The Welfare State We're In, The website of the book by James Bartholomew
July 18, 2005
Lest we forget what Thatcher did

In France, children are taught that the Battle of Trafalgar was inconclusive and that the British admiral was killed. In Britain, of course, we are told something rather different, that it was one of our greatest naval triumphs.

History is not just a series of facts but an interpretation of them. Quite often there is considerable disagreement. [A new book called ] Margaret Thatcher's Revolution is a cavalry charge by loyalists in the battle over how her time in office should be seen. It is a bold assertion that the Iron Lady made Britain a better place than it was before.

Yes, she had her flops.

State education probably got worse. Reforms of the NHS were not fundamental enough. Only too late did she seriously turn her attention to the problems caused by welfare benefits. And her impact on the family was not good. During her time, the proportion of children living with two natural and married parents fell from 83 to 68 per cent.

But by bringing together in one place all the things she did, this collection of essays rams home the astonishing scope of what she did achieve. Council tenants were enabled to buy their homes, foreign exchange control was abolished, many state-owned industries including British Telecom and British Airways were privatised, the top tax rate was slashed from 83% to 40%, new laws were created so that landlords could get their property back from tenants (which gave rise to the boom in buy- to-let), foreign students were charged for comimg to British universities, trade unions ceased to be major political forces, the European Union reluctantly gave Britain a big annual rebate, pensioners were given tax relief for health insurance, government spending fell from 45 per cent of the economy to 39 per cent and so on. The list is too long to give in full. As a result, Britain was transformed from being the sick man of Europe to the fastest growing of its major countries. Labour politicians are currently riding the wave of economic success which Margaret Thatcher started in the face of their angry opposition.

It was not only the official opposition that she had to fight. Lord Tebbit, in his essay, describes how Lady Thatcher was a radical up against a large number of upper class patricians in her own party who generally accepted the kind of Britain created by Labour since the war. Her victory over Edward Heath for the leadership was a 'corporals' coup'. This conflict between different sides of the party - the 'accepters' and the free market radicals - is still going on in the current leadership contest.

The book reminds us what terrific battle she had to go through to make such a difference. She was often going utterly against the consensus, and quite rightly. William Hague tells how he only narrowly squeaked into parliament through a by-election in 1989. He had lost thousands of votes because water privatisation had been so unpopular. He went to Margaret Thatcher and told her - rather recklessly perhaps - that he had met no voter in favour of this policy.

Many politicians would have expressed regret about this. But not her. William Hague reports: "Margaret Thatcher left me in no doubt that the fault of this lay with the voters than than the policy, an insight which was indeed borne out as the privatised industry succeeded and controversy evaporated over subsequent years".

This was not just another politician just trying to please everybody. She was a woman with a mission to make her country a better place. Thatcher's rule was an amazing story. For my money, this is a book that sets the record straight. Every Tory should have a copy. It reminds us all what she did and what is still to be done. It stiffens the sinews.

[Unedited version of a review of Margaret Thatcher's Revolution which has essays by Norman Tebbit, William Hague, Christopher Booker, Terence Kealey, Dennis O'Keeffe, James Tooley and James Stanfield, Patricia Morgan, David Marsland and others. The review appeared in yesterday's Mail on Sunday. The book can be obtained on Amazon here or by clicking on any of the links to books on sale in the left column and then searching for 'Margaret Thatcher's Revolution']

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics • Reform

Comments (1) TrackBack (25)


Hi James
As an apocryphal, trivial note (which I just couldn't resist), the enlisted dress uniforms of the Navies of most countries throughout the world (including France's) have three lines of piping in commemoration of Nelson's three victories in the Napoleonic wars.

Although France's schools don't teach it, their Navy certainly reveres Trafalgar.


Posted by: James G. at July 20, 2005 04:57 PM

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