by JULIE BISHOP
Baroness Margaret Thatcher is a towering figure in 20th century global politics and will remain an inspiration for men and women around the world for generations to come.
As Britain’s first female Prime Minister she blazed a trail for aspiring women. It is doubtful that she intended to be a feminist role model, but she was, and only those determined to view her achievements through a partisan political prism could fail to be impressed by her courage and determination and the strength of her convictions.
Baroness Thatcher’s economic and political philosophies and her uncompromising approach to policy so profoundly changed the United Kingdom that it was dubbed ‘Thatcherism’.
While her critics used the term to denounce what they regarded as an extreme approach, many of her pro-market and privatisation policies were subsequently adopted by governments around the world.
Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979 at a time when her nation had struggled to overcome the impact of its post World War II embrace of democratic socialism.
The Cold War still had a decade to run. Britain had endured a ‘Winter of Discontent’ throughout 1978, marked by militant industrial strikes that had crippled vital industries.
Thatcher’s vision was for a more vibrant society that offered more freedom, choice and opportunity for future generations. After decades of creeping socialist ideals, this required a challenge to entrenched vested interests and to the established order. This inevitably led to conflict, controversy and rapid change.
She famously defined socialists as those who “…always run out of other people’s money.”
It was the way Margaret Thatcher responded to these challenges that in many ways redefined female leadership.
There appeared to be a view amongst her many (mostly) male opponents that she would wilt under pressure and vociferous campaigns were launched against her personally and against her government.
That revealed a fundamental misjudgement of Margaret Thatcher’s character, for her resolve was unshakable once she had decided on a course of action that she believed was in the best interests of the majority of the British people.
Her famous phrase, “You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning” encapsulated her self belief and inner strength.
Thatcher’s policies transformed the UK economy into an outward-looking modern powerhouse and restored much of the pride that had been battered by decades of struggle.
There was also a significant change in the morale and confidence of the UK people, with London again becoming a global financial hub and a centre for creativity in music, fashion and the arts.
Not since Churchill had a British Prime Minister had such a profound impact on global affairs as she played a key role in the end of the Cold War, along with US president Reagan and USSR president Gorbachev.
While her persona led her critics to unfairly brand her as authoritarian, at heart she was a libertarian, embracing freedom and individualism.
Her policies were aimed at breaking down the structures of control such as state ownership of companies.
Margaret Thatcher had great faith in human nature and the ability of people to flourish when given the opportunity.
That faith was a driving force behind her efforts to encourage greater freedom for the millions of people suffering under communist rule.
There are few world leaders who can honestly claim to have had a profound impact on their times and fewer still who can claim to have had the impact of Margaret Thatcher. On arriving at Downing Street after the 3 May 1979 election that swept her to power, Thatcher responded to questions about the task ahead of her by quoting St Francis of Assissi:
“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope”.
As soon as she uttered theses inspiring words, it was back to the business at hand and she dismissed the assembled media throng with a matter-of-fact, “There is work to be done”.
Always true to herself, no one was ever left in doubt as to her beliefs and her commitment to a more open, free and prosperous society.
Julie Bishop is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Shadow Minister for Trade.