Monday, April 8, 2013

Did Mrs Thatcher do any good things?

Above all else, today is a terribly sad day for Margaret Thatcher's family, her friends, and all those who feel a sense of loss as a result of her passing. I'm beginning to wonder if the former PM's ideological opponents ought to have restricted themselves to offering personal sympathy and condolences on that basis, because even the most generalised of tributes to her political talents and achievements have been cynically leapt upon by some on the right as 'proof' that she was correct all along.

Another potential approach at a moment like this is to single out one or two specific achievements that we do genuinely admire - for example the saving grace of John Major's premiership was the substantial progress towards peace in Northern Ireland. With Mrs Thatcher it's more challenging to do that, but after a long, hard think, here is my short list of the good things that I think she did.

The resolution of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe crisis in 1980. Many would have expected her to intervene to thwart Mugabe's ascent to power (on anti-communist grounds or whatever), but she correctly allowed the democratic process to run its course.

Standing up for the Falkland islanders' right to self-determination. Whether it was really about that for her is dubious, and the loss of life was utterly horrendous (the equivalent of half the population of the islands), but nevertheless a vitally important principle was affirmed.

The Anglo-Irish Agreement. Again, she probably did this for the wrong reasons - she was seeking security cooperation from Dublin above all else. But nevertheless it was a small signal to the nationalist population that their moderate political representatives could make progress without recourse to bombs or bullets.

Approving a rational HIV awareness campaign. With her social conservative background, many expected her to insist that the government campaign should emphasise sexual abstinence. But she didn't, and probably saved many lives in the process.

Progress towards European unity. This is the most ironic of the lot, but two of the most significant milestones on the road to European integration occurred on Mrs Thatcher's watch - the breaking of the logjam caused by the 'Luxembourg Compromise', and the Single European Act.

Can you think of any others?

8 comments:

  1. James,

    I disagree with you on many things but always enjoy your contributions to Political Betting...

    Thank you for writing a good, measured response on the Thatcher news.

    ReplyDelete
  2. James, not sure any of your examples show the kind of 'over the horizon' view and statesmanship required for accolades such as 'The greatest post war prime minister' guff that is being assigned to her. (Atlee?)

    In fact working under the principle of 'first do no harm' I can think of many better.

    In my view she will go down as the first English Nationalist Prime Minister who thought she was a British Nationalist.

    Her important role being, that once the rubicon was crossed, we have not had a British Nationalist PM since.

    I would say that is exactly why we find ourselves seventeen months from a decision to dissolve the State she believed herself to serve.

    Vote in 2014

    Braco

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  3. That is
    Vote YES! in 2014 (please)

    ReplyDelete
  4. I remember hearing Alex Salmond say that she was a blessing to the SNP. Every time she landed in Scotland to electioneer, his ratings went up.

    I'm sure that, ghastly though it was at the time, her legacy for us will be that she showed, more than anyone else, how different Scotland was from England, or at least from the part of England with which she was most familiar. Conservative England.

    We have much to curse her for, but for that much, we can thank her.

    I take your point though. When I was writing earlier about this I was trying to think of some good that she had done. At least some that she didn't immediately undo, by taking it too far.

    I didn't think hard enough because I agree with your points.

    It is strange that she was prepared to accept Mugabe when she was so set against Mandela, his hero. Although that didn't end too well!

    A lot of what happened in the EU was, I fear, down to the fact that bright though she was (and there can be little doubt of that: she didn't buy her Oxford Double First) she was often outsmarted by Mitterrand and Kohl.

    A negotiated settlement in the Malvinas/Falklands conflict would have saved so many lives, not least the young men on the Belgrano who were sacrificed to even up the numbers.

    I'm inclined to agree with Braco. None of the "good" she did was startling stuff, and in my opinion Atlee was a greater prime minister.

    I think a public funeral of whatever category is probably a mistake, asking as it is, for some sort of demonstration of the loathing in which a fair proportion of the population hold her.

    Had I been her I'd have opted for something very private.



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  5. Attlee in my opinion was the best PM since the war. I have mixed feelings on her death. Didn't agree with a lot of her politics. She was badly briefed by a lot of her inner circle. Those on the receiving end seem to bear grudges to this day to some of her policies. Didn't see outrages when Ted Heath died. She did by all accounts have a good sense of humour away from the public gaze. She died as a old lady with dementia, not a very good way to go.

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  6. Timothy (likes zebras)April 17, 2013 at 3:08 PM

    Thatcher was also responsible for...

    The first use of an overhead projector at Cabinet, when she invited John Houghton to talk to Cabinet about global warming.

    More seriously, whether in response to the Green Party's big vote in the 1989 European elections or not, Thatcher did a lot to curb the use of CFCs, and set up the Hadley Centre on Climate Research at the Met Office.

    Didn't she also have something to do with completing Napolean's work in digging a tunnel to connect Britain to the European Continent?

    ReplyDelete
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