Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The greatest woman of the twentieth century

If we measure greatness by the amount of change a person makes or leads, if we measure greatness by ability to both get to the top of an important hierarchy and remain there, if we measure greatness by the depth of motivation to serve people for the greater good (and not for fame, wealth or popularity), and if we measure greatness by the years into the future during which a person will be remembered while lesser achievers and attainers will be forgotten, then only two women in the twentieth century merit the possibility of  the title 'the greatest'. Mother Teresa and Margaret Thatcher, who has died overnight.

I was in Britain in 1990 when she was toppled from her role as Prime Minister. It was an eye-opener for me as a Kiwi (used to the news only being viewed at 6 pm) to find the TV cameras planted and rolling outside 10 Downing St for days on end. There is no doubt in my mind that Margaret Thatcher made a huge mistake or two which precipitated rebellion in her own ranks, particularly her unyielding promotion of the 'poll tax'. Her assertion that there is no such thing as society, only individuals and their families, will not go down as her finest hour, for she was plain wrong on that. But no political leader has been unerring in their judgement of what the right thing to do is. Margaret Thatcher's greatness is not an assessment of her perfection but a tribute to what she did get right. She did indeed get some things right because she was elected or re-elected to power in three general elections and held the office of Prime Minister longer than anyone else in the twentieth century.

Of course for many years many have affected to despise and to dismiss her, using the name 'Thatcher' or the epithet 'Thatcherism' as a term of contempt. (Let's remember that as the hankies come out over the next few days). But do the despisers remember what Britain was like in the 1970s? It went from one crisis to another and seemed perpetually on the brink of a permanent general strike as the 'sick man' of Europe. Margaret Thatcher stopped the rot and turned Britain around. Her party (we should remember) won the election after she was toppled, and the Labour governments under Blair and Brown which succeeded her successor, John Major, continued many of her policies. Indeed to this day, as one instance, still Britain has not joined the single European currency.

Christians should remember Margaret Thatcher as a Christian politician who served the people she loved with a deeply Christian motivation. (See Cranmer). I do not think that even the severest critics of her could say that she sought high office for fame or fortune, and, as far as I can tell, she has not after 1990 made the kind of money on the speaking circuit or publishing lark that some of her contemporaries have been so adroit at doing.

Yes, her critics will remind us of all the people hurt by the change she introduced. Where I lived in the north-east of England traditional industries such as mining had been dealt to. But the same changes introduced possibilities and opportunities for new industries in keeping with the late twentieth century, even in the north-east, where car manufacturing offered one lead out of the mire.

Her chief contribution as a Christian politician, I suggest, was her affirmation of individuals, her support for  human flourishing through opportunity for choice, and her commitment to enable wealth for all by ensuring that wealth was created which could then be shared, in contrast to the Britain she inherited in which diminishing wealth was being redistributed via ever thinner slices of the cake. As she once brilliantly said,

“The trouble with socialists is that they always run out of other people’s money.”

Here, via Damian Thatcher (go there for other links), is footage of one of her finest occasions in the British parliament. In her last appearance as Prime Minister, when she knew the knives were out and her back was not covered, she confidently and cheerfully takes on all that the Opposition can throw at her. Absolutely fascinating are the insights she shares about the situation of Britain in respect of Europe. Enduring insights. The world, especially Europe could do with her 21st century equivalent right now.

To this day she remains the only woman to have led either of the great political parties of Great Britain and it is difficult to see that claim being trumped anytime soon.


Ian Paul said...

Hmmm...is that a good measure of 'greatness'? There was indeed a problem with unionised working practice, but many of us wonder whether hers was the right solution.

Many of us are now wondering why we live in a country where the cost of medical services matters more than whether patients are cared for. Why exam boards sell answers to the schools that are the highest bidders. Why Britain is more unequal than is has been for 100 years. Why millionaires decide that others can live on £53 a week.

The answer? Thatcherism.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ian
I consider 'inequality' a poor measure of the general health of a country.
A key question is whether the poorest are better off than the poorest were in the previous generation.
I will not presume to comment on that for Great Britain, save to note that Blairism must bear some responsibility for the state of Britain today, along with the general majority who have successively voted in governments pursuing Thatcherism or the general direction of it.
But here in NZ, where we too discuss growing inequality (without blaming Thatcherism!! - perhaps something other than Thatcherism is responsible?), I suggest we are better off today than we have ever been.

In both countries a sign of that betterment is a desperation by many people to emigrate to them.

