Mrs Thatcher had rare leadership qualities, as files show

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

Margaret Thatcher is back in the news with the release of government files from the 1980s and 90s.

The former Conservative Party leader and prime minister dominates the declassified documents from the National Archives in Kew, west London.

Mrs Thatcher also features prominently in the unveiled Stormont and Dublin papers.

It is now 26 years since Britain’s first female premier left Downing Street after 11-and-a-half years there.

The duration of Mrs Thatcher’s tenure was an indication of the respect in which she was held, winning election victories in 1979, 83 and 87, and the support of millions of people.

But there is no denying that she was a divisive figure whose leadership was bitterly opposed by millions of other voters, and barely tolerated by a further large swathe of people.

Now, in hindsight, even many of those people accept that she took hard but key decisions that few other mainstream politicians would have had the nerve to take, including cutting punitive personal tax rates of up to and over 90% and curbing the power of unions who had paralysed Britain with strikes.

Populations that live alongside leaders and monitor them closely often lose patience with them, as happened with Mrs Thatcