The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Can't Help but Admire Thatcher

In the first part of her autobiography, The Downing Street Years, Margaret Thatcher makes some interesting observations about her eleven years as British Prime Minister, from 1979 to 1990. She had inherited a country that was gradually sliding into socialism. This she attributes to the "Suez syndrome".

"Having once exaggerated our imperial power," she writes, referring to the huge expanse of British Empire in Africa and Asia, "We now, after the Suez debacle of 1956, exaggerated our impotence." The British had acquired an inferiority complex.

Before the dismantling of the empire, Britain had asserted herself in the world; after 1956, she hid under the table. From Tory grandeur to Socialist drabness. Even the Conservatives had their crypto-Socialists, who tried to undo their party's ethos and structure from within, and who didn't want to stand out as if afraid not only of their own people, but also of displeasing the two superpowers.

Socialism, she writes, has a certain nobility; equal sacrifice, fair shares, everyone pulling together. Seen from below, however, it looked very different. Fair shares somehow always turn out to be small shares. Then someone has to enforce their fairness.; someone else has to check that this fairness does not result in black markets or under-the-counter favouritism; and a third person has to watch the first two to make sure that the administrators of fairness end up with no more than their fair share.

All this promises an atmosphere of envy and tittle-tattle. In contrast to the years of progressive socialization that had gone before, she set down a different policy for the Conservative party. It was the job of government, she wrote, to establish a framework of stability - constitutional stability, the rule of law, and economic stability provided by sound money - within which individual families and businesses were free to pursue their own dreams and ambitions.

We had to stop telling people what their ambitions should be and how exactly to realize them. That was up to them. Her most vivid memory is of the Falklands war in 1982. War was declared by Britain so that the aggressor, Argentina, should not succeed, that international law should prevail over the use of force, and so the wishes of the Falkland islanders, who preferred to remain associated with Britain, should be respected.

In 1984-5, the Conservatives under Thatcher's premiership had another severe test; the miners' strike, which lasted one year. Basically it was the hard Left, the Communist Left, testing the system.

After breaking the back of the strike, the Prime Minister said: "If anyone has won, it has been the miners who stayed at work, the dockers, power workers, the railwaymen and managers who stayed at work... all those people who kept the wheels of Britain turning, and who, despite the strike, actually produced a record output in Britain last year." Solid stuff.

Book: The Downing Street Years:

Author: Margaret Thatcher.

Publisher: Harper Press, 2011.

Volume: 914 pages.

Cost: Shs 49,000.

Available from Aristoc.

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