25 years on
"A quarter of a century after becoming prime minister, Margaret Thatcher remains a misunderstood figure, almost as much by her supporters as by her opponents. For the Left, she is synonymous with selfishness; and even some people who voted for her assume that the whole point of Thatcherism lay in self-enrichment. It is true that millions benefited financially from the entrepreneurial spirit released by Lady Thatcher, and that – as is always the case when a state-directed economy is unbound – they included a few unpleasant and corrupt businessmen. But the economic dimension of Thatcherism was never its essence; at least, not as its founder understood it.
"There is no such thing as society," she once said, appearing to justify the callous solipsism of her crudest supporters. In fact, the remark, which is invariably quoted out of context, means almost exactly the opposite of what it has come to mean in the popular legend. It was part of a broader attack on a culture of entitlement that permits people to neglect their families and their neighbours on the grounds that "society" is responsible for them. Lady Thatcher deplored that sort of selfishness, just as she deplored the selfishness of the unions whose power she broke.
Her political philosophy was always more restorationist than revolutionary. One of the purposes of wealth creation at all levels of society was to restore the organic unity of a nation fractured by class warfare. That unity rested on peculiarly British traditions of philanthropy, self-sacrifice and duty; and it was held together by loyalty to the traditional institutions of Church and State. One might argue that some of Lady Thatcher’s decisions – such as the signing of the Single European Act – had the effect of weakening those institutions; but it was an unintended effect.
And that is one of the important differences between Margaret Thatcher and our current Prime Minister. Although Tony Blair is the first Labour leader to talk enthusiastically about wealth creation, and although he pays lip service to social cohesion, he is loosening the ties that bind our society. He has done so through naive and hasty constitutional "reforms", unrestricted immigration, the surrender of national sovereignty to the European Union and the growth of a client state of bossy social engineers committed to a culture of therapeutic self-pity.
It is hypocrisy for Mr Blair to claim, as he often does, that he has preserved the best elements in Thatcherism while turning his back on its selfish ethos. The truth is that he has learnt a few narrow economic lessons from Lady Thatcher, and nothing else."