In response to:
Maggie from the May 23, 2013 issue
To the Editors:
Since Mr. O’Hagan quotes me as saying that I enjoyed working for Margaret Thatcher [NYR, May 23], perhaps you will allow me to reply to him.
Margaret Thatcher brought an end to a bad era in British life when governments allowed trade unions to dictate policy. She ended the time when the state intervened as a matter of course to determine economic affairs. By standing up to General Galtieri in the Falklands, she not only liberated the Falkland islanders but helped to bring democracy to Argentina. She supported the settlement in Zimbabwe which had been achieved by Lord Carrington. She was unique among British prime ministers to be on excellent terms with both the president of the US and the supreme leadership in what was then the Soviet Union. Her friendship with Gorbachev helped to bring the cold war to an end. She was the first female prime minister in a great Western democracy, a remarkable achievement in what was then a rather male-dominated party and society. She went far further in supporting the effectiveness of the European single market than is usually realized. All these were splendid achievements.
Andrew O’Hagan replies:
Hugh Thomas is right to assert that Margaret Thatcher’s action in the Falklands helped bring an end to the Galtieri regime in Argentina. Perhaps history will decide whether skillful diplomacy, or slaughtering hundreds of young men and women, was the better way of achieving this. Like so many of those who rush to praise the late British prime minister, the historian clings to a great deal of legend at the expense of the economic facts. I hate to spoil the wake, but the average annual rate of growth in the UK during the 1980s was 2.2 percent. And what was it during that “bad era” of the 1970s referred to by Lord Thomas? Yes—2.2 percent. People bowled over by Mrs. Thatcher’s military and social exploits are always keen to place her at the head of an economic revolution. But if it was a revolution, it was a failed one. Over the last decade we have come to enjoy an average annual rate of growth of 0.6 percent. We might postpone our gratitude for her economic miracle, or that of her protégés, John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and David Cameron.