Britain in 1979 was the sick man of Europe. Militant trade unions controlled the country, overthrowing successive governments. General strikes made life miserable. Britons suffered through a “winter of discontent” with power cuts, transport strikes and trash piled up in the streets. Inflation as high as 21% wiped out the savings of people who had scrimped and saved their entire lives.
This is the context that’s been missing in discussions of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy, and one that’s provided by Always Right by Niall Ferguson. In this Kindle single, he shows how the benefit of hindsight has diminished our view of Thatcher’s achievements.
As Thatcher stated before taking the job of Prime Minister in 1979, “My job is to keep Britain from going red.”
This was a real danger. I did a study-abroad program in London in the mid-80s. As part of the class, we visited a Labour MP in Parliament. After he got done insulting us as spoiled rich kids, he shared his aim of imposing socialism across the country. Real socialism, not the Obama kind, but a political system where the government controls where you live, what you do and how much you make. The Soviet Union was held up as a model to emulate.
It’s hard to believe but millions of people shared this belief.
Thatcher was right, of course, and they were wrong. And the elite classes of England hate her for it, to this day. Despite being the most famous graduate of Oxford, the university never gave her an honorary degree. The middle-class grocer’s daughter is not one of us…
We’re fortunate to live in a better time. As bad as things are, it’s not 1979. Always Right is a look back, without the benefit of hindsight, at the parlous era and the Iron Lady who changed it.