Margaret Thatcher knew that capitalism must deliver for the masses

Propping up failure – in the euro and elsewhere – is hardly the recipe for   renewed prosperity.

Friends of Lady Thatcher tend to deplore The Iron Lady, the new film about her   starring Meryl Streep. They do so because they are upset at the portrayal of   a still living person as suffering from dementia. Their feelings do them   credit as friends. As someone who knows her himself, I find bits of the   film, which I have just seen, distressing.

But friends are often the last people to understand how things look in a wider   setting. When the general public (who, for some reason, will not be allowed   to see the film until January) walk into the cinema and watch the Streep   version of Thatcher, I am convinced that they will be moved by the human   story. They will also absorb a most powerful piece of propaganda for   conservatism (though not necessarily Conservatism). One reason it is so   powerful is that it feels uncalculated: it just arises, inescapably, from   the tale it tells. And its lessons apply, pointedly, to the current state of   the Western world.

The message, embodied in the personality of the extraordinary woman depicted,   is that conservatism is a sort of insurrection. We all know the romance of   slave revolts. People wrote great poems about them. Wordsworth, for example,   celebrated the oddly named Toussaint L’Ouverture, who turned his fellow   slaves against their masters in Haiti. But there is romance, too, in the   revolt of the bourgeoisie. The Iron Lady is a sort of poem about the triumph   and tragedy of its leader, Margaret L’Epicière.

The idea behind the drama is the belief, her belief, that the people without   much power – the “workers not the shirkers”, small-businessmen, housewives   (to use a word deployed at that time without embarrassment) – can do great   things if only you let them. They can do greater things than the people who   keep them down.

In 1987, Mrs Thatcher flew to Moscow to meet the Soviet leader Mikhail   Gorbachev. In their famous conversations (not shown in the film), Gorbachev   rounded on her. As she recalled it, “His view was that the British   Conservative Party was the party of the ‘haves’ in Britain and that our   system of ‘bourgeois democracy’ was designed to fool people about who really   controlled the levers of power.” But she hit back: “I explained that what I   was trying to do was to create a society of ‘haves’, not a class of them.”A society of “haves”: that was what trade union reform and privatisation, the   attack on inflation and on government borrowing, and the selling of council   houses and tax cuts were about. That aspiration to possess both liberty and   property was what lay behind the struggles of the Cold War. And it was   because the peoples of Eastern Europe wanted to be part of such a society,   and rejected the system which Gorbachev was trying belatedly to reform, that   they demolished the Berlin Wall and he did not dare stop them.

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Categories: Europe, UK

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