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April 14, 2013

Margaret Thatcher: Wrong on many things, but right on the one thing that mattered - or so argues Christie Davies

Posted by Christie Davies • Category: Historical Thoughts

Margaret Thatcher was a great Prime Minister because she was right on the one issue that mattered in her time - the need for socialism to be defeated both in Britain and in the World. The views expressed here are those of Christie Davies, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director.

The late Lady Thatcher, the great Mrs Thatcher, was wrong about most things but she was right, relentlessly right, about the central problem of her time the menace of Socialism. She will always be remembered as the woman who destroyed Socialism, much as we remember Churchill as the man who stood up to Hitler. Churchill was wrong about India, about the economy, about most things but on the one big issue he was right. Today we are also free of the spectre of Socialism that haunted the 20th century. That is Mrs Thatcher's legacy.

It is difficult now to remember how close Socialism came to victory in the 1970s. The Soviet Union was steadily advancing its control over the world, notably in Africa and in South East Asia. Latin America was threatened with subversion. The release of the KGB files has shown how many people, including Allende in Chile and senior politicians in India, had been under their control. The Brezhnev doctrine decreed that no country which had ever come under socialist rule could return to democracy. East Europeans feared that their slavery would last for ever.

It was to change. Mrs Thatcher came to power in 1979 and Ronald Reagan in 1981. Between them they defeated the evil empire. The Soviet Union went from world domination to downfall in ten years, the ten years of the woman the Soviets called the Iron Lady. Where other British leaders had been timid, she was bold. Where they had been silent, she was vocal. Where they had been shaky, she was resolute. She understood exactly what the Soviet Union was and meant.

In 1979 Britain was on the verge of economic collapse. The Labour governments of 1974-1979 had been the servants of the trade unions, as well as of their own ideology. Britain was close to being a socialist economy. A large section of industry was owned and run by the State - coal, iron and steel, gas and electricity, telephones and railways. A large part of the country's housing stock was council-owned.

Other important sectors, such as car manufacturing and shipbuilding, depended on government subsidies and were the subject of government directives. The combination of trade union power and lax monetary policy had led to high inflation. Governments sought to deal with this through the state regulation of prices and incomes. Marginal tax rates were very high. The very bases of capitalism -the price mechanism, incentives to earn, save and invest, and rapid change and innovation - were undermined and rendered inoperative.

March 11, 2013

The British Empire will outlast the European Union - argues Lincoln Allison

Posted by Lincoln Allison • Category: Historical Thoughts

Lincoln Allison - Emeritus Reader in Politics at the University of Warwick - believes the British Empire has more of a future than the European Union.

I have two granddaughters called Ava and Sylvie. Their other grandparents were born in Kenya and the Punjab. My brothers-in-law live in Abu Dhabi, Singapore and Western Australia, offering a rather neat set of stop-offs on a round-the-world trip. More of my primary school class from Colne, Lancashire live in Toronto, Canada than live in Colne. My wife has cousins in the United States and there is a branch of my mother's family which lives in New South Wales. When I worked at the University of Warwick I was, among other things, the "South Asia Liaison Officer" and regularly visited India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In both England and California I have played for predominantly South Asian cricket teams.

These facts might be described as the autobiographical consequences of Empire and I may be an extreme case. I am bound to look at things a bit differently from, for example, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who has a Dutch mother and a Spanish wife, but I wouldn't want to stress the contrast too much because I believe that both of our connections exemplify globalisation and the place of our country at the absolute forefront of the process.

Yet you can see why I might get a little bit cross when described as a European and asked to show solidarity and cohesion with people who neither play cricket nor speak English. The issue came up in my youth when a Polish girlfriend's mother assumed that I would be in favour of Polish immigration to the UK and against Caribbean immigration and it comes up when European politicians (most recently, Angela Merkel) try to insist that our European connections are more important than any others. Solidarity with those who have offered us the Inquisition, the Napoleonic code and the Gestapo and not with those who have offered us curry. I don't think so! That would have to be racism, wouldn't it?

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