Margaret Thatcher: Failure or Success?

Erica van Wyngaarden
Margaret Thatcher Iron Lady

Mindthis employed three columnists to construct an easy to understand critique of such important political figures. After Leadership in Pink, our focus on women’s leadership now turns to the infamous Margret Thatcher.  This article starts with our Director of International Affairs, Erica van Wyngaarden’s opinion of Margaret Thatcher and onward to Wafik Zaibak with an ongoing commentary by yours truly. I hope you enjoy reading this experiment as much as we did writing it.



Margaret Thatcher – A True Leader

As an international relations student and lover of British politics, I was thrilled to be in the United Kingdom in time for the opening of “The Iron Lady”. The movie depicts the life and career of the Baroness Margaret Thatcher with a particular focus on her current battle with Alzheimer’s. Rather than write a movie review, the film inspired Mindthis to reflect on the enormous impact Margaret Thatcher has made in politics.

As the first female British Prime Minister and leader of a major British political party, she is an inspiration for women and men in politics internationally. However, to reflect purely on her role as solely a woman in politics is rather cliché and contradictory to the very reasons which made this mandate remarkable. Thus, there are two things one can take away from both this movie and the remarkable career of Margaret Thatcher.

Margaret Thatcher Iron Lady

A Rust-Free Legacy for Margaret Thatcher

First, she demonstrated the courage and determination to act which makes a politician remarkable. Margaret Thatcher chose to run not to be the first female PM or leader of the Conservative Party, but to take action when others in her party could not. It is a rare occurrence to witness the level of accomplishments and action which Margaret Thatcher achieved. By far, my favourite quotes identify this and how this has changed today: “[politics] used to be about trying to do something. Now it’s about trying to be someone”. From the Falkland Islands, resilient labour and union negotiations, dangerous political climates with increasing IRA tensions, two recessions, and a vote against joining the Euro, Margaret Thatcher’s legacy is one to be admired given the economic turmoil and enormous social, political, and demographic changes during her mandate.

Second, Margaret Thatcher, while it was not her main goal, continues to exemplify the battle women in places of authority and politics face. ‘The Iron Lady’ strongly shows this, with Margaret Thatcher retorting to questions of her running for leader: “with all due respect, sir, I have done battle every single day of my life and many men have underestimated me before. This lot seem bound to do the same, but they will rue the day.” The tools she used, such as lowering ones voice and altering ones appearance, are now common practice and are effectively used by both men and women in milieus of politics, public speaking, and debated.

Margaret Thatcher Time

However, ‘the Iron Lady’ and Margaret Thatcher’s career show that, which the Guardian concurs, concisely states, “women are still caught between two worlds, and are often left tentative, talented, yet not entirely confident as to how to proceed”.

Margaret Thatcher’s impact is not about gender, rather admiring and reflecting upon someone who is willing to take action where others would and could not in order to achieve change and political action.

I agree with Erica as Margaret Thatcher’s role in setting the stage for women such as Hilary Clinton and Christine Lagarde is undeniable. However, If we take a step back and look at her performance with key economic variables it all points to one word: failure.

Wafik Zaibak a student of philosophy with a passion for finance in the historical context will justify such a bold claim. We must strip out any right wing spin and deflate any emotion we feel for Margret Thatcher when critically assess whether she made ‘Great Britain” great again.

Margaret Thatcher Was Uncompromisingly Disastrous

“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope”.

It is with those same words from Saint Francis of Assisi’s prayer that Margaret Thatcher heralded her eleven year reign that would bring about the popular capitalist revolution that inspired much of the new right movement in the 1980’s. Her policies of busting striking unions, lowering taxes, privatizations and deregulation of the financial system are still idolized by the right wing movement to whom she made Britain “great again”. The fact that films, television series and documentaries about her time in office are still in high demand demonstrates the public’s perception that she was pivotal in changing the economic and political paradigm in Britain and to a significant extent the rest of the western world.

Margaret Thatcher Unemployment Rate

Financial Crisis not that bad eh?

Margaret Thatcher Did Not Lead, She Followed

Her role as the precursor to smaller government and the results of her legacy, however, is still debated to this day. The first steps of changing the British economy were not started by Thatcher but by her predecessor the socialist labour leader James Callaghan and his finance minister Dennis Healey. Callaghan introduced a significant austerity plan as part of an IMF bailout in 1976, which reduced government spending. His industrial polices also signaled a shift when the government changed the way state-run companies were run, more in accordance with market principles than central planning.

Moreover, the Labour government started selling shares in government-owned corporations such as British Petroleum. Looking at those policy changes it could be said that Thatcherism, in economic terms, was not a revolution but a more radical continuation of the work of her predecessor. Margaret Thatcher’s experiment with monetarism and the rapid pace of its application to the British economy would come at a huge social cost to the country and at the time seriously put the conservative management of the economy into question.

More Debt, Poor Children, Killed Income Levels, Inflation out of Control

Margaret Thatcher RegretsThe Conservative Party promised to put the British economy back on track; however, within a year of getting elected inflation soared from 11.4% in June 1979 to 21% in June of 1980. Within a few years, unemployment also soared to more than three million people. When she took power in 1979 public debt  stood at £88.5 billion, when she left office in 1990 it was at £151.9 billion.

Another revealing statistics is the rate of bankruptcies, in 1979 there were 3,500 bankruptcies in Britain, and in 1990 that number jumped to 13,987 bankruptcies with an average increase of 40% every year. The heaviest price paid for by Thatcherism was not entirely economic but social. Crime rate doubled during the 1980’s. In 1979 there was one in nine children living in poverty in the United Kingdom. By 1990 that ratio would be one in three, the highest in the developed world. The percentage of the population living below 50% of median income, after housing costs, jumped from 6% in 1979 to 14% in 1990. After factoring our right wing fantasies it is clear her economic legacy was filled with results her supporters should denounce not idealize.

I recommend you to read The Death of the True Fiscal Conservative for more understanding of this topic.