NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

MARGARET THATCHER: RESCUER OF ENGLAND

May 17, 2004

Twenty-five years ago this month, in May 1979, Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of Great Britain. This proved to be an event of profound importance for that country. It is not an overstatement to say that she revolutionized Britain's society and economy in ways no other British leader has ever done, says Bruce Bartlett.

Thatcher was elected to Parliament in 1953 and served in cabinet level positions. In 1975, she was elected leader of the Conservative Party, which was then in opposition. She achieved this position by arguing that British decline was not inevitable, that the right policies could tame inflation and restore prosperity. These included tight control of the money supply, tax rate reductions, privatization of British industry, deregulation and a tougher position toward unions.

On May 4, 1979, Conservatives won control of Parliament, making Thatcher prime minister. She quickly set about implementing her agenda:

  • Just one month later, the basic rate of taxation was cut from 33 percent to 30 percent and the top rate on wages went down from 83 percent to 60 percent.
  • In subsequent years, the basic rate was reduced to 25 percent and the top rate lowered to 40 percent.
  • Britain's nationalized industries were sold off to the general public, making many of them shareholders for the first time.
  • Its extensive public housing was sold to tenants, making many of them homeowners for the first time.

After a series of bitter encounters, the unions were finally tamed. The result was a rejuvenation of the economy, the restoration of an enterprise culture and the end of talk about British decline.

Thatcher resigned as prime minister in 1990 and joined the House of Lords in 1992. Even her sternest critics admit that her reforms were necessary and beneficial to the country, says Bartlett.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, "Margaret Thatcher, Rescuer of England," National Center for Policy Analysis, May 17, 2004.

 

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