note: One billboard in Britain this election day has Conservative
William Hague drawn with Margaret Thatcher-like hair. The words:
"Be afraid. Be very afraid." And so NRO goes to Ronald Reagan for
a more accurate take on Lady Thatcher from an article the president
wrote in a May 1989 issue of National Review.
ome years ago,
while I was still Governor of California, I was invited to address
a large meeting of business leaders in London. Upon arrival, I met
another American and longtime friend, the late Justin Dart.
The British Conservative Party had just elected Margaret Thatcher
Leader of the Party. She was the first woman to hold that position
and, if the Conservative Party actually won an election, she would
automatically become Prime Minister. That, too, would be a first.
Justin knew the Thatchers and arranged a meeting for me with the
new Party Leader. I shall be forever grateful. We found there were
great areas of agreement on the economy and government's proper
role with regard to the private sector. That first meeting in her
office lasted the better part of an hour and a half.
That evening I was the guest at a reception. One gentleman had learned
of my morning visit and asked: "How did you like our Lady Thatcher?"
I told him how greatly impressed I was and said, "I believe she'd
make a magnificent Prime Minister." He replied, "Oh my dear fellow
a woman Prime Minister?" His tone suggested he believed the
idea unthinkable. I couldn't resist reminding him that "England
had a Queen named Victoria once who did rather well." He said, "By
Jove, I'd forgotten all about that."
Well, Margaret Thatcher has now been Prime Minister of the United
Kingdom for ten years. She is respected by all the Heads of State
and Government who have had any contact with her. She has brought
great improvement in England's economy and returned to private ownership
businesses and industries that had been taken over by government.
It is a remarkable achievement.
Looking back to the late 1970s, we recall it as a depressing period
economically. In America there were gas lines, high inflation, rocketing
interest rates, and some fellow talking about a "malaise." The "misery
index" reached an all-time high. But the situation in Europe, particularly
in Britain, was even worse than our own. What we called the misery
index they called "the British Disease": a combination of zero growth
and high inflation, which in one year reached over 25 percent. Still
worse, after almost forty years of socialism, the habits of inefficiency
on the factory floor and lack of enterprise in the executive suite
had become deeply ingrained. The British spirit of enterprise, which
had transformed half the world in Queen Victoria's day, seemed to
have been put to sleep.
Margaret Thatcher changed all that. She demonstrated two great qualities.
The first was that she had thought seriously about how to revive
the British economy and entered office with a clear set of policies
to do so. She brought down inflation by controlling the money supply,
and she began removing the controls, subsidies, and regulations
that kept business lazy. Her second great quality was the true grit
of a true Brit (or perhaps I should say, of a true-blue Brit). We
both realized that our policies wouldn't solve such deep-rooted
problems overnight. The first effects, in the world recession of
1981-82, were painful. I remember meeting her in Washington at a
time when people in both our countries were calling for a change
of course. She never wavered. And she was proved right by events.
Britain today is enjoying an unprecedented economic recovery
one as long as our own. British businesses, woken from the long
sleep of socialism, are our feisty competitors in world markets.
And, finally, Margaret Thatcher has begun to dismantle the undergirding
of socialism itself by privatizing large nationalized industries
like steel and airlines. Just as I would claim modestly that our
tax cuts of 1981 have stimulated a wave of tax cutting around the
world, so Margaret Thatcher's privatization program has been imitated
as far afield as Turkey and New Zealand. We could do with a little
more of it in the United States.
As a result, Margaret has brought about a resurgence of those things
Great Britain always stood for. Never was this more evident than
in her immediate response when Britain's sovereignty over the Falklands
was challenged. We used our good offices to try to get a peaceful
solution on which all sides could agree. But it was always clear
to me that if such a settlement wasn't available, then the British
would fight. I knew Margaret's strength of determination by then;
others maybe did not.
