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Sunday, August 22, 2004
Q&A Weekend 1 - Answers

Q. What was Margaret Thatcher's worst mistake?

A. The Thatcher government was the best since the war, probably the best of the twentieth century, but it made a few mistakes. Certainly ERM entry was a terrible decision, for which we are still paying as a party. Only by pure coincidence could the right £-DM rate in October 1990 also be the correct rate in September 1992. Lest anyone doubt that, we have Black Wednesday as proof. But I think that was a decision forced on Thatcher against her will, anyway, after years of her opposition. John Major, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, should carry the can for that decision.

Apart from this, nothing jumps out at me. I supported Thatcher in almost everything she did, and of the rest, I don't think it would be especially interesting to calculate which misjudgement was the greatest. I suspect any answer would be rather random. I think Thatcher's greatest mistakes lay not in anything she did, but in what, for various reasons - many of them reasonable - she did not do. Margaret Thatcher revived the British economy, but did nothing that I am aware of to help revive the British family. She smashed inflation, but went along with the tides of grade inflation. She tackled the unions, but appointed a series of ineffectual liberal Home Secretaries to tackle crime, and they failed. So hard as it is to find policies I disagree with, I can see mistakes made in terms of opportunities forgone, and these would be the biggest objections I have to the Thatcher era.

None of this is to take away from the fact that Thatcher's was a fantastic government that did so much good. No doubt if she had used her time to tackle family breakdown and illegitimacy - assuming government can do much in this field - and restored capital punishment, this post would now be complaining about trade union power. She concentrated her efforts where she could, and did enormous good. That the greatest objection I can raise against Thatcher is that she didn't give more of the same is testament to how great a leader I think she was.

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