Margaret Thatcher: There was a woman - The Guardian

By The Citizen

There are leaders who are unforgettable for being grossly inept or corrupt; there are those largely ordinary types who manage their nation's affairs with neither vision nor passion, thereby ending up as mere footnotes to history. And there are the ones who stamp their presence on an era, change the spirit of the age and transform their societies. Margaret Hilda Thatcher, who is being buried today, for good or ill, belongs in the last category. The first and only female British Prime Minister, she won three consecutive elections and pulled the centre ground of British and perhaps global politics to the right. A woman of very deep convictions, she effortlessly and confidently espoused the superiority of the ideals of free enterprise, individual choice, low taxation and low inflation over state ownership and control. Many love her for her ideas and doggedness in their pursuit and many loathe her for same. But no one can deny this: For her country and for her time, she was the best man for the job.

The true measure of Margaret Thatcher's impact is not only in her achievement in rescuing Britain from economic dysfunction and restoring her leadership in Europe and on the wider global stage. It is also, perhaps especially, in her absolute conviction about the precise course of economic action to pursue and her doggedness in staying that course in the face of intense opposition from Labour Unions and doubts within her party and government. The British Government owned vast chunks of the British economy and subsidized many loss-making industries to keep people employed. The vast expansion of state control of the economy had taken place under both Labour and Conservative post-war Prime Ministers. Inflation in the late 1970s rose to 25 per cent. Strikes became known as the 'British disease' and Britain 'the sick man of Europe' as a result of the power of the Labour Unions. British Prime Ministers had resigned to this state of affairs and managing Britain's slow but steady decline.

Margaret Thatcher came into office with a clear understanding that the state needed to be rolled back and free enterprise unshackled. Private investment needed to replace government spending to generate employment. Government subsidies were withdrawn from loss-making industries, most famously the coal mines. Alarmingly, unemployment rose to three million. Mrs. Thatcher sacked the ministers who urged a change of course, stuffing her government with true believers in private enterprise. She went on to privatize a host of industries and state assets - British Airways, the electricity company, British Telecoms and many others, and gave ordinary Britons the opportunity to buy shares in former state firms and local council houses rather than being government's tenants. Unfortunately, her free market ideas were carelessly exported to many parts of the world by the World Bank and the IMF, including to countries like Nigeria where irresponsible and deeply corrupt dictatorships abused them for their own ends.

Thatcher's deep convictions about individual liberty and free markets were also extremely useful in rallying the Western Bloc to confront and eventually dismantle the Soviet Union and communism. She formed a formidable partnership with President Ronald Reagan of the United States whom she described as 'the second most important man in my life after Dennis' (her husband). Under her, Britain punched above its weight in international affairs and was regarded as an equal partner to America.

Thatcher's good qualities were almost equally matched by her flaws. In standing up so fiercely for her core beliefs, she was often blinded to the beliefs of others even when those were superior to hers. And she therefrom exhibited a narrow-mindedness that was fatal. She proudly declared herself a conviction rather than a consensus politician. Her self-confidence and ideological clarity grew into an erroneous belief in her own infallibility. She never aimed to convince her enemies. She aimed to defeat them and made enemies of 'wets' i.e. people who didn't share her crystal clear certainties. Her deep hatred for communism and narrow-mindedness led her into declaring the African National Congress (ANC) and Nelson Mandela 'terrorists'. She was isolated in the Commonwealth in her wrong-headed belief that sanctions would restrict economic freedoms and hurt black and white South Africans, even though she abhorred apartheid, which she described as evil.

Thatcher was, however a pragmatic politician. She eventually asked the hardliner P. W Botha to release Mandela and vigorously pressed his moderate successor F.W de Klerk to negotiate with the ANC.

That pragmatism made her realise that recognising Bishop Abel Muzorewa's government was not acceptable to the world then and she, though reluctantly, took the advice of Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, began the process that led to the Lancashire House Conference and the eventual independence of Southern Rhodesia as Zimbabwe. Her combative attitude to European integration poisoned her Conservative Party till today and eventually led to her removal as party leader and Prime Minister. At home, the division her economic and social reforms fostered still rankle, evident in the jubilations that greeted her death and is attending her burial in some parts of Britain today.

A grocer's daughter who went on to score many firsts in academia, politics and all, she was an inspiration to many across the world, especially women, that any one could change his or her world and that no matter your origin, doors and ceilings can come crashing down before the weight of your ideas.

Margaret Thatcher was an exceptional politician, who rose to the top of her career in a male-dominated society and boldly confronted challenges her predecessors had avoided. Her life underscores the importance of personal convictions in politics and her doggedness on principles speaks vividly to leaders, especially in Nigeria where the majority of politicians stand for nothing.

While the world needs another clear thinker to reinvent capitalism, what Nigerians need most urgently are politicians who have clear ideas about the country's economic and political problems and the courage to pursue those ideas and rally Nigerians behind them