt that, had Albert Gore been elected President, we would still be negotiating with the corrupt UN… to invade Afghanistan! And, that a good many more mega-terror attacks would have occurred while we dithered.

    Anyway, God bless Lady Thatcher and God bless the Anglosphere.

  • Shawn

    Euan wrote: “Start advocating things like privatising the police and flogging off the navy to the highest bidder and see how the electorate treat you”

    Since when are either of these libertarian polcies?

    Anarchist policies sure, but not libertarian.

  • DSpears

    Strictly speaking it is fundamentally against pure Libertarian principles to deify any politician. As an American I view the American ideal of embodied in the Constitution as something that has somewhat successfully wheathered the string of mediocrities, thinly disguised tyrants and plain crooks who have occupied the White House and the halls of Congress, not flourished because of them.

    The compromises inherent in getting elected by a popular majority will inevitably mean that no politician can be completely embody everything we want from them. They will always disappoint us if we set ourselves up this way. Remember, at their heart they are all politicians, a profession I have little respect for.

    I can fantasize for a moment that if Reagan for instance had had full discretion (i.e., didn’t have to shove everything through a hostile congress) that his 8 years would have ended with everything I wanted from my government (or even less!). But of course that would mean he would have been a virtual dictator, which is bad even if the dictator enacts all policies which you would agree with.

    In short if history really does depend on the right person being in the right elected office at the right time, eventually we are all doomed.

  • Wild Pegasus

    God save the Baroness.

    - Josh

  • i wish her dead. i am sorry, that may appear extreme but she killed this country in terms of its ability to exist as a manufacturing nation and yet she created a belief amongst the (previously) working classes of empowerment that lead to teacher beatings and the rise of the chavs. my spirits will be lifted enormously when she breathes her last breath

  • So Jez, are you saying that it was only Thatcher that caused the mining, shipbuilding, aviation and car manufacturing industries to be uncompetitive dinosaurs? If Thatcher had not come around, the UK and not Korea, would be the shipbuilding centre of the world? Was it Thatcher, rather than the the insane nationalisations of the 1970′s that gutted the UK’s aero industry? Are you of the view that it made economic sence to have the vast numbers of coal mines that existed in the UK before Thatcher?

    If you indeed do think those things, please explain why. and while you are at it, please also explain why the per capita GDP is so much higher since the decline of UK manufacturing.