James Heywood (Communications Director, Magdalen) is an undergraduate reading History.
“Your postscript,” wrote the young Margaret Roberts in response to an invitation to join Oxford University Socialist Club, “presses me to buy The Oxford Socialist at fourpence a copy. Unfortunately we still live under a competitive system, and my party’s newspaper only costs me threepence.” Even in her university days at OUCA, our esteemed Ex-President had already grasped the common sense ideas which she would one day use to transform the lives of millions of us.
To dwell too long on her biography would be superfluous. It has long since passed into national legend. But the grammar school girl from Grantham, who caught the political bug at Oxford and went on to take the British establishment by storm, was far more than just an exceptional Prime Minister. She was the mother of modern Britain. The Britain we know and inhabit today was nurtured and guided by her for more than a decade, and it emerged from the Thatcher era a country reborn, revitalised, and capable of handling itself properly in the wider world. As is often the case, many of her children have rebelled against her legacy, and seek to make light of her achievements. Others among us appreciate and love her loyally, as any dutiful parent deserves.
By 1979, Britain had lost its prosperity and its pride. In the playground of the global stage, we were ‘that kid’; slightly smelly with no friends, thick glasses and a permanent cold, comically plump from an insatiable appetite for public spending and constantly laughed at and bullied by everyone else - even the French. The outdated doctrines of the Left were tripping us up all the time. Then along came Maggie. She picked us up, dusted us off and told us to pull ourselves together.
With her guidance, we threw off the socialist yoke and embraced the free market. We learned to put our trust in the ability of our own people to create wealth, to thrive and to flourish. She taught us that we could be grown ups, we could make decisions about our own lives and wellbeing for ourselves, without the government telling us what to do. We could own our own home, we could choose our own airlines, electricity suppliers and telephone networks, and we could keep more of our own money and spend it how we wanted. She taught us that the best way to deal with bullies, like Galtieri, was to stand up to them and take them head on. If we had the will and the nous, we could look after ourselves just fine. Those nasty trade unions that kept beating us up and stealing our lunch money, that had been left to do whatever damage they liked by both Conservative and Labour governments in the ‘70s, were soon shown who was in charge when they tried to mess with Mrs Thatcher.
She weaned us off the government spending on which we had been feeding for so long, poisoning our system with that unhealthy cycle of spending and borrowing. She was not willing to simply subsidise industries which were costing more than they were making, purely for the sake of maintaining a handful of jobs. Why on earth should she give sweets to the naughty children who did badly in class, whilst the productive ones in rising service sectors were punished with regulation and ridiculous levels of taxation? For Maggie, that just wasn’t fair. In place of such idiocy, she taught us sound finance and the importance of avoiding debt (something which, looking at the figures, President Reagan across the pond seems not to have appreciated in the same way.)
These are lessons which some, like the adolescent rebels on the Left, would have us discard. For them, Mother was simply wrong. Indeed, she represents everything that is wrong about the way things have been these past few decades. But like the classic rebellious teenager, perhaps one day they will realise just what she was talking about. They haven’t, like her, experienced the result of profligacy, economic interventionism and social micro-management. They don’t know what it is like to have to budget, to make a living, to be responsible. They could ride on a wave of global prosperity in the Blair years, but look what happened as soon as times became hard again and all the money was gone. It is the solemn responsibility of the Conservative Party to remember these lessons we were taught. To remember that we can stand up for ourselves, that we can think for ourselves, that we can pay our way in the world and that it is our duty to do so. In the 1980s, Britain grew up. We should be building on the maturity Mrs Thatcher imparted to us, not reacting against it.
That is what she means to me. The woman we buried in April loved Great Britain dearly, and dedicated her life to it. She was, like all parents, certainly not flawless. But she is a part of who we are. Like it or not, Margaret Thatcher was the mother of us all. This country, this Party, and this Association, are orphaned by her passing.