April 4, 2000
Thatcher and the Art of Being Wrong
LADY'S NOT FOR TURNING
often read a lot of criticism
of Margaret Thatcher and other honest Conservatives who disagree
with us on intervening in other countries. This pains me, for I
think that they are logically not really interventionists, it is
old habits that dictate their warlike posture more than mental logic.
I will leave out the Neo-Conservatives, that strange Manhattan cult
of 15 (13 newspaper columnists among them) who talk of national
greatness, moral purpose and John McCain. It’s best not to intervene
with them. However, good (although imperfect) conservatives, whom
Margaret Thatcher epitomises are worth saving. We must remember
that these people are not evil, just out of date.
will quickly go through Maggie’s record since the Cold War finished.
On the one hand, she fearlessly promoted the cause of Senator Pinochet
and the right of the Chilean people to decide their own balance
between justice and peace. She is also almost the only major political
figure who calls for withdrawal from the European Union. She offers
hope to those of us who want to be shot of this ridiculous taboo
on discussing the crucial issue – our sovereignty. On the other
hand she opposed the re-unification of Germany against the wishes
of the German people and she instilled the "backbone"
into President Bush that led us to the disastrous Gulf War. She
has consistently called for the West to act against the Serbs and
has constantly called for the retention
of NATO as a good in itself.
ROLE IN HER DOWNFALL
me declare an interest here. Throughout the 1980s, I was one of
the many who opposed all that I thought she and her party stood
for. I have now grown up. This means that my reactions to what she
says is often tinged with guilt that on some of the biggest issues
of the day, privatisation, deregulation, inflation and taxation.
Her followers were right and people like me were wrong. How do I
know that I am right this time?
problem with any debate over the record of Margaret Thatcher was
that she polarised debate so. Those who were for her regarded her
as a saviour of a British state and economy that was rapidly sinking
into third world levels of squalor. Those who were against her regarded
her as a women who was prepared to ruthlessly impoverish large swathes
of the country for the sectional advantage of her voters. Needless
to say, both sides exaggerated more than was good for their credibility.
However, there was, and is, no sizable middle ground – as is fairly
clear I have not so much moderated as switched sides. Most British
people are incapable of a rational debate on her merits.
ironic point of Mrs. Thatcher’s hawkishness is that it was the non-interference
principle in economics that revitalised conservative fortunes on
both sides of the Atlantic. This principle is not only valid for
economics or as growing numbers of right-wingers now accept, society,
but the logical result is non-intervention abroad, the very foreign
policy that she opposes. It should be repeated again and again that
the premise of non-socialist thought, the State is too big and stupid
to predict and provide what people want to buy, also feeds through
to foreign affairs. Attempts to force democracy, liberty and apple
pie on other cultures will not work, as surely as five-year plans
COLD WAR LEGACY
problem with Margaret Hilda, and the whole of her political generation
was the legacy of the Cold War and the Second
World War. Last
week when I speculated on the future of NATO I was gently derided
for believing that the Cold War was real. Well, I still believe
it was real and what’s more I believe that we had to fight it and
make some unsavoury allies. This does not mean that we need to keep
punish them – like Pinochet).
REDUNDANCY OF THE EU
European Union is a case in point. It is common for the Conservatives
to wonder why they were the pro-European party throughout the Cold
War period. I often wonder if they now realise that they were fighting
the Cold War. The necessity of keeping the Germans, French and Italians
on board meant that fairly intimate political cooperation was necessary.
It is perfectly consistent being pro-European before (say) 1987
and anti-European after, if you believe that the Soviet Union was
a greater threat. Criticism of Europe before the mid 1980s misses
the point unless it can demonstrate that the USSR was no threat
(only in East Germany for the beer) or the EU did not help the fight
(France would always be rock solid). Neither argument convinces
me. The case against the EU remains unaffected, it is an old ally
and is unnecessary in the post-Soviet world. It
is not needed. It credits Margaret Thatcher that she recognises
this and shows a fundamental pragmatism.