Although I lived through the Thatcher years, I didn’t ‘live’ through the Thatcher years, I was too young to understand or remember all the things she did while in power. So my respect for her is based on what I learned about her from books, magazines and documentaries I saw when I was older. I’ll admit it, I think Thatcher was a great leader, no matter what people say. Usually the best leaders are the most decisive and polarize people. I have a lot of respect and admiration for what Thatcher achieved, especially her strong leadership to do what many thought was impossible or unpopular so I was really surprised yesterday about how polarized everyone was about her death. About half the people I follow wrote praises for her life, the other half wrote a lot of negative stuff, and some people in the UK even held parties to celebrate the fact she had died.
I never lived through the 70s, but they sounded pretty shit before Thatcher. Trade unions ruled the nation, the three day workweek, 93% capital gains tax, 83% income tax, unproductive nationalized industries. We were a failing country, and it needed the hard medicine of a strong, decisive leader like Thatcher to break the cycle of decline. The fact is any entrepreneur in the UK owes Thatcher a lot for making the UK the leading place in Europe for start-ups, without the policies and ideology she pursued, there’s no way I’d have ever started a business here, and probably would have emigrated by now.
Not only that, but she played a key part in ending the Cold War, the end of the Soviet Union and its successful integration back onto the world stage. If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have made friends with a lot of the people I know from Russia and Eastern Europe, been able to travel to that part of the world and experience the great cities there, and the world would have lost a lot of scientific talent and ideas hidden behind the Iron Curtain. The world is a better place for that.
Like all strong leaders, not everything she achieved was good, this article in the Guardian gave me a different perspective. The authors comments about the UK’s society becoming more individualistic and materialistic with a breakdown of community really resonated with me. This is definitely something I feel living in the UK, especially in London, but I don’t have the experience of living before Thatcher to know how things were before, for all we know this was a trend happening already and no single person could have prevented it.
However the thing I respect most about Thatcher is the fact you can tell someones ideology and values by whether they liked or disliked Thatcher. For me, great leaders have strong vision and direction and aren’t afraid to pursue them or be unpopular for them. She was all of that, and I believe she made all her decisions with the best of intentions. Obviously any hard decision made at that level has casualties, and as some people have said she could have done more to help all the people affected by the changes she made, but perhaps if she’d done that she would have got caught up in the details, lost focus of the bigger picture, and getting us to where we needed to get to today. The fact is, although her changes drove up unemployment in some areas, she was not the cause of that, the Western world has been on a slow decline in many Industrial industries for years now, and had she not done that, we’d probably be in an even bigger mess today than in the 70s.
I believe we need another Thatcher, none of our leaders since have really painted a strong vision for the future and forced through the necessary changes to get us there. Apart from our deficit, the UK and most Western countries are facing a crisis. The world is facing a crisis. Our population is shooting towards 9 billion, for a planet that some estimate is only capable of supporting 2 billion comfortably, global warming needs decisive action fast, and technology and the far east are cannibalizing jobs and entire industries leading to mass unemployment, with the biggest transfer of wealth from the West to the Rest since the 2nd World War. We are on a fast decline, and the policies of the past are not enough to get us through the next 50 years of human civilization comfortably. We need someone like Thatcher to do the hard things most people know need to be done, but think are impossible or are too afraid of being unpopular for doing.
Ben Horowitz wrote a great blog about Peacetime vs. Wartime CEOs, and I think the same lessons about leadership and our current situation are relevant here. Thatcher was a ‘Wartime’ Prime Minister, someone needed to get us out of a tough situation, we need more ‘Wartime’ leaders to get us through the global crisis’s that are evolving today and will affect all of us in our lifetimes. So my only hope on her death, is we get another ‘Wartime’ leader soon that has the vision and confidence to pursue the inevitably unpopular choices we are going to have to make to get through this century successfully.