Maggie – in her words

«She has the eyes of Stalin and the voice of Marilyn Monroe»

Jacques Mitterand

A controversial personality, perhaps the single most influential politician of the second half of the twentieth century, Margaret is someone I used to discard as a right extremist for a long time, like many people still do today. But, because of my usual curiosity, I wanted to discover more about her character and I started reading her memories  of The Downing Street Years – right one week before her death was announced and many leftists – like the prominent director Ken Loach – kept again tussle in to spit over the cadaver, while others underlined how much history has proved she was right on many things.

Here I put just a bunch of the impressively significant quotes from this long, detailed book, full of technical discussions of core issues and ideals (yes, ideals… especially freedom):

«The Soviet Union was a power which deliberately inflicted economic backwardness on itself for political and ideological reasons, but compensated for this by concentrating resources on its military sector and by using the power this gave to it to obtain further resources by force or the threat of force.»

«No theory of government was ever given a fairer test or a more prolonged experiment in a democratic country than democratic socialism received in Britain. Yet it was a miserable failure in every respect. Far from reversing the slow relative decline of Britain vis-à-vis its main industrial competitors, it accelerated it. We fell further behind them, until by 1979 we were widely dismissed as ‘the sick man of Europe’…To cure the British disease with socialism was like trying to cure leukaemia with leeches.(…)Under a Labour’s government, there’s virtually nowhere you can put your savings where they would be safe from the state. (…) If you put money in a sock, they would probably nationalize socks»

«(…) Not every capitalist had my confidence in capitalism. I remember a meeting in Opposition with City experts who were clearly taken back at my desire to free their market. “Steady on!”, I was told. Clearly, a world without exchange controls in which markets rather than governments determined the movement of capital left them distinctly uneasy. They might have to take risks.»

«If we were to channel more of the nation’s talent into wealth-creating private business, this would mean reducing employment in the public sector. (…) Unlike the private sector, it actually tended to grow during recessions while maintaining its size during periods of economic growth. (…) But the corollary of this was that we should reward outstanding ability within the civil service appropriately.»

(Asking Chairman Kosygin about the refugees fleeing from communist and Soviet-ally Vietnam, at what he answered “they’re all drug-takers or criminals”) «What? One million of them? Is communism so bad that a million have to take drugs or steal to live?»

(Talking about President Jimmy Carter)«He had an unsure handle on economics and was therefore inclined to drift into a futile ad hoc interventionism when problems arose.»

«Andreotti – Italy’s Prime Minister then and again in my last days as Prime Minister – endorsed the French view (on the Keynesian view of how to run Europe’s economy)…this apparently indispensable participant in Italian governments represented an approach to politics which I could not share. He seemed to have a positive aversion to principle, even a conviction that a man of principle was doomed to be a figure of fun»

«I had found Sig. Cossiga highly competent and deeply concerned. He was also a man of principle (…). Italian politics and Italian politicians do not evoke much understanding or sympathy from the British, or indeed from the Italians, and I confess to sharing some of that disenchantment. But Francesco Cossiga was himself a sceptic about the usual Italian practices. He was the nearest thing to an independent in Italian politics; in negotiations he always played a straight hand; he could be relied upon to keep his word, as he did over the stationing of Cruise missiles in Italy; and he was an undoubted Anglophile and a strong admirer of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 as the birth of true liberal politics.»

(About the European Council of 1980, where the Israeli-Palestinian question was discussed)  «The final communiqué reflected what seemed to me the right balance: it reaffirmed the right of all the states in the region – including Israel – to existence and security, but also demanded justice for all peoples, which implied recognition of the Palestinian’s right to self-determination. So, of course, it pleased no one»

«Too often Brtish industrial products were uncompetitive. This was not simply because of the strong pound was making it difficult to sell abroad, but because our industrial reputation had steadily been eroded. In the end reputation reflects reality(…) the root of Britain’s industrial problem was low productivity. (…) Neither British trade unions nor the socialists were prepared to accept that an increase in productivity is likely, initially, to reduce the number of jobs before creating the wealth that sustain new ones. (…) the fact is that in a market economy government does not – and cannot – know where jobs will come from: if it did know, all those interventionist policies for “picking winners” and “backing success” would not have picked losers and compounded failure. (…) incomes policy had no place in our economic strategy»

 «Within a given money supply (provided that the government sticks to it), the more taken out in higher pay, the less available for investment, and the smaller the number of jobs»

 «We (…) helped small business through enterprise zones, gave tax relief to encourage the investment of venture capital, and introduced building allowances for small workshops»

 «We were seeking to secure greater financial stability, within which business and individuals could operate with confidence. We knew that we could do this only by controlling those things which government could control – namely the money supply and public borrowing.»

