This is a blog on the British monarchy, one of my great passions in life, and I am always rigorously careful that everything that is written in here is related to the Crown and its history. I would never break this rule to touch on other subjects—except for one thing, one person only. Margaret Thatcher: a name so emblematic to rival monarchy itself, whose influence on the country we live in today rivals that of many of our kings and queens. Maggie, Mrs T, the Iron Lady—the only leader we have had since medieval times to be known by a glorious moniker.
I was fascinated by Margaret Thatcher even before I knew what she stood for. I was 6 years old when she became Prime Minister, 18 when she left office, and although I was a foreigner living abroad at the time, I felt I knew who she was and what she represented even from hundreds of miles away, as if her name was like the beam of a lighthouse shining Britishness across the globe. I remember her resignation as if it was yesterday, the sense of shock and disbelief about what had happened. And after I came to Britain 17 years ago I slowly learned, bit by bit, that she had been more important to Britain than I could have imagined, more than a Cold Warrior, more than a Prime Minister, more than a politician: she had been a savior of all that Britain represented to the world.
I do not wish to use this post to enumerate all her achievements, both at home and abroad, half of which alone would be the envy of most statesmen. There are plenty of favorable obituaries out there to provide that service. But I feel it is important, as a staunch admirer and supporter, to explain why I deeply mourn her passing and why I think she was one of the greatest Britons who ever lived.
First of all, I always loved that Maggie was ‘one of us’. Not born in grand palaces, not bred in elite families, not the product of posh schools: just a grocer’s daughter who grew up above the shop in a run-o-the-mill English town, like millions of unrecorded and unappreciated others in this great country. I love that she was formed by traditional values and that she pulled herself above her station by sheer talent, dint and luck.
Her ordinary background was always her greatest strength and the source of the greatest spite from her critics, most of them intellectuals and elites, half-contemptious and half-offended that someone born so ordinary could have raised herself so high. Pay close attention to those who even upon her death cannot refrain their flowery criticisms against her and you will spot them, still offended about her, and so resentful to even forget the common decencies due to anyone upon their death.
Maggie’s ordinary background gave her an instinctive understanding of the English people. I have always thought that the best definition anyone has ever given of the English came from Napoleon. In a fit of frustration and disdain he once called the English ‘a nation of shopkeepers.’ Though he meant it derisively, he hit on the fundamental truth that the practical spirit of shopkeeping lies in the soul of every English person: making a decent living, asking a fair price for a fair service, giving back to the community, quietly taking pride in what you do. No one could understand this better than a shopkeeper’s daughter, and the mystical bond that she forged with the millions of shopkeeping souls in England was the ultimate fountain of her success.
Her critics, on fringes high and low, might shout the loudest, but they do not speak for the great silent majority who voted her in office three times, and who still show quiet appreciation for what she has done for them. Indeed, Maggie’s own people would not shout at all: their shopkeeping English decency would not allow them to act so crassly or so stridulously . They’re just happy to get on quietly and decently in life, and to have had, for once, one of their own in power who shared their values and understood their problems.
Secondly, I love that she allowed Britain to be Great again. It can be hard to understand in this country what the names England and Britain mean around the world. They are names that are synonymous with democracy, freedom, fairness, inventiveness, business, principles, a fighting spirit. In terms of inspiration to the world, Britain is second only to America, a country whose principles she was in fact a mother to.
The decline of Britain during the postwar era might have been sad and gloomy to behold from within the country, but it was absolutely painful to watch from foreign shores. As Britain quietly slipped into suicide through a loss of confidence, the world was very conscious that it was losing something special. That loss of British self-confidence can of course be understood, even justified: although a victor in the Second World War, Britain lost more than any other country to the conflict. It lost an Empire, it lost prominence, it lost direction. It lost self-respect.
On top of it, after the Second World War Britain adopted a socialist creed that was absolutely poisonous to the English soul. Socialism can work for some countries: France happens to be a nation where socialism can easily fit within the national psyche, China is another. But socialism had no place in a nation of shopkeepers, and its draconian application since 1945 sapped the nation’s energies and neutralized its talents. By the time Maggie came along the rot had set so deeply that factories were not running and the dead could not be buried. Nothing but the brutal slaying of that red monster could restore greatness to Britain, and although it was harsh Maggie had to do it.
With that done, the British people were set free again. It is wrong to say that it was Mrs T herself who made Britain Great again: it was the British people themselves who did it. Her slaying of the socialist dragon, done with all the passion of a modern female St George, allowed the natural talents and energies of the English people to flow freely again after their socialist captivity. These are the unfettered spirits of enterprise, discovery, free association, optimism, industry, the same energies that built modern democracy in the 17th century, built commercial Britain in the 18th century, and who built an empire in the 19th. Yes, that empire is gone, and the elites in control of post-war Britain spent decades peddling a national lie that nothing great was ever going to follow it. “No”, Maggie said, “this nation can be great again!”
By unshackling and rousing the national talents Maggie let the people themselves decide if and how Britain would be Great again. We are still in the process of forging this new greatness, which might turn out to be financial, technological, political, or inspirational. But wherever this journey leads us, Britain is a far more confident nation today, proud its great past, and standing tall among the nations of the world. And believe me, the world is as proud to call Britain Great again today as the British people themselves are.
Thirdly, and most importantly, I love what Maggie taught me by example. Yes, she might not have been an easy person to get along with, but her public qualities more than made up for her personal flaws. Much is made about the fact she was the first woman Prime Minister but it is a testament to her individuality that her gender comes pretty low in the list of things she is identified with. She once said that she owned nothing to women’s lib, and far from being an insult this statement was proof of her belief that people should be defined by what they say and what they do, not by what they are.
Woman, man, white, black, straight, gay: none of these categories should be as important in defining you as a person as what you believe and what you do in life. Your beliefs, and actions resulting from it, should be the things the world knows you for, because those are the only things that are your own creations and are not forced upon you by circumstance. That is the essence of Margaret Thatcher’s message of individualism.
And more than anything I learned from Maggie the importance of expressing and defending your own beliefs, honestly and courageously. It seems such a natural thing to do but in fact it is one of the trickiest skills to master since life always invites you to compromise, hide, and reject the things you believe in for the sake of money, career, fear, acceptance. And, again, to betray your beliefs is one the saddest things you can do because your beliefs are the purest expressions of who you truly are.
The absolutely most impressive thing about Margaret Thatcher is that, despite the vicious hate that her views engendered, despite the pressures from politicians and interest groups, despite murderous attempts on her own life, she never retreated from what she believed. Of all the criticisms that have ever been flung at her, the one that is ever missing is that she was a hypocrite, or worse, a politician. Everything she said or did seemed grounded in that great line from the most quintessential of English artists, Shakespeare: to thine own self be true.
Expressing my views faithfully and bravely is what I have learned from Maggie to do in life, including when I write in this blog on the British monarchy. Maggie was not royalty but was one of those people who I believe was as important to Britain as the institution of the monarchy itself. Indeed, as the most patriotic of British institutions, the monarchy could not have survived for long if Margaret Thatcher had not made Britain confident and conscious of its identity again.
So, my gratitude and deepest respect goes to Margaret Thatcher, the greatest of Elizabeth II’s Prime Ministers; the woman who restored our country’s pride; the woman who forged the nation we live in today; the woman who taught me to believe in Britain.
Thank you, Maggie.