Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady

+ Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney
21 Apr 2013

Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, Prime Minister of Britain from 1979 - 1990 was buried from the beautifully restored St. Paul's Cathedral in London on last Wednesday.

Her achievements should not be judged by the standards of an English-speaking world she helped create. We are now used to the leadership of women in public life and she contributed much to this new brand of common sense.

In death as in life she was a divisive figure.  On the positive side she revitalized Britain, despite the fact that for many the situation became much worse as unproductive factories closed, before improvements arrived.

After a long struggle, she crushed a corrupt union leadership, which had brought Britain to a standstill and was in the words of Tony Blair, the Labour Prime Minister "obviously undemocratic and completely out of touch with the modern world".

Her economic policies were taken up by Blair and both sides of Australian politics, especially by Keating and Hawke.  One million tenants in government housing were able to buy their homes.  Her 1985 Irish agreement was a decisive break through.  The collapse of the military junta in Argentina followed their defeat in the Falklands war.

Against all that, Thatcher took privatisation too far.  I can remember how shocked I was to learn that school playing fields had been sold. While she was a social conservative and a Christian, the market hardened public attitudes especially among those without these attributes.  Her refusal to abandon sterling for the euro saved Britain in the recent financial crisis, but her advocacy of a flat poll tax was a disastrous error of judgement.

Not the least of her accomplishments was her contribution with Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II to bringing freedom to communist Europe.

In 1993 she went to Warsaw for the fiftieth anniversary of the Ghetto uprising against the Nazis and attended Catholic Mass at Holy Cross Church.

In his sermon the priest explained how her words in the darkest times brought hope to an oppressed people.  After Mass she was invited to the altar and lines of children presented her with flowers as their parents applauded.

She concluded her biography with these words: "It comforts me to think that when I stand up to hear the verdict (on the final Judgement Day) I will at least have the people of the Church of the Holy Cross in court as character witnesses".

Europe desperately needs one or two Margaret Thatchers.