The recent death of Margaret Thatcher made me think back to the time when I first became involved in politics.
I joined the Conservative Party in 1979, the year Mrs Thatcher became Prime Minister. For those of us with long memories, or are old enough to remember, I can readily recall the “Winter of Discontent” in 1978/9 when the then Prime Minister Jim Callaghan declared “trouble, what trouble?” when he returned from an overseas trip to mountains of rubbish uncollected, bodies not buried and so many on strike.
22 million working days were lost due to strikes that year. So much of the economy was run by the state. Telephones were run by the Post Office and all airlines were run by the state. Much of car manufacturing was state owned. In fact I recall the old saying that you should only buy a car made on a Wednesday, as the quality made on other days was so poor. The country was run by the unions. We were truly the “sick man” of Europe.
Across Europe there was still the Iron Curtain. You only had to look at the relative prosperity of West Berlin, versus the poverty of East Berlin, to see why so many wanted to escape to a life in the west. The Russians dubbed her the Iron Lady as she stood shoulder to shoulder with Ronald Reagan and Lech Walesa against the decrepit Communist bloc.
We forget that Arthur Scargill led the miners strike without ever calling a ballot. Never once, in the yearlong dispute of 1984/5, did he call a ballot; so much so, that a large number broke away to form an independent miners union.
Then Mrs Thatcher changed the whole face of life in this country. She made the unions call a ballot before strike action. Suddenly the silent majority of union members had a voice and realised they didn’t have to do what the union barons told them. They didn’t have to go on strike. By comparison, last year less than half a million working days were lost due to strikes.
Mrs Thatcher allowed tenants to buy their council houses; she privatised the telephones and created British Telecom, giving it freedom to serve customers what they wanted. Can you ever imagine the telecoms industry today if it were still part of the state? The same is true of the airlines. Imagine there would be no cheap travel, if the airlines were still run by the state.
Mrs Thatcher shifted the whole emphasis, the whole centre of gravity, towards the centre ground; towards giving people the opportunity to flourish and grow and develop, as they wanted, not as the state dictated.
Indeed Margaret Thatcher laid the whole foundations for Tony Blair’s New Labour. He said last week that Margaret Thatcher was a “towering global figure” and he told USAToday:
"When I came to power in 1997, some of the things that would have been difficult for me had, in a sense, been put in a framework that made it easier – things like trade union reform, privatizing some of the old state industries, some issues around taxation and so on. I was then able to do what I was doing in health and education and welfare and employment because there had been certain foundations laid."
Like it or not Margaret Thatcher laid the foundations for so much of how we live today.
That’s why I was appalled that the current Labour Council in Ealing would not lower the flag over the Town Hall to half mast and it was shameful that they would not allow a minute’s silence at the Full Council meeting, the day before her funeral
And that’s why I went and stood with the crowds to pay my last respects at the Iron Lady’s funeral.