Dan Lambeth works in financial services and is a specialist in commercial law, regulation and tax.
Margaret Thatcher was a conviction politician – and was excoriating of Harold Wilson’s suggestion that all that the British people wanted was “some peace and quiet”. In the Brexit bunker, with the threat of socialism hanging heavily over the country, some advise that we should look to her ideas to save Britain from a Corbyn government. Others whisper that opposition beckons, and that the Party would benefit from time to regroup…for some peace and quiet.
This might seem like an attractive option during tough times. However, in the same interview in which Thatcher declared herself a conviction politician, she denounced those who would prefer the “easy way”, and pronounced as our purpose the hard-work to rise for ”higher and better things”. The achievements of the Thatcher era were not secured through one fell swoop, but rather by one difficult battle after another. It is worth noting that, during her premiership, public satisfaction with the way that her Government was running the country was usually low, and that it dipped to just 16 per cent in March 1981 and in March 1990. Misty-eyed romanticism for the Thatcher era sits uneasily with the difficult reality of her premiership.
She would no doubt have recoiled in horror at the suggestion that the Conservative Party would ever countenance giving in to the Left. In that interview, focused on liberty and capitalism, she rightly warned of the effects of high taxation, and extolled the pre-eminence of wealth creation over redistribution. All anathema, no doubt, to Corbynistas, who threaten to reverse privatisation, increase regulation and to return power to the trade unions.]
Indeed, they even have the audacity to attempt to compare Corbynism with Thatcherism in terms of the hard work of changing minds and cementing political legacy. The Thatcher governments did more than just catch the prevailing spirit of the time, as some lef-wing commentators suggest. They led in the face of considerable opposition and, more importantly, their policies were and in many respects continue to be the right ones. It is wrong for socialists to attempt to call time on the enduring values of democracy and liberalism.
Unfortunately, a great deal has already happened to undermine the Thatcher legacy. The ambition of a property-owning democracy has been undermined by an overheating property market. Recent figures suggest that house prices in the capital are 14.5 times the earnings of the average Londoner. According to one pollster, in the last election renters favoured Labour by almost a quarter, and the gap between homeowners and renters has increased dramatically in recent years.
Confidence in enterprise has been undermined by a move to an economy which at times reeks of serfdom. Hard work should deliver better living standards. However, for some, it delivers little and promises even less. In spite of an impressive employment rate of approximately 75 per cent, UK average wage growth continues to lag inflation. Often obscured by the economic ascendency of the 1980s was Thatcher’s appeal for liberty and freedom of expression. However, we see democracy being undermined by the anonymity of the internet and interference from foreign governments. Some accounts suggest that foreign-backed Facebook posts reached over 100 million Americans during the US presidential election.
For those Conservatives trudging the pavements, campaigning on the doorstep and seeking to persuade the public of our convictions, there is a great deal of work to do. Those of us who deliver leaflets in the rain on a Saturday morning reject the easy way, and continue the fight for capitalism and a free society. We continue to fight for incentives for doing well and a more prosperous and united Britain. We should applaud our government’s policies to improve the housing market and to increase living standards while acknowledging the tough challenges ahead. Just as the young in the 1960s thought that they invented sex, so the millennials mistakenly believe that they invented disruption. But Thatcher during the 1980s was the arch-disruptor. From those Conservatives lucky enough to represent our Party in Parliament, we demand reforming zeal which addresses the economic and political challenges facing the country. Not whispers of the comfort of the easy way. As she said, the hard way is tough by definition.