Thatcher's Legacy to Britain, Estonia and the World
Published Postimees 13 April 2013
For Estonia, Baroness Thatcher legacy is largely good. She was a tireless crusader against the Soviet Empire and against socialism which she always hated. Her robust foreign policy in Ireland, the Falkland Island and elsewhere led to the West standing up to and defeating communism. She could not have anticipated the collapse of the Soviet Union but that's what ended up happening. Margaret Thatcher's economic policies were the template, Mart Laar and others followed to transform the Estonian economy in the 90s.
In Britain the reaction to the Baroness's death has been mixed, some mourned, others celebrated. To understand why, you have know what was going on in Britain before and what has happened subsequently.
I will begin. Britain before Thatcher was a pretty depressing place. The country was going to hell, a child could notice it. My earliest memories are of sitting in pitch darkness during the blackouts caused by the miners strike of 72-74. The miners won those strike and brought down the governments.
Inflation was insane. I would save up pocket money to buy candy, go to the store, only to find I didn't have enough because prices had gone up.
There was a political and current affairs programs called Weekend World. I would watch it every Sunday morning. It was scarier than a horror movie. Each time as the music started up my innards would knot up. Week after week, we kids were told Britain was sliding into the Third World. When we reached adulthood there would be no jobs, no leisure, and no future for England. “No future for you,” as the Sex Pistols sung.
And just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, it did. In “The winter of discontent” of 1979 everybody decided to go on strike. People were dying because hospital workers were on strike. People weren't being buried because grave diggers were on strike. Rubbish strewed the streets in my home town because garbage collectors were on strike. Rats roamed freely.
Then Margaret Thatcher came to power. She didn't change everything in an instance. But she did challenge the post-war consensus on how the country ought to be run.
In her first term, Margaret Thatcher priority was cutting inflation. Following the principles laid out by Milton Friedman, she cut the money supply. Sure enough inflation went down, but unemployment went up dramatically. She refused to compromise. Many people thought she was heartless, she cared more about proving an untried economic theory, than about the real concern that people just didn't have jobs. They have never forgiven her.
By 1983 Margaret Thatcher won a second term in office. Nowadays there is a lot of nonsense written about why she won that election. Let's make it clear. She did not win the election because of the Falklands War. Churchill won a World War and was still thrown out of office in 1945.
Thatcher won the election and the conservatives continued to win every election for a generation because people never forgave the opposition Labour party for “The winter of discontent”.
She then privatise industries, allowed uncompetitive industries to go to the wall, much as was done in Estonia in the nineties and she smashed the all powerful unions.
She had stockpiled coal to take on the powerful National Union of Miners (NUM), led by an odious little communist, Savisaar-type, called Arthur Scargill.
The dispute wasn't about pay or conditions, it was about keeping the mines open at all. The mines employed over half a million people. Whole communities depended on the mines for their livelihoods and sense of identity.
The mines had been losing money for years and Margaret Thatcher was applying the iron logic of free market capitalism in closing them down. Her enemies argued her real goal was to break the NUM which had destroyed previous conservative governments, and the closures were unnecessary.
If you had been growing up in a mining town in the 1980s you would certainly have hated this women who was destroying your community in what seemed like a personal vendetta.
All of Britain's old industries, ship building, the car industry the steel industry are based in the North, Scotland, the Midlands and South Wales. All were privatised, some industries shrunk, others disappeared altogether. Today there isn't a single British-owned volume car maker.
This is why people were then and remain now angry. All this to do a hellish job. Miners spend their lives in a dank, dirty, hole in the ground, they hardly ever seeing the sun.
As one mother said at the time: years ago women fought to keep their sons out of the pits, but in the miners' strike they were fighting to get them in.
“Why?” she said.
I get it. People don't like change.
The situation was just like the movie “The Shawshanks Redemption.” A prisoner upon learning he was going to be released after 50 years in prison instead of being happy, attacks the messanger. He didn't like change either.
Eventually, in many parts of the country Thatcher's message got through, people embraced change; the knowledge economy. It was hard at first. But people found or created jobs in IT, in finance, or in the service sector.
My town went from being a minor industrial town with two big employers, to a large town with boutique businesses in design, fashion, the media, entertainment and electronics industries.
Big cities like Glasgow, Sheffield, Cardiff switched from heavy industry to finance, media tourism I.T and electronics. It took years but even industrial townsfolk have grudgingly come to accept that she was right.
Baroness Thatcher didn't just give people the rhetoric to reinvent their lives, to create their own futures, she gave them the tools to do it, real financial tools.
Millions of people who lived in council owned house were encourage to buy their own homes, at a huge discount. As the prices went up those people became better-off.
Likewise people were encouraged to buy shares in previous state-owned companies.
Higher education, still free under her tenure, was vastly expanded. The sons and daughters of coal-miners went off to university became journalists and advertising executives. Some are still cursing Thatcher today, the ingrates.
Not everyone adapted. So this is the crux of the matter, what people think of Thatcher largely depends on how well they are their families were able to adapt to modernity.
Hostility towards Baroness Thatcher was such that she is blamed for things she didn't do. It is a total myth that Margaret Thatcher destroyed the welfare state. In Britain today the welfare state is still very apparent. Health and education provision is free for everyone. The social welfare system has become so widespread and so rampart that everybody knows someone who is abusing it.
The Baroness also had ideological enemies. Now people say she was an icon for women and indeed she was.
But the Baroness hated modern feminism, she correctly saw it as a Marxist movement.
And feminist hated her. What everybody knew at the time and what people have conveniently forgotten is her success proved they were wrong, that patriarchy theory, the idea that men keep women down, was wrong.
She became leader of the Conservative Party and subsequently Prime Minister because her colleagues asked her to lead them, she did not seek the leadership. She had to be persuaded.
Therefore, if there are less women in positions of power is not because of male privilege, its because less women are motivated to do it.
“I owe nothing to the women's movement,” she famously said.
Margaret Thatcher wasn't perfect. Towards the end she started to become the very thing she hated most, an authoritarian leader. She went from being staunching pro-European, to being staunching anti. She thought the whole project had been hijacked by socialists. She was also wrong about the re-unification of Germany.
Ultimately David Cameron is right, Baroness Thatcher will be remembered as one of Britain's greatest peacetime leaders ever.
She was so fiercely proud of Britain's achievement and the rightness of nation and so against tyranny, it is interesting to speculate how thing would have played out for Estonia if she had been running Britain in a time of war. I believe had she been around in 1940s, she would not have tolerated a Soviet takeover of a country we had helped in the war of independence. Atlee and even Churchill did nothing. Thatcher would have done something.
She did great enough things in the time she did spend on Earth. She improved the quality of life for most people in the Britain. She took my rubbish and rat infested home town and turned it into a pleasant, green, and prosperous place. Personally I can honestly say that she gave me my present, and she gave us all a future, and not just in Britons, but Estonians and people of the World.