David Frum on the legacy of Britain's 'Iron Lady'
"Me grandfather walked 50 miles in clogs to find a job in this here town, and you can't expect me to move somewhere else now!"
That semi-apocryphal quote aptly described the Britain of the 1970s. It was a country that had succumbed to paralysis and defeatism and nostalgia. A visitor to the country then absorbed individual data points of decay: cold and dark when strikes shut down the country; friends who waited weeks for a phone line to be installed; the decay of central cities; the weird behavior of an economy where every expenditure seemed determined by whether or not it could be deducted from an 83% maximum tax rate. ("You would drink wine at lunch too," a business friend of my father's explained, "if the government were paying for it.")
The Iron Lady has left behind a legacy of political accomplishments marked by some unforgettable lines.
Margaret Thatcher once said, “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.” While the former British prime minister, who died Monday at the age of 87, was, indeed, a woman of action, she will be remembered both for the extraordinary things she did as well as the poignant things she said. In honor of the trailblazing politician’s life, we take a look back at some of her most memorable quotes.
Margaret Thatcher speaks during a press conference in London on April 25, 1979. (AP)
Confounding, irrepressible, flirtatious, stubborn, and unabashedly conservative, Margaret Thatcher was once the most powerful woman the world had ever seen. By Tunku Varadarajan.
Of the four most significant politicians in Britain in the last 200 years, only one—Winston Churchill—was a man. The others—Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth, and Margaret Thatcher—weren't (or in the case of Elizabeth, aren't) any such thing.
Margaret Thatcher answers questions from the media during a news conference on June 23, 1982. (AP)
The two leaders saw the world in a similar way, and together they dominated a decade. George Shultz, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of State, recalls working with the Iron Lady.
As President Reagan’s secretary of State from 1982 to 1989, George Shultz formed his own special bond with British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. As told to Newsweek's William Underhill.
Margaret Thatcher was an agenda politician who also seemed to have an instinct for the process. And that was Ronald Reagan too.
There are few people who can make the Queen nervous. Their number just decreased by one.
The Union Flag has been lowered to half mast over Buckingham Palace, and spokespeople there have said that the Queen will be sending a message of condolence to the family of Mrs Thatcher. There is no doubt that the two women, seperated in age by just six months (Thatcher was the elder), respected each other enormously. But it was not always an easy relationship. There's a marvelous moment in the new Helen Mirren play, “The Audience” – which dramatizes the weekly meetings that have taken place between monarch and her prime minister every Tuesday for the last sixty years – when the Queen is seen literally trembling in her boots as she awaits the arrival of Margaret Thatcher one afternoon.
The authorized biographer of Margaret Thatcher, Charles Moore, published an advance glimpse of his work in Vanity Fair two years ago:
[S]he won the big arguments. She argued that inflation was a disease of money that could be cured by controlling the growth of the money supply alone, without suppressing incomes. During her premiership, inflation fell from a high of 27 percent in 1975 to 2.5 percent by 1986.
They don’t call her the Iron Lady for nothing. Throughout Margaret Thatcher’s 11 years as prime minister, she was known for her no-holds-barred rhetoric and her unyielding approach to policy reform. Watch the Iron Lady’s most scathing responses to the controversies of her time at 10 Downing St..
Thatcher’s Sinking Ship
What’s law to a lady at war? On May 2, 1982, in the heat of the Falklands War, the HMS Conqueror successfully launched two torpedoes into Argentina’s Navy cruiser ARA General Belgrano, sinking the ship and essentially proving Argentina’s naval powers. But weapons weren’t the only things destroyed in the attack—it also resulted in the deaths of 323 sailors, a full half of the Argentine deaths of the entire conflict. In the days following the sinking of the Belgrano, critics began to question legality of the attack: after all, it took place outside the 200-mile total exclusion zone mandated by international law. Thatcher’s response to the allegations? All’s fair in love and war. In an interview with David Frost conducted a month after the ship sank, Thatcher remained unfazed by the reporter’s questions—she had no apologies to make.
One certainly can't deny Margaret Thatcher's historical importance. She was a rarity among politicians, among public figures in general, that she transcended her arena and became a general icon of popular culture, the way Ali transcended boxing. Not many politicians do that: In America in my adult lifetime, Reagan, the Clintons, Obama. That's about it. Maybe Cheney, but in a bad way. But Thatcher was such that an impersonator could show up in a Bond film (For Your Eyes Only) or even on an America-only sitcom, and everyone knew who it was and what she represented.
The thing that made her a hero to the right was undoubtedly the way she took on and beat Arthur Scargill and the unions. Here's a very good BBC piece from 2004 on how that happened. What has happened with Scargill, by the way? Well, I (and I'd guess most American readers) didn't know this, but he's still at it. He helped form the Socialist Labour Party in 1996 after New Labour ditched the platform clause committed to nationalization of industry. But matters haven't exactly gone Scargill's way. Britain went from 13.5 million union members to around 6 million today.
Known for her firm convictions, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher knew how to make her point. Watch this mashup of some of her best lines.
Margaret Thatcher's influence endured long after her premiership ended. Read Amanda Foreman on her legacy and her film immortalization by Meryl Streep.