Margaret Thatcher appeared frail last week when Gordon Brown welcomed her to 10 Downing Street as an honoured guest. he was only doing her the same courtesy as previous premiers had done. All invite their predecessors in for a look round to see how the place is changing. Nevertheless it caused him some aggro at the Trades Union Congress, where she remains a hated figure.
To my mind the Blessed Margaret did two things for Britain that have cemented her place in history. The first was to dare to mount a military operation 8000 miles away to retake the Falklands. People forget that Britain was in seriously decline before that. In 1979 a strike in the public sector had left the dead unburied and garbage uncollected so that there were rats running rife in the streets. The Argentinian Junta must have thought that Britain was so weak that it wouldn't bother over a couple of rocks in the South Atlantic close to Antarctica where a couple of thousand sheep farmers live. I'm still not sure what motivated Margaret; I was in America at the time and I seriously doubted that Britain had the military strength to mount an operation so far away. I suspect it was when she saw that the Falklands were being forced to drive on the right. Anyway, despite setbacks, the Falklands were retaken by acts if bravery or fortitude. A right wing dictatorship was overthrown.
The other great thing she did was to defeat the miners. A decade earlier a Conservative government had been overthrown by Joe Gormley, the miners' leader, but this time she was ready for them. When Arthur Scargill attempted the same trick and used even more violent tactics than Gormley, he was defeated and the grip of the Labor movement was broken. Britain would no longer be a communist fellow-traveler; the economy was turned around by flexible labor laws and the Labor party would not return to power until Tony Blair reformed it, changing it into a party of the right.
Alan Greenspan, quoted in the Telegraph this morning concurs:
"You [in the UK] haven't even had a taint of a recession for an extremely long period of time – and a goodly part of that is the flexibility that came out of the crush between Scargill and Thatcher," he says.
"That was the defining moment, and to their credit Blair and Brown did not endeavour to unwind it. They recognised that there was something fundamentally good for British labour in having a flexible economy."