Ian Paul said...

Every single study in economics shows that countries which are more equal are also better off *economically*. Despite this undisputed evidence, monetarism persists. Why? Because it is those with money who make the decisions.

Please, please, please watch this. http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ian
It is also those with money who create employment and consequentially contribute income taxation which helps pay government services.

I am sure that wealthy countries in which people are equally wealthy are better off than wealthy countries in which inequality widens. But the latter would still be my choice to live rather than a poor country in which people are equally poor.

When I lived in Egypt the gap between the richest and the poorest was mind-blowing for a Kiwi. But on purely economic terms I would prefer to live in Britain or NZ than Egypt.

As a Christian I think we should be equal in our living- the kingdom of God is not a Thatcherite nirvana! But I am done with communist, socialist versions of equality: the 20th century gave them opportunity to succeed and they miserably failed.

Kurt said...

Harumph. Since we heard the news, most of my friends and I have been humming the Munchkin song all day long.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Anonymous said...

A great shame and a sad day. Without doubt she was one of the greatest leaders of the West in the twentieth century.

I know of no credible study which proves Ian's claim, and such "studies" are often based on very selective evidence.

Both Singapore and Hong Kong have very high levels of inequality, almost no welfare system to speak of, yet by comparison to many welfare states they have relatively low levels of actual poverty and generally healthy economies.

What really hurts the poor is the boom-bust cycle created by government inflation of the money supply and high levels of government spending.

Sadly Maggie was not in power long enough to finish her reforms, so some of the worst features of Keynesianism still remain.

Father Ron Smith said...

"I know of no credible study which proves Ian's claim, and such "studies" are often based on very selective evidence."

And this applies to many of the comments one finds on any blog. Lots of Study and Studies are mentioned here, which are only as valuable as their promoters make them out to be - generally-speaking.

Truth is not usually defined by 'studies'; rather by experience.

Jesus said: "I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life". And that's good enough for me.

Peter Carrell said...

I have no idea what you are talking about, Ron, when you distinguish between 'studies' and 'experience.'

Studies are an interpretation of experience, usually of multiple experiences rather than the experience of an individual.

I suggest that in assessing the contribution or otherwise of a political leader, studies have a place in the evaluation. Otherwise we descend to a "I think she was great" or "She never did me no harm."

Anonymous said...

Truth is not defined by experience but by God.

Good theological study is objectively valuable to the life of the Church, not merely to those pursuing study. Good orthodox theology is vital to our understanding of the one who said "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" otherwise we would not have the Creeds, which presumably Ron recites as well as the above quote from Scripture, unless Ron has converted to a very strict understanding of Sola Scriptura.

Kurts comment is unworthy of a response, and I'm surprised it passed moderation.

Peter Carrell said...

I think it important, Shawn, that those of us who admire Margaret Thatcher are as thick-skinned as she was about criticism of her own good self!

Anonymous said...

Good point Peter!

Anonymous said...


The subject of this thread is Margaret Thatcher, not what other commentators have said elsewhere.

The kind of economic studies being mentioned are attempts at statistical analysis, which are open to a great deal of manipulation.

Theological study is entirely different, and your attempt to put it on the same level as economic stats makes no sense.

Anonymous said...

A good tribute to Maggie and the importance of her win over the UK Mafia, er, sorry, the "unions", at Anglican Samizdat. He also points out the hypocrisy of those on the "tolerant" and "caring" Left celebrating the death of another human being. Personally I think "Christians" doing the same is far more obscene. But as I have said before in nearly twenty years of being a Christian the only real hatred and verbal abuse I have experienced from other Christians has in every single case been from those from the "tolerant, caring and inclusive" Liberal wing of the Church. So I guess I should not be surprised.

R.I.P Maggie.


Anonymous said...

"As a Christian I think we should be equal in our living- the kingdom of God is not a Thatcherite nirvana! But I am done with communist, socialist versions of equality: the 20th century gave them opportunity to succeed and they miserably failed."

