IN AN age of Everest-scale policy challenges and Lilliputian leaders, one can only think: ‘What would Margaret do?’
The Covid era has thrown up third-rate chancer-politicians whose careers are mostly rehearsals for their post-politics money-making and global-stage prancing. Driven by focus groups and fear, they have shown no willingness to defend individual freedom against the chattering crowd.
The benign view of the Western political response to Covid is that politicians were panicked and confused in early 2020, played follow-my-leader, and hid behind a public health bureaucracy bent on health-fascism and reflexive safetyism. Cock-up rather than conspiracy. Once they had begun digging the Covid hole, they didn’t know how to stop. Then they had a light-bulb moment: the vaccine and the magic money tree. These would deliver their voters to the sunlit uplands of Zero Covid and, for themselves, electoral nirvana, the reward for taking care of us and protecting us from the evil, deadly virus. Instead, we have been delivered into a swamp of totalitarian, rolling lockdowns and forced medical apartheid. All the way across the Anglosphere. And often at the hands of Tories and their fellow travellers.
The late Margaret Thatcher’s compadre Ronald Reagan used to say that we were only ever one generation away from the snuffing out of freedom. So it has proved. Mrs Thatcher was shunted out of office in 1990. A mere 30 years later, her people have suffered one crushing blow to their freedom after another – on the watch of one who has claimed to be her rightful heir.
It is a cruel irony that the Covid class in power have followed a Thatcherite approach to policy of ‘there is no alternative’. They are as determined as Thatcher was, but there are two crucial differences here. First, Thatcher was not stupid. Determined is not the same as stupid. Second, Thatcher cherished freedom. The current lot don’t. They have crushed individual rights, succumbed to woke bureaucracy, elevated goons to positions of influence, set out to destroy industry in the name of green ideology, and have overseen the victory of freedom-destroying cancel culture. Post-Thatcher, the Tories have sought to distance themselves from her, even coming up with the ultimate insult to her legacy. It was, they opined, ‘toxic’.
What are the clues about how a real Thatcherite would have handled Covid?
Would she, for example, have shared a stage with, and deferred to, ideologised bureaucrats? Would she have tolerated, even chosen, someone like Matt Hancock to run Health? Would she have emulated the Chinese Communist Party’s approach to lockdown? Would she not have seen through the patently false Covid narratives propagated by the Davos class? As a chemistry graduate, what would she have made of the self-serving claims of Big Pharma in relation to vaccines and so much else? Or would she have simply rolled over when pressured to abandon forty years of settled medical science in relation to masks, or lockdowns? Would she have stood at the door of No 10 clapping the NHS of a Thursday night? Would she, who famously remained impervious to the routine vicious attacks on her, have cowered in the face of anticipated social media trolling and shouting if she chose to prioritise freedom over safteyism? Would she have used evil mechanisms such as behavioural ‘nudge’ units to scare her constituents witless?
According to biographer Charles Moore: ‘If there was one uniting force in everything Mrs Thatcher did, it was her love for her country.’
There is nothing in her career or her thinking to suggest that she would be pleased with the shape of her country now. It is a nation cowed and impoverished. A nation that has thrown away its once-in-a-generation Brexit-delivered opportunity to shine economically. A nation living on borrowed money – the government has, indeed, run out of our money. As a small businessman’s daughter, how would she feel about the utter contempt that government has shown small businesses, locking them down on a whim and forcing them to become agents of the Covid enforcement state?
She was no one’s fool. Can anyone imagine her not noticing that vaccines are not needed for healthy people, nor are they effective in stopping the spread of the virus? Or imagine her standing up in the Commons or at the podium, lying day after day to the people she loved? No, I can’t either.
The Spitting Image clip of Thatcher taking her Cabinet out to dinner has the Prime Minister saying to the waitress, ‘I will have the steak.’ The waitress replies, ‘And what about the vegetables?’ Mrs Thatcher says, ‘They’ll have the same as me.’ Not one to suffer fools gladly, then.
What, I wonder, would she have made of Professor PantsDown shuffling towards No 10 in search of fresh influence and glory after the ignominy of his disastrously wrong, earlier modelling efforts? What, indeed, would a person of real science have made of modellers as a profession? What would she make of Sage? Would she insist on Sage actually being sagacious?
Margaret Thatcher was a warrior for freedom. As she argued: ‘Modern liberty rests on three pillars. They are representative democracy; economic freedom; and the rule of law.’
So now we in the West have parliaments that rarely sit, and extend draconian, totalitarian powers on the nod. We have economic freedom dissolved and workers required to get jabbed for a job. The rule of law? Only for the vaccinated in today’s Albion. Absent Thatcher’s three pillars, liberty is not really liberty.
James Heartfield at Spiked disagrees: ‘Given that her overarching ambition was to “roll back the state”, and with so many Conservatives feeling let down by the government’s illiberal lockdown, it is not surprising that they are dreaming of a leader who believed in freedom. But the truth is that Mrs Thatcher was no friend of liberty . . .
‘Libertarians who are tempted to contrast Margaret Thatcher’s commitment to liberty with the current government’s lockdown should know that many of the current restrictions on our liberties are actually made under the Public Health Act 1984, passed by Mrs Thatcher’s government.’