 «I told the TUC (Trade Union Congress) that we all wanted high living standards and more jobs, but that if people wanted a German standard of living then they must achieve a German standard of output (…) there was no shortage of demand in the economy: the problem was that because of our uncompetitiveness that demand was being met by imports.»

«There is a broken circuit. Producers want a protected market for their products. That is the union demand. But the same trade unionists, as consumers, want on open market. They cannot both win. But they can both lose.»

(Referring to the wets, conservatives who opposed her) «This cloaked and indirect approach has never been my style and I felt contempt for it. I thrive on honest argument. I am interested in practical options. And I prefer to debate my opponents rather than undermine them with leaks.»

(About the young people involved in the Liverpool riots) «They had plenty of constructive things to do if they wanted. Instead, I asked myself how people could live in such circumstances without trying to clean up the mess and improve their surroundings. What was clearly lacking was a sense of pride and personal responsibility. (…) while the colour of a person’s skin did not matter to me at all, crime did. I urged them not to resort to violence or to try to live in separate communities from the rest of us.»

«The whole concept of “North-South” dialogue, which the Brandt Commission had made the fashionable talk of the international community, was in my view wrong-headed. Not only was it false to suggest that there was a homogeneous rich North which confronted a homogeneous poor South: underlying the rhetoric was the idea that redistribution of world resources rather than the creation of wealth was the way to tackle poverty and hunger. Moreover, what the developing countries needed more than aid was trade: so our first responsibility was – and still is – to give them the freest possible access to out markets. (…) The intractable problems of Third World poverty, hunger and debt would not be solved by misdirected international intervention, but rather by liberating enterprise, promoting trade – and defeating socialism in all its forms.»

At UN 1982 General Assembly on disarmament: «(…) peace is not enough without freedom and justice, and sometimes – as we were demonstrating in the Falklands – it was necessary to sacrifice peace if freedom and justice were to prevail.»

«There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then to look after our neighbour. (…) Society was not an abstraction, separate from the men and women who composed it, but a living structure of  individuals, families, neighbours and voluntary associations. I expected great things from society in this sense because I believed that as economic wealth grew, individuals and voluntary groups should assume more responsibility for their neighbours’ misfortunes.»

«The conditions of dependence are the conditions for socialism. (…) If individuals were discouraged and communities disorientated by the state stepping in to take decisions which should be properly made by people, families and neighbourhoods then society’s problems would grow not diminish. (…) You need to distinguish between the “deserving” an the “undeserving poor”. Both groups should be given help: but it must be help of very different kinds if public spending is not just going to reinforce the dependency culture. The problem with out welfare state was that – -perhaps to some dregree inevitably – we had failed to remember that distinction ad so we provided the same “help” to those who had genuinely fallen into difficulties and neede some support til they could get out of them, as to those who had simply lost the will or habit of work and self-improvement. The purpose of help must not be to allow people to live a half-life, but to restore their self-discipline and through that their self-esteem.»

«As Michael Novak, I stressed that democratic capitalism was a moral and a social, not just an economic system, that it encouraged a range of virtues and that it depended upon co-operation not just “going it alone”.»

«I was an individualist in the sense that I believed that individuals are ultimately accountable for their actions and must behave like it. But I always refused to accept that there was a conflict between this kind of individualism and social responsibility.»

Here you find a good documentary which spans all over the 1980s to cover in depth the same events and political battles she recalls in the book. If you want a briefer and “literary fiction” version of the story, just watch the movie that came out two years ago.


The book has now become available in a new edition, together with The Path to Power.

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