That determination was never more valuable than when NATO decided
to install intermediate-range missiles in Western Europe to counter
the Soviet SS-20s. I had offered the zero-zero option of withdrawing
the missiles on both sides. Yet when the Soviets refused and walked
out of the Geneva conference, it was we who were denounced as warmongers
by the so-called peace movement. All over Europe the peace marchers
demonstrated to prevent Western missiles from being installed for
their defense, but they were silent about the Soviet missiles targeted
against them! Again, in the face of these demonstrations, Margaret
never wavered. Western Europe stood firm. We installed the missiles
and the Soviets, under the new leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev,
returned to the bargaining table three years later to negotiate
the INF Treaty withdrawing both sets of missiles. I believe that
historians will see that as one of the great turning points in the
postwar world. It could not have been achieved without the endurance
and courage of leaders like Margaret Thatcher. Once again the people
of the "right little, tight little isle" are living those words:
"There'll always be an England / And England shall be free, /
If England means as much to you / As England means to me."
With all her strength, Margaret Thatcher is still a lady. There
is an attractive humanness to her. Our annual "Economic Summits"
are meetings of the seven Heads of government the United
States, Canada, France, Italy, West Germany, Japan, and the United
States. The meetings rotate, with each member country hosting the
Summit in turn. The Head of Government of the host country chairs
A few years ago, when the Summit was in England with Margaret presiding,
a Head of Government who is no longer holding office (and I won't
name him) launched a veritable tirade at the chair. He claimed that
the meeting was not being run in a democratic manner, that the chair
was dictatorial, etc. He gave no illustrations or examples to support
these charges. Margaret let him have his say and then continued
with the business before the meeting. She remained cool and made
no effort to respond to the charges.
When the meeting ended I caught up with Margaret. I told her what
I thought of the charges he had made, that he was really out of
line and had no business or right to do what he'd done. Her quiet
response was, "Women know when men are being childish."
Now I find that I've been using Margaret's first name. I think I
should explain that first names are the rule in our Economic Summits.
It's amazing the difference it makes in sessions of this kind to
be on a first name basis rather than using formal titles. I have
reason to believe this was brought about by Prime Minister Thatcher.
Personal relations matter more in international affairs than the
historians would have us believe. Of course, nations will follow
their overriding interests on the great issues regardless, but there
are many important occasions when the trust built up over several
years of contacts makes a real difference. I found it personally
advantageous to have a friend as well as an ally in Downing Street.
Margaret was always frank and forthright in her dealings with us.
Generally, she and I agreed with each other. I was grateful to have
her moral and material backing when we decided that we would have
to bomb terrorist targets in Libya in order to protect out forces
in Europe and Americans around the world against state-sponsored
terrorism. Whether she agreed or not, however, I knew that her advice
came from someone who was a friend of the American people and who
shared the same basic outlook. We place the same high value on freedom.
We were fortunate in that, sharing the same outlook, we were elected
at time when opportunities were opening up for extending our freedom
to other countries--to many Third World countries, to Afghanistan,
to Eastern Europe, to the Soviet Union itself.
When it was our turn to host the Summit, we decided to hold the
meetings in Williamsburg, Virginia. This is a city that has been
preserved as it was when Virginia was a British colony. It has become
a historical showplace.
Customarily the Economic Summits open with an informal dinner for
just the seven members plus the representative of the European Community.
We held this dinner in what had been the British Governor General's
home. Before general conversation started, I was going to address
Margaret and say, "Margaret, if one of your predecessors had been
a little more clever, you would have been the hostess at this meeting."
Well, I started, "Margaret, if one of your predecessors had been
a little more clever" and that's as far as I got. She quietly
interrupted me and said, "Yes, I know, I would have been hosting
Margaret Thatcher this great lady has not only served her
country well, she has served the free world well. She is truly a
great statesman. So much so that I'll correct what I just said:
She is a great stateswoman holding her own among all the
statesmen of the world.