Margaret Thatcher’s supporters say much of what she did in the 1980s has relevance for today’s moribund European economy. They point out she turned around a bankrupt country suffering constant strikes and high inflation, with very strong trade unions, paralysis of public services, high taxes and little wealth creation.
Kenneth Clarke, a minister in Thatcher’s cabinet, outlined what he believes were her greatest achievements: “The mainstream of her activity was to move over to market economics, and to get rid of the ‘rust-bucket’ legacy – which we’d been trying to keep going – of old-fashioned, heavy, loss-making industry; and absurd restrictive practices in public-sector owned industries as well. And she took on the professions, she took on the City, she believed that people should be responsible in the way they did things, and looking back, I think the main thing she did was modernise.”
One of Thatcher’s proudest achievements was the deregulated and liberalisation of the financial sector.
Long time opponent Ken Livingstone thinks that is what got us into the present mess: “The crisis we are living in today is the legacy of Thatcherism, just like the crisis in America is the legacy of Reagan. We need a more fair society, we need a high-investment, high-skill economy, and there is no way out of this without that.”
The debate remains as heated as when Thatcher was running Britain, but there is no denying that her radical ideology – free market economics – has become the dominant philosophy in most of the world.