Some of Heartfield’s points (made in November 2020) are fair enough, on their face. There were elements of authoritarian governance on Thatcher’s watch amidst the general freeing up of the kingdom. There were genuine threats, though, in the 1980s in the form of real domestic terror. She lost colleagues, killed by the IRA bombers. Heartfield engages in a little idiosyncratic cherry-picking as well, and he doesn’t really answer my question and his own – what would Margaret be doing right now? Would she be on the side of freedom? Does he really believe that Thatcher would have created a totalitarian Covid State for all but the privileged few, that she would have used the 1984 Public Health Act in the same ways that the current Tories have? There is no evidence to back such a claim.
Others have questioned Thatcher’s true conservatism, often seemingly lost from sight amidst her Hayekian war on central economic planning and on an overweening state that crushed economic liberty. The late Sir Roger Scruton was one such critic, though a gentle one who never lost sight of Thatcher’s greatness and stature. He said more than once that she relied too much on free market economics, that economic policy was too central to her administration.
‘Of course, she felt the winds of intellectual scorn that blew around her, and sheltered behind a praetorian guard of economic advisers versed in “market solutions”, “supply-side economics”, “consumer sovereignty”, and the rest.’
As Douglas Murray has noted: ‘Although Scruton was associated with Thatcherism – thanks to the timing of his 1980 work The Meaning of Conservatism – he was never a Thatcherite. Margaret Thatcher attended meetings of the Conservative Philosophy Group of which Scruton was a central member, but Scrutonian conservatism differed noticeably from her own outlook. Not just through a clear fear of what the markets might do if left too free, but because Thatcherism appeared so disinterested (perhaps already regarding them as lost) in the wider, non-economic issues.’
Scruton also noted, however: ‘But those fashionable slogans [of market economics] did not capture her core beliefs. All her most important speeches as well as her enduring policies stemmed from a consciousness of national loyalty.’
This harks back to Charles Moore’s reference to her ‘love of country’. Scruton was correct in highlighting the Baroness’s patriotism at a time when that word had not yet acquired its tainted, Trumpian connotations of deplorability. No, she wasn’t only an economic warrior. She also formed a triumvirate (with a Pope and a President) who hastened the end of the Cold War. As a patriot, she was a signed-up Brexiteer before the word was invented. Equally, it is my contention that Thatcher’s love of Britain would simply have not allowed her to sit out the Covid fiasco as either a policy bystander or a wrecker. Her successor is both.
A counter to such (friendly) critics is that leaders get to address the problems that are in front of them. She couldn’t solve every problem, as Scruton readily acknowledged, nor should she be blamed for sins of omission that, with the hindsight of three decades, we can now, perhaps, pronounce to be her deficits (like the collapsed education system and her early tentative and tactical embrace of global warming theory).
For someone who legendarily questioned the meaning of ‘society’, she would have been appalled by what has happened to Britain. As Peter Craven noted in The Australian recently: ‘Margaret Thatcher got into a lot of trouble for saying there was no such thing as society but she didn’t imagine the world of Covid melancholy where society is like a memory lost.’
The world we now inhabit – or occupy, as we don’t really ‘live’ in it – would be unrecognisable to the late Baroness. Iain Davis correctly refers to Covid as a ‘pseudopandemic’. What Margaret Thatcher would be most flabbergasted by is the sheer craziness of the response in proportion to the threat. After all, she dealt with really big problems – a totally trashed British economy, persistent terrorism and a mortal international threat – unlike the fake one the Tories say they are faced with now. Again, just as in the late 1970s, the British nation is wasted, a mere shadow of the prosperous country Thatcher helped to create, facing yet another winter of discontent, and all of it inflicted by the newly emerged Covid State and a new ruling class that did not exist in the 80s.
Thatcher governed throughout the infamously named 1984. A generation later, the fictional 1984 has become a grim reality for Britons. The nation she created has been cancelled. Its future is now one of net zero madness, fuel shortages, a ruling green ideology that occupied only the very fringes when she left office, and the madness of woke crowds occupying the commanding heights of culture and institutional life.
According to Peggy Noonan, writing in early 2020 about Charles Moore’s epic biography of the Iron Lady: ‘At its heart it is not a story about political survival but about seriousness—about the purpose of politics, which is to guide your nation safely through the world while creating the conditions and arrangements by which your people can flourish. It is about winning the argument about how to achieve safety and flourishing.’
Let us ponder the lack of seriousness in today’s politics. We needed Churchill and we scored the most unserious bunch known to man. People who play at seriousness.
The political class is now a mere ship of fools, to use Tucker Carlson’s apt phrase, buffeted by the winds of popular (read social media) opinion, swayed by experts who aren’t really experts but are, mostly, the hired guns of vested interests, listening only to their ever-expanding armies of millennials who live in their woke, inner-city bubbles, ignoring science while stating they are following it, looking over their shoulders in trepidation lest they be seen to have killed people by their inaction, falling as always for the pleas of the punters to ‘do something’, even if the things they choose to do are useless AND harmful, abandoning the democratic crucible of parliament, keeping their decision-making secret for fear of Nuremberg Two. And changing their story every single week. These people are for endless turning, as it happens. And twisting. But not for turning away from the biggest policy disaster of all time.
Not an iron leader in sight.