Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Meaning of Margaret Thatcher

For many people of conservative temperament, it looked in the late 1970s as though Britain were ready to surrender all that it stood for: its pride, its enterprise, its ideals of freedom and citizenship, even its borders and its national defence. The country seemed to be wallowing in collective guilt feelings, reinforced by a growing culture of dependency. For politicians on the left 'patriotism' had become a dirty word, more or less synonymous with 'racism'. For politicians on the right, nothing seemed to matter, save the rush to be a part of the new Europe, whose markets would protect us from the worst effects of post-war stagnation. The national interest had been displaced by vested interests: by the unions, the establishments, and the 'captains of industry'.

The situation was especially discouraging for conservatives. For Edward Heath, their nominal leader, believed that to govern is to surrender: we were to surrender the economy to the managers, the education system to the socialists and sovereignty to Europe. The old guard of the Tory Party largely agreed with him, and had joined in the scapegoating of Enoch Powell, the only one among them who had publicly dissented from the post-war consensus. In the bleak years of the seventies, when a culture of repudiation spread through the universities and the opinion-forming elites, it seemed that there was no way back to the great country that had successfully defended our civilisation in two world wars.
Then, in the midst of our discouragement, Margaret Thatcher appeared, as though by a miracle, at the head of the Conservative Party. I well remember the joy that spread through the University of London, where I was teaching.