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An evening with a baroness

By J.K. Baltzersen
web posted June 7, 2004

On May 4, 1979 - after winning a general election the day before - Margaret Thatcher was made Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. On May 4, 2004 was the Silver Jubilee of the appointment of Thatcher. The focal point of the evening was the now Rt. Hon. Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven LG OM FRS. As a life peer she still has the right to vote in the House of Lords. Sadly, lots of hereditary peers have been stripped of their voting rights in the first stage of Blair's crusade - which unfortunately is a continuance of a crusade started long ago - against everything that does not fit his requirement of "modernity" and against everything that possibly could stand in the way of total democracy. This is not to say that the bulwark against democracy was massive before Tony Blair entered the stage. However, removing the last bulwark certainly would not make things better. Now, it turns out that the House of Lords is standing in the way of Mr. Blair's quest for "modern democracy". In his move to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor even the reformed House of Lords, Lady Thatcher included, stands in his way.

On this evening of May 4, 2004 about 500 dinner guests, myself included, gathered to celebrate the achievements of Margaret Thatcher. Baroness Thatcher herself stressed that it was a team effort. Prior to the election victory in 1979 the United Kingdom was in decline. The UK could absolutely, perhaps several times over, be said to be what Hans-Hermann Hoppe has called civilizational decline. Moreover, Erik M.R. von Kuehnelt-Leddihns Why socialism refuses to die of 1992 would have been highly relevant were it not for the mention of the collapse of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, which had not yet happened. Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn says:

In our democracies certain political parties buy votes with handouts of public money. Thus we get Santa Claus parties all over the world; they are not easily defeated at the polls and, if they are defeated, the tighten-your-belt parties rarely have the courage to undo their work and to stop the bribery of the masses. If they did, they would not have the slightest chance of being re-elected.

Of course, this is the general rule. "Everyone" believed that Britain was doomed and that complete decline was inevitable. One woman believed differently. She won an election and was made Prime Minister. Not only did she get elected. She got reelected twice. Although the general rules of democracy and human nature do apply, miracles - or at least near miracles - do happen. What does this tell us?

Well, firstly, if the present condition of the world or our own part of the world seems hopelessly permanent, there might after all be hope. Thatcher was a sort of modern day Don Quixote, setting out to fight windmills. This is not meant in the usually sense that one is disconnected from reality. It is meant in a positive sense. The windmills Thatcher set out to fight were British socialism, and she won. Was everything fine when she left office? [1] Of course not, but quite a few ills were fixed. The achievements of the Thatcher government include rollbacks that few thought possible. These achievements should absolutely be celebrated. Her determination - the utmost of determination is necessary in a fight which seems completely hopeless - is summed up in one of her quotes:

You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.
Secondly, we are told that we should try to make the best out of our current situation. Of course, one should not be silent about inherent faults in the democratic system. However, one should also work to cure ills within the inherently bad system.

I had a short moment with the baroness. Coming from one of the few countries of Western Europe standing outside of the European Union I was warmly welcomed. Lady Thatcher expressed "I love Norway!" I had the pleasure to meet one of the very few politicians of this democratic republican age worth celebrating. Considering Margaret Thatcher's fight against European integration through the European Union - a fight I as a euro-skeptic very much appreciate - it should come as no surprise that she would appreciate a country that, through a referendum in 1972 said no to the European Community and again in 1994 said no to the European Union. Although now Baroness Thatcher always has spoken positively of democracy, she vigilantly fought the concept of global governance and democracy represented by the European Union. Sadly, thus far this fight has been less successful.

In Norway, the first pure Conservative Party Cabinet since 1928 was formed on October 14, 1981, following the September "non-socialist" victory. It was a "minority Cabinet", i.e., it did not consist of parties forming a majority in Parliament. This situation changed in 1983. The supporting parties joined the Conservative Party, forming a "majority Cabinet". The coalition lost its Parliament majority in the September 1985 election. The Progress Party was brought in a deciding position in Parliament between the socialist block and the coalition partners. The Progress Party initially supported the sitting Cabinet. So the coalition continued in power. However, in the late spring of 1986 the coalition Cabinet fell on an ultimatum to increase taxes. How about that? Prime Minister Willoch, on whom many had relied to roll back socialism and the size of government, hands in his resignation after suffering a defeat in Parliament over his tax increase proposal [2]. It is easy to see that quite a few Scandinavians - but still thus far a marginal amount - are envious of the achievements in the United Kingdom under Margaret Thatcher.

One of the good things Thatcher took on was a fight against unions and strikes. In Norway, we have recently been cursed with at least two strikes; a teamsters' strike and a journalists' strike. The teamsters' strike was quite visible in lots of groceries and supermarkets. Empty shelves were recently quite common. That our tabloid newspapers didn't come out I'm not so sure was such a big loss. The teamsters' strike was about a demand that union employees were to receive an exclusive raise. This demand is quite peculiar since the Norwegian labor movement generally has been for the principle of generalization of wage tariff agreements, i.e., the principle that unions negotiate on behalf of their members with the employers' associations and the result is to apply to everyone. There is a slight hope that the abandonment of this principle will lead to more acceptance of the principle that every individual employee or group of employees may negotiate their own terms with their employers.

