15 February 2007

America's Favorite Prime Minister

Using the hook of a new statue of Baroness Thatcher about to be unveiled in the House of Commons, the Daily Mail has a very nice article about Mrs. Thatcher's life today. Unfortunately, like her friend Ronald Reagan, Mrs. Thatcher is losing the battle with old age and reportedly has no short term memory. Even worse, she is unsure of her place in British history and in the hearts of her countrymen. Everyone agrees, though, that Americans love her.

The comments are as interesting as the article. The Americans who comment -- true to form -- love her. The Brits are split between those who think she single-handedly saved the country (or, rather, postponed the apocalypse) and those who think she was the apocalypse. If the comments are representative, and my impression is that they are, it seems that the Brits have not come to terms with Thatcherism as we Yanks have come to terms with Reaganism. To use a cliche, Reagan changed the American paradigm. The British, or at least some of them, think that it would be possible to go backwards and reverse Mrs. Thatcher's works.


M Ali said...

Outside of the Socialist Worker's Party, nobody thinks having heavy state ownership of industry or 90% taxes is viable. Even Ken Livingstone, former arch-leftist and current mayor of London, and Liverpool's city council would bemuse the time-travelling 80s anti-Thatcherite with how tame they were.

The conflict against the left was a lot tougher here because it had been the ruling orthodoxy for so long and unions were far more politically powerful. The collapse of British industry in the 80s is also laid at Thatcher's feet although it would probably have happened even if a Labour government was in.

Additionally Thatcher didn't have anything of Reagan's endearing likability and friendliness. She was popular because of her policies but there doesn't seem to be much in the way of genuine warmth towards her like there was for Churchill.

Brit said...

Your analysis is correct, and so is M Ali's.

Politically, 'Blatcherism' is all but universally accepted. But personally, Thatcher is much more divisive. This is because:

1) she cultivated a ridiculous phoney royal accent, complete with royal 'we'...
2) ...and people love the Queen, and Thatcher is like the dark anti-queen
3) she had an astonishing ego
4) she had much more personal power than Reagan, which she sometimes wielded heavy-handedly
5) she was absolutely necessary, and this truth is still painful.

Having said that, there is an argument that says the most interesting thing about Thatcher is that she is not a man.

David said...

Brit: From an American perspective, one of the dangers of the British constitution, when tied together with modern politics, is that there is no limit on centralization. My impression is that more and more all aspects of British life are being run from London (except in Scotland) and that Margaret Thatcher bears a lot of responsibility for this trend.

M Ali: Isn't it true that old Labour is still there, toothless for the last few general elections, but just biding its time?

David said...

Part of what I was trying to say is that, in American, Reagan just isn't that controversial any more. Thatcher is still controversial.

M Ali said...

Numerous Old Labourites have tried to form groupings of their own but they haven't lasted. Blair himself was only pushed out because Gordon Brown was in the wings. Nobody believes in socialism any more. Old Labour is dead, not resting.

There was a lot of economic pain associated with Thatcher's early years, riots and massive strikes. America under Reagan had a much smoother time. It helps that the country never took to leftist progressivism like the British ruling classes did.

Hey Skipper said...

I lived in England from shortly after Thatcher became prime minister through 1984, and then again from 1988-1992.

The difference between the two periods was no less than that between night and day.

Brit said...


Yes and no. She is no longer controversial in the sense that nobody wants to go back to how it was before her and rule by Trade Union. She left the next generation much better off.

But she left a lot of scars on a particular generation and from an individual perspective lives were genuinely ruined, so agreeing on whether the short term pain was worth the long term benefits will depend on who and where you happened to be in the early and mid 80s.