If there was ever an award for the greatest Conservative leader and prime minister of all time, then it belongs to Margaret Thatcher. There has been no prime minister in recent memory whose legacy remains in place to this day to the extent hers has.
She came to power during a national crisis. Britain stagnated as a nation during the 1970s. We deserved the title: ‘the sick man of Europe.’ One of her predecessors, Edward Heath, failed to introduce the radical policies she later implemented, performing that infamous ‘u-turn’ in 1972.
However, when she was elected in 1979, Britain soon transformed into a different country. She shifted political thinking at the time to reduce the levels of direct taxation that people paid. When she was first elected, the highest earners paid an income tax rate of 80 pence in the pound. By the time she left office in 1990, this was reduced to 40 pence in the pound. Middle income earners were paying income tax rates at 30 pence in the pound. By the 90s, this had been cut to 25 pence in the pound. And none of her successors have dared return to these drastic levels of taxation. Not even Alistair Darling reintroduced an 80p tax rate for the highest earners in 2009. The coalition government and the current Tory government have gone further and cut taxes for the lowest earners who rake £12000 a year or less by 2020.
Many on the left condemn her for privatising our utilities, like British Aerospace in 1980 and British Telecom in 1984. She was also the first prime minister brave enough to realise that future governments cannot entirely fund the NHS forever, which is why she implemented the internal market in 1988. In regards to the latter policy, her successors have also gone further than she ever did. New Labour brought in foundation hospitals in 2004. The coalition government legislated the controversial Health and Social Care Act of 2012, which witnessed hospitals earn income from treating private patients. With the BBC banging on about the ‘NHS crisis’, it is clear that future governments will eventually have to implement a new model of funding for the NHS without it depending entirely upon the government.
Many of the utilities she privatised remain private to this day. New Labour even abandoned Clause IV of its constitution to prove that it did not intend to renationalise Britain’s industries. Of course, it can be argued that further deregulation is needed in some of the utilities that were privatised in the 80s and 90s. Energy prices and ticket prices on our railways are increasing. No future government can escape the need for true a free market.
Thatcher smashed the trade unions, too. She prevented the likes of Scargill from bringing this country to a halt. Her legislation curbed the power of the unions to the extent that they would never be able to behave in that way ever again, and like with many of Thatcher’s other policies, no government since has dared repeal her trade union laws. In fact, it is a pity Sajid Javid never pursued his trade union legislation that would have stopped them from funding the Labour Party. These reforms cannot be kicked into the political long grass forever.
Some could argue that the 2008 Recession shattered her legacy. This event was caused by banks lending money to people who cannot afford toxic mortgages and loans, thereby triggering a housing bubble that led to house prices skyrocketing and the banks’ reputation for prudence tarnished. But this does not mean we need less of the free market reforms Thatcher introduced. It was Thatcher who enabled council house tenants to own their own home in 1980 and deregulated the banking sector in 1986 to allow London to become the resilient business hub that steered us through the uncertainty in the City caused by Brexit.
The banking crisis was caused by the failure of the last Labour government to regulate the banks properly by creating the Financial Standards Authority and by forcing the banks to lend to people who could not afford the dangerous debts caused by toxic loans. It was encouraged by the stranglehold housing legislation has on the market to this day that prevents builders from keeping up with demand in the housing market, thereby leading to huge house prices. This proves that the Thatcher revolution needs to continue to reform the regulations that hinder the free market. The freer the market, the freer the people.
That is why Thatcher is the greatest prime minister and Conservative Party leader ever. Her policies did not end with her downfall in 1990. If a future government can be as brave and bold as hers, then Britain will again become the nation of envy in a post-Brexit environment. But how many Thatchers are there, really? She was a once-in-a-lifetime prime minister. Now bring on the criticism from the left.