As America’s conservatives regroup following another electoral defeat in the 2012 presidential race, the leadership principles and example of Margaret Thatcher have never been more relevant than they are now.
Mrs. Thatcher was Britain’s first female prime minister, and the longest continuously serving British prime minister of the 20th century. She was a grocer’s daughter who rose from humble origins to become one of the greatest political figures of modern times. She served three terms in office, from 1979 to 1990, and never lost a general election.
Nicknamed “the Iron Lady” by the Soviets, she was known for her powerful leadership, both at home and on the world stage, and for her conservative conviction politics. Her free-market ideology of small government, low taxes, privatization and individual responsibility came to be known as “Thatcherism,” and played a key role in the economic revitalization of both Great Britain and the United States in the 1980s.
There are striking parallels between the United States of today, and the Britain of the 1970s, which Mrs. Thatcher successfully turned around based on a clear-cut conservative agenda. In 1970s Britain, left-wing governments implemented radical, big-government agendas driving public spending to unprecedented levels, resulting in huge levels of public debt. British Socialists launched a crusade against economic freedom, raising taxes, demonizing the wealthy, and using the language of class warfare, while increasing the size of the welfare state.
Sinking under mountains of debt, Britain faced bankruptcy, and was forced to go cap-in-hand to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout in 1976. Britain was widely viewed as an economic basket case, doomed to decline, head of a once-great empire that ruled a quarter of the globe now literally on its hands and knees, humiliated before the world.
However, Britain had an alternative, and a conservative leader who saved her nation from self-destruction once she was given the mandate of the British people. America’s right have much to learn from the Iron Lady, whose success against incredible odds should serve as an inspiration for today’s and tomorrow’s leaders.
Mrs. Thatcher succeeded in leading an economic and political revolution that transformed a nation on its deathbed into a self-confident global powerhouse through the implementation of conservative policies, ideals and values. She was a conviction prime minister who challenged conventional wisdom and refused to accept the dominant liberal attitudes of the day.
Mrs. Thatcher was never afraid to defend the core beliefs of conservatism, no matter how much hostility or isolation she faced. Like Ronald Reagan, she demonstrated why principled conservative leadership works. She never surrendered her beliefs while many around her on the right had already given up. For her, the words “accommodation” and “compromise” were the language of defeat, not victory.
Mrs. Thatcher’s success was based heavily upon understanding the concerns of the conservative grassroots on core issues such as the economy, government spending and taxes. She won over millions more to the conservative cause not by watering down her message or shifting her positions, but by presenting a positive vision of limited government. Like Mrs. Thatcher, American conservatives must be the champions of small government, free enterprise and individual freedom.
The Iron Lady succeeded against incredible odds. Her brand of conviction leadership is a powerful role model for America’s conservative leaders today. U.S. conservatives should take heart from her extraordinary political victories and be inspired by her unyielding loyalty to conservative ideals.
Nile Gardiner and Stephen Thompson are authors of “Margaret Thatcher on Leadership: Lessons for American Conservatives Today” (Regnery, 2013).