Of course, the whole concept of a right to strike is misconceived. If you refuse to work, your employer should have the right to lay you off. If you are dissatisfied with your terms, no one forces you to stay; you can go elsewhere with your services. The concept that you should be allowed to refuse temporarily to work and refuse others the right to offer their services in the mean time in order to force your employer to pay more is flawed. Anyone offering their services and in doing so is being viewed as "disloyal" to strikers should indeed be viewed as heroes.

In Norway, strikes are often stopped by a law for the particular strike. The dispute then goes to a standing committee on wage tariffs. This standing committee decides the new terms between employees and employers. This is not much of a market system. Luckily, not every Norwegian is locked in this system.

Norway definitely needs extensive changes. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom through more than a decade from 1979, celebrated on this evening, serves as a good example in her fight against unions and their use of strikes.

The rollback that virtually everyone thought impossible included privatization and tax cuts of quite a magnitude. Of course, close investigation might very well show that there were some bad things in the Thatcher policies and that things could have been done differently, especially in the light of hindsight. Generally, though, it must be said that Margaret Thatcher did a great deal good, which should be celebrated. Although democracy is a bad form of government, and has produced ills and will continue to do so, good miracles should be celebrated.

There are not many of Margaret Thatcher's kind or similar achievements of others. What other politician could you mention in the post World War II period, if not in the entire post World War I period, who has achieved a rollback like this? Quite a few would perhaps mention Ronald Reagan. He was philosophically right in many ways and he turned belief away from a lot of "liberal" concepts, and I'm sure he did a great deal good. However, the growth of government did continue under Reagan. The New Deal still haunts America. [3]

Margaret Thatcher was when the end came herself a victim to democracy. The proposed poll tax was highly unpopular. In The Anatomy of Thatcherism Shirley Robin Letwin describes the poll tax as based on the principle of paying more according to cost. As the services the tax were to fund were basically the same independent of one's economic situation, a poll tax seemed reasonable. The poll tax affair is an illustration that it has come almost unthinkable with an alternative to proportional or progressive tax systems [4]. Thatcher eventually came down due to the ambitions of members of her own party.

As I have said before - and I have no doubt, lots of people before me - the populace in a democracy is easily swayed. Thus far a lot of the policies of Thatcher have not been reversed. We have no guarantee that this will always be so. However, it is - right now at least - more likely that leftism triumphs in other ways, which we have seen examples of.

Lady Thatcher seems to have great insight on politicians, a group to which she herself belongs:

Those who imagine that a politician would make a better figurehead than a hereditary monarch might perhaps make the acquaintance of more politicians.

This quote offers not only wisdom about politicians as figureheads, but also about democratically elected politicians as such.


1. Mark Steyn has pointed out in his article Thatcher's revolution needs completing that there still are things wrong in the British society. Says Steyn: "But we still have a nationalised British political culture: the reflexive gripe that, if something's wrong with your local hospital or your local school, it ought to be fixed by some secretary of state in a Whitehall department."

2. Of course, the Labor Party, which tactically voted against the tax increase to oust its opponent from office, took the tax increase successfully through Parliament a few weeks later after having secured the Cabinet offices for the Labor Party. This only goes to show that only too often politics is about positions and not principles.

3. After this article was submitted I learned of Reagan's sad departure from this world. May he rest in peace. Although we did actually lose him about 10 years ago, let us now focus on the good he did, which includes his fight against communism and his key role in the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Iron Curtain.

4. Says Letwin: "[Property taxes] had been suitable in the past, because the services provided by local authorities had then been chiefly services to property. But as services grew into the Welfare State, they became services to people." Letwin goes on: "And the most unfair feature of a local income tax would be, [Thatcher] said, that it would allow millions of people who benefit from local services and who could vote in local elections to avoid paying a penny directly towards the cost of those services." Thus, the poll tax could be seen as an attempt to introduce accountability when it comes to taxes and votes, i.e., an attempt to limit the voting of largess out of other people's pockets, and hence, limit and reduce government. The final repeal of the poll tax tells us that such accountability is virtually incompatible with mass democracy. Note that I am not here endorsing a tax. I am merely pointing out an alternative to the Marxist notion "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need"; a notion which, sadly, has been largely endorsed in today's world. I am also pointing out an alternative to disconnecting payment, i.e., taxes, from spending, i.e., voting. I am fully aware, though, that there still are problems with this, and of the problems of price calculation of services not provided through a free market. Moreover, there are problems of local autonomy and tax competition with the poll tax policy. Discussing this, however, is beyond the scope of this article.

J.K. Baltzersen is a senior consultant of information technology in Oslo, Norway.

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