Three things I've noted about clerical political critics over the years:
1. They have never run a business themselves, being (like me) bookish sorts, so they (like me) don't really understand capitalism at the micro- or small business level, and the real struggle it is to find work, balance books, pay taxes etc.
2. Their default position has usually been socialist or Keynesian (i.e. shaped by post-1945 thinking), on the lazy assumption that 'socialist' means 'fair' and 'caring', when it really meant 'totalitarian and centralized'. The travesty called Liberation Theology was all the rage in the 1980s - but not among the actual poor of Latin America.
3. They are often social snobs. Much hostility to Margaret Thatcher was really because she was a high achieving grammar school girl from what they call in England 'the blue rinse set' from the suburbs. Dame Edna Everage would have loved her! Yet she was formidably intelligent (smarter than her critics - no Reagan jokes here) and determinedly uncool. This made her an easy target for political satire - but I suspect she enjoyed that.
Pursuing a more equal society is certainly a worthy goal, but it must be remembered that there are numerous causes of poverty, and a good many of these are cultural rather than purely economic in character. School failure, drug and alcohol abuse, lack of aspiration along with too many repulsive role models ('gangsta rap' among blacks) and the failure to form marriages (in the US, 40% of all births, 70% of black births are out of wedlock), leading to the feminization of poverty, cause too many people to end up in dependency. The way out of poverty (as Margaret Thatcher's Methodist forefathers knew) is at least spiritual an moral as it is political.


Ian Paul said...

Those of you who expressed scepticism about 'studies' might have missed the link I posted to just such a thing. Do please watch it:


Anonymous said...

Hi Ian.

No, I watched the link, and in fact it was in part Wilkinson's work that I was referring to and my critique, specifically 'The Spirit Level.'

Wilkinson and Pickett's book 'The Spirit Level' makes the claim your referring to, but because the book conveniently leaves out Hong Kong and Singapore, it's results are badly skewed and misleading.

Why? Because HK and Singapore totally contradict the books central claim, and adding them into the mix would have resulted in a much more ambiguous conclusion, which is not at all helpful for making and proclaiming simplistic left wing sound bites and slogans.

"Inequality is bad, unless you live in Honk Kong or Singapore" does not quite have the required ring to it.

The UK's Policy Exchange has produced a small book in response, written by Peter Saunders.

"Beware False Prophets is Policy Exchange's critique of The Spirit Level, a book published last year by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, which argued that income inequality harms almost everybody in society, no matter how prosperous they are.

In Beware False Prophets Wilkinson and Pickett’s empirical claims are critically re-examined using (a) their own data on 23 countries, (b) more up-to-date statistics on a larger sample of 44 countries, and (c) data on the US states. Very few of their empirical claims survive intact."

You can download the book for free as a PDF file here:


Also, Christopher Snowden has written another strong critique called 'The Spirit Level Delusion: Fact Checking the Left's New Theory of Everything.'

He has an ongoing blog expanding on the book here:


The Ludwig von Mises Institute has a very good article on the 'Happiness studies industry" and some pointed comments on 'The Spirit Level' here: http://mises.org/daily/5356

Finally, did you know that using exactly the same statistical correlation method used by Wilkinson you can "prove" that recycling leads to higher rates of suicide?

"European socialists in fields outside of economics have gone even further with their research of "happiness." A bestseller in Europe is The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. The book is an excellent example of the misuse and abuse of statistics by these two British epidemiologists. It is an abuse of statistics because the entire book is a fishing expedition for simple correlations between the degree of material "inequality" in a country and myriad other variables. Wilkinson and Pickett don't even attempt the use of multiple-regression analysis, as is typical in their own field, in economics, and elsewhere. Consequently, they arrive at contrived statistical conclusions that greater material equality in a country supposedly leads to improvements in community life, mental health, drug use, physical health, obesity rates, intelligence, teenage births, recycling, violence, imprisonment, social mobility, dysfunctionality, anxiety, and self esteem. (One critic of this research mocked its abuse of statistical methods by presenting a scatter diagram that purportedly showed a positive correlation between recycling and suicide, suggesting that the more one recycles, the more likely that one will commit suicide!)"

Anonymous said...

"According to these scientific-sounding conclusions (which have been lavishly praised by politicians, of course), the people of the former Soviet Union must have been the happiest people on earth, since the pursuit of equality was always the pronounced objective of socialism. As F.A. Hayek wrote in the 1976 edition of The Road to Serfdom, socialism was originally defined as government ownership of the means of production, and then changed to mean the redistribution of income and wealth through the auspices of the welfare state and progressive income taxation. In each case, "equality" was the ultimate end; only the means changed over time.

Happiness researchers make no mention at all of the long-recognized deleterious effects of welfare statism, including destruction of the work ethic, family breakup, the growth of dysfunctional citizens who are paid by the state to remove themselves from the work force, etc."

The Trojan Horse of "Happiness Research" Mises Daily: Thursday, June 09, 2011 by Thomas J. DiLorenzo