By Timothy Palmer, IE Master in International Relations Candidate


In a 2004 eulogy to Ronald Reagan, while talking about the unapologetic nature both personally and professionally of the former U.S. president, Margaret Thatcher stated how “he (Reagan) never succumbed to the embarrassment some people feel about an honest expression of love of country.” Besides expressing the inherent nature of Ronnie, as she called him, this as well sums up the woman’s, dubbed the Iron Lady, approach to life and politics. No apologies, no hurt feelings (except for various British parliamentarians left in her wake), no looking back. In fact it was her who was once famously quoted as saying “you turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning”, in response to political posturing and U-turning. Margaret Thatcher was an unapologetic politician whose convictions and determination were undoubtedly driven from her firm belief that her politics were the right ones, regardless of what others thought or believed.

Her passing last week provoked a fervent debate over the style and policies of the former British Prime Minister. On the attack were pundits from the left, as well as anti-free market thinkers who were quick to point out the social missteps and secondary repercussions of Thatcherism, of which there are plenty. In her defense were conservatives from the U.S. and Europe who praised her free market policy and strong socio-economic stances. What was clear however, in the aftermath not only of her passing but also of the subsequent social media squabbles, was that Thatcherism as an ideology has not passed with her. In fact the idea and the passion from both its supporters and critics are still alive and well.

If you read political columns in the U.S. right now, you might think that traditional right-wing politics are dying. In fact in the U.S. and Europe many have been quick to point fingers and blame conservative, free-market policies for the 2008 financial crisis which spread to Europe. After all financial deregulation and limited supervision of corporate and financial policies were interlinked with some of the largest scandals in recent memory both here in Europe and back in the states, including Lehman Brothers and Barings Bank. What is also clear however, albeit not nearly as widely recognized, is that conservative methods are behind some of the more daring political measures being taken in Europe right now in order to stem the financial crisis.

Take for instance Spain, and the new popular party led by Mariano Rajoy. At first glance, and probably for many people looking from the outside in, the Spanish example would seem laughable. After all who would want to model their economic and political system after one which boasts roughly 25% unemployment and record deficits. But if you look more deeply at the numbers, as did this recent Economist article, Spain is slowly recovering in key economic areas. While unemployment and public discontent are still sky high, the current account was positive for the first time since the crisis, and government yearend deficits are steadily declining, expected to fall within Eurozone requirements by next year. This may not seem like much, but it is highly impressive for a government forced to spend well beyond their means over the past few years in order to stem the crisis. And the austerity policies behind Mr. Rajoy’s cutbacks and spending curbs have clear links to Thatcher-style politics. In fact tight government spending and austerity measures which are often linked to Reaganomics, can actually be contributed to Margaret Thatcher, who started her term two years before the U.S. president.

Besides a firm fiscal legacy there are also social and political elements of Thatcherism alive and well in Europe today. Taking a look at Britain for example, we can see clear elements of Thatcherism at work. The hot topic in the United Kingdom right now is the fate of their European Union membership. British Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership if he wins reelection in 2015. This would undoubtedly be a big move for Great Britain and would certainly have repercussions for the EU governing body, but it also speaks volumes to Mr. Cameron’s political mindset which has origins and influences from the Thatcher era and British conservatism. Although she and her party had originally supported EU membership in a 1975 referendum, skepticism for European integration and EU level governance dominated her term and legacy then afterwards. She later went on to say that “we have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level” If she were alive today, it is pretty clear what stance she would take on the issue.

If anything is clear from Miss Thatcher’s legacy, it’s that she was a leader who caused clear division between her supporters and detractors. While this divide will most certainly not be reconciled after her passing, what will be clear however is that her legacy and policies, like them or not, are alive and well today.


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