This Side of the Pond – April 18

By Sarah Pridgeon

I’m sure you’ve heard the news that Baroness Margaret Thatcher, previously the Prime Minister of Great Britain, has passed away at the age of 87. You may also have heard the kerfuffle her death has caused, with debates still raging between those who support her with passionate vehemence and those who spittingly maintain that, after she passed, she went down rather than up.

Some believe she ruined the country and made life unbearable for its inhabitants. Others say we wouldn’t have made it through the dark times without her guiding hand. Both arguments have their merits.

The Iron Lady’s legacy lies in what she achieved and I began to wonder as I read the myriad of opinion pieces flying across the internet and saturating the British media. Does Crook County realize that her actions had tangible effects, even here?

Margaret Thatcher would have been a popular member of this community, had she followed in my emigrating footsteps. She was particularly at home with the Republican ethos of free trade and spent quite some time lecturing about it. She greatly admired this country, saying that, while Europe was created by history, America was born of philosophy.

She’d have made a strong impression with the ladies – she was once quoted as saying that, “in politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.” Though being female wasn’t of particular interest to the prime minister herself, she broke new ground as a woman in Western politics.

Boasting experience as an education secretary, research chemist, barrister and wife of the director of a big oil company, not to mention as a mother of two, some might argue that she was better qualified to be prime minister than any party leader before her had ever been – or has been since.

She would have been liked among the county’s ranchers, because her fight against import restrictions had knock-on effects for agriculture that can be felt here even now. Anyone in possession of a bank account would meanwhile have thanked her for her contribution to world finances. Because of Mrs. Thatcher, the City of London is now open to the big American investment banks and ready for international business.

Those with a protective instinct would have congratulated her actions when the Falkland Islands were invaded by Argentina in 1982. The islands are some six thousand miles from English shores but, being Maggie Thatcher, that wasn’t about to stop her; despite the risks, she sent a task force across the oceans and promptly retook her territory. Some called it her finest hour.

Incidentally, the Falkland Islands were offered a referendum recently on whether they would like their independence. Of the 3000 people who call the tiny protectorate home, and remember Mrs. Thatcher with hushed reverence, a gratifying 99.8 percent voted to remain British.

Maggie Thatcher would have stormed the streets of Sundance with her handbag ready for trouble. The Iron Lady would have voiced her opinion loudly and repeatedly whenever she saw the need – after all, she was fond of saying she had extraordinary patience, provided she got her way in the end.

For anyone left on the list without reason to have esteemed her, it’s fortunate that I’ve saved the best for last: if it wasn’t for Margaret Thatcher, we might still be living in the shadow of nuclear war.

It was Mrs. Thatcher who first met with Mikhail Gorbachev with an eye to ending the Cold War, recognizing him as “a man of goodwill who stepped forward from the ruins.” Admired in Russia even today, it was actually within the Soviet Union that her Iron Lady nickname was born.

As Thatcher took office, the Cold War was beginning to escalate. Martial law had been declared in Poland and the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. Even more worryingly, a new generation of nuclear missiles had been deployed, capable of destroying every NATO capital except Washington.

Mrs. Thatcher responded by allowing the U.S. to station cruise missiles on British soil, showing the Soviet Union that the West could not be cowed. When President Ronald Reagan came to power, the two became firm friends and worked together to combat the problem. They were united in their belief that military strength was the only way to force the Soviet Union to negotiate, and the U.S. military was more than up to the task.

Thatcher and Reagan stood together, resolved in their intentions; Mrs. Thatcher would even speak for both countries at summits, telling people what “Ron and I both think.” The two leaders were the very epitome of the “special relationship” between our countries.

Even so, it was Mrs. Thatcher who first recognized Gorbachev as the key to the end of the war. Before he even came to power, he visited Britain and was given her seal of approval. “I like Mr. Gorbachev,” she said. “We can do business together.”

With her endorsement in hand, Gorbachev approached Reagan and began negotiating the disarmament treaties that ended a generation of nuclear fear. It was quite the achievement for a woman who was told by her predecessor that she hadn’t the slightest chance of becoming prime minister.

Yes, I think you would have liked Mrs. Thatcher, had she spent some time among us. She may have been a formidable figure; as unflappable as a brass statue and as strict as an old-school headmistress, uninterested in emotional baggage and seemingly devoid of empathy.

But I think you would have enjoyed her quick wit and the tenacity with which she approached everything she did. You would have admired the willpower that earned her the name Iron Lady; of all her legacies, the strength of mind with which she plowed through life is one we can surely all remember fondly.

Margaret Thatcher, above all, reminds us to never shy away from our convictions, no matter what pressure we face. For a while there, her efforts to revive the economy seemed destined to fail. “You turn if you want to,” she said, utterly undaunted. “The lady’s not for turning.”