Britain is wasting Mrs Thatcher’s legacy – and it’s all Tory fault
Unsurprisingly, the new statue of Margaret Thatcher caused controversy a few minutes after its unveiling. Jeremy Webster, 59-year-old assistant director of an arts centre, decided to stick with the big man (or woman) the traditional way – by throwing eggs at it. Only one of his four missiles actually broke on the statue (although he boasted on social media that he landed the first hit). Anarchy in the UK, this is not the case. The incident seemed a sublimely pathetic mix of cultural stereotypes – youthful exhibitionism meets baby boomer entitlement. But what a mark of respect. Who but Mrs. Thatcher could, after all these years, still reduce her opponents to egg-splattering rage?
It’s good to have a little laugh. Given the steady stream of depressing economic news, there’s little to laugh about these days. But it brings cold solace – Mrs Thatcher may retain the power to inflame her critics, but her legacy is muddied far more viscerally than a clutch of off-target eggs ever could.
Inflation was something Mrs Thatcher, as the daughter of a Grantham grocer, had in her bones. She knew he possessed the power to overthrow governments, seeping into everything – insidious at first, then overwhelming as he gained momentum.
Today, even the most affluent feel the pinch; that momentary gasp when the steep electricity bill hits the doormat or the mind-boggling jolt when the full tank of diesel exceeds £120 for the first time. For the poorest, every visit to the supermarket becomes a nightmare, compounding an overwhelming sense of panic as once-common costs suddenly become prohibitive. Inflation reduces our independence and self-esteem; stable prices give people the confidence to save, invest and plan for the future.
Thatcher, who came to power amid spiraling inflation and took drastic measures to reverse it, would surely have reacted furiously to Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey’s admission of feeling ‘helpless’ in the face of economic calamity. The Bank had previously dismissed rising inflation as a “transitional” trend. Even today, they show a remarkable carelessness.
But blaming Threadneedle Street alone is too easy; successive governments bought into the complacent, technocratic narrative that these masters of the financial universe had defeated inflation, while the proponents of “sound money” were dismissed as old-fashioned relics. How wrong they were. The desperate printing of money supposedly designed to fund the government’s Covid strategy is expensive.
Yet rot goes much further than that. Conservative MPs were once steeped in economy. The Thatcherite generation – think of John Redwood or Liam Fox – still tends to approach things from an explicitly economic point of view. They understand the morality of low taxes but also the power of incentives, and they are acutely aware of the roots of wealth creation.
Their successors seem neither interested nor particularly knowledgeable about it. Asked to list their successes, they will return to the inputs, citing the latest spending commitments – invariably described as an “investment”, regardless of its results. They will talk enthusiastically about abstract things like “green growth” – assuming that just spending the money does the work for you.
This means that they have no qualms about actively embracing leftist solutions – usually stated in explicitly leftist language. They no longer seem to have the intellectual foundations to identify the kind of levers that a Conservative government could pull.
In the case of energy, they refuse to consider changing or even temporarily suspending green levies which add around £150 a year to the average household electricity bill (and an additional £250 per household to the cost of annual life). Rather than defending the principle of tax cuts, MEPs and Ministers opposed the reduction of VAT on fuel on the grounds that it would benefit the richest and poorest households alike. The Treasury frequently follows Gordon Brown’s logic of taxing people and then returning some of it to them through complex rebates and loans – rather than not raising taxes in the first place.
Inaction and procrastination have left them lacking ideas and the stomach to fight back, while their regular abandonments to leftist economics have themselves created an inescapable socialist dynamic. Having wholeheartedly defended the NHS, not just its hardworking staff – and followed Labor’s logic that its problems can be solved simply by spending more money – it will now be even harder for the Tories to push for the necessary reforms in the years to come. Energy price caps are another example, essentially committing the government to bailing out companies indefinitely without doing anything to address the fundamental supply problem.
What, if any, of Mrs. Thatcher’s legacy remains intact? Where Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson reduced the personal income tax burden, their successors raised taxes to a 70-year high, leaving even the reasonably well-off to question their incentives to work long hours. hours and taking risks. Although Britain has not reversed privatization, we have compensated for this by increasing the regulatory burden in all areas of life.
Conservatives today speak well of the housing question, but few seem to share the Thatcherite belief that capitalists must be able to acquire capital, that home ownership confers a stake in society on the very owner of the more modest studios. The Government introduced some sensible planning reforms in the latest Queen’s Speech, but noticeably avoided rocking the boat with anything too radical that might scare off their wayward backbench MPs.
Unfortunately, the PM embodies the new philosophy underlying so many of our problems. Mrs. Thatcher did not care to be liked; she understands that doing the right thing in the long run can be painful and can even get you kicked out of the office, but it’s necessary nonetheless. In contrast, in their obsession with the short-term media cycle and not offending anyone, our current leaders have institutionalized the art of can-kicking. It’s becoming clearer day by day that this may be enough to win a job, but it won’t keep you in power.