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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Thatcher’s conservative legacy remains unclear

Published: April 12, 2013
Section: Opinions, Top Stories

Now that the Iron Lady has passed away, the latest controversial debate centers on whether or not she played a negative or positive role. Margaret Thatcher died on Monday at the Ritz Hotel from a stroke after a long history of dementia and other health issues. Her ceremonial funeral will take place April 17 at Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

According to a Guardian/ICM poll carried out on the afternoon of the former Prime Minister’s death, 50 percent deemed her career good, 34 percent bad, 5 percent didn’t know, and 11 percent claimed she was neither good nor bad. The issue is that Margaret Thatcher thrived on conflict, and since she governed her country with an iron fist, she inevitably made some enemies pursuing what she thought would serve her country best.

She entered Parliament in 1979, and her governing strategy came to be known as Thatcherism. It involved a supply-side economics system that attempted to instill a free market economy in Britain. She lowered taxes, privatized state industries, limited the money supply, and restrained trade unions. While this may have stirred growth in the economy, it is said to have devastated industrial workers.

Lowering taxes allows individuals, and especially wealthy, upper class individuals, to take money that would have gone to the government and invest it in the economy, thus promoting activity.

Privatizing state industries is a form of laissez-faire thinking that pulls government out of the economic sector of the economy and allows businesses to function on their own. With less government regulation, buyers and sellers control prices. There is more competition between companies resulting in lower prices and more productivity. Less bank regulation gives them more leeway on how to move money.

Thatcher’s monetarism led her to restrict the amount of money in circulation, therefore slowing inflation. While the upper class may have agreed with her, some argued there wasn’t enough money in circulation for the working class individuals to survive on.

In her attempt to instill a free market economy upon Britain, Thatcher also fought violently against the trade unions. The most notable instance was the miner’s strike where Thatcher refused to give in to the worker’s demands, eventually costing the economy 1.5 billion pounds, 150 coal mines, and thousands of jobs. Without the support of unions, industrial workers did not have anyone to stand up for their rights. Industries could pay their employees low wages without fear of government regulation. Many workers lost their wages and their jobs as unemployment soared, leaving communities devastated. So, while the economy as a whole might have improved, Thatcher destroyed individuals, families and communities in her capitalist economy.

I wouldn’t consider Margaret Thatcher Britain’s savior, but nor would I consider her its downfall. No political theory is the absolutely correct solution to any problem because there will always be some negative side effects. Her policies can be construed as positive or negative depending on the perspective from which one views them; however, Margaret Thatcher should be commemorated for more than just her statutes. She was the first and only female British Prime minister, and regardless of whether she advanced women’s causes, she put the female stamp on the position, marking women’s potential in modern society.

Thatcher was even more remarkable for her conviction and strength of character. She was known as the Iron Lady because she believed in her views and worked unwaveringly to push them through. I think it’s better to be a controversial politician who gets things done than a weak one who cannot accomplish anything.

As Richard Nixon said, “If an individual wants to be a leader and isn’t controversial, that means he never stood for anything.” She was controversial, but maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. The problem with democracy is that it allows everyone to express his own opinion. While it may be important to not dismiss one’s opponents, when everyone has a different way to solve the problem, no one accomplishes anything. It takes a strong leader to take matters into her own hands and forge ahead because even though her strategies did not have perfect results, she had to start fixing the problem somewhere, and somewhere is better than nowhere. The world admired her for the care she had for her people and the tremendous zeal she showed in improving the country of England for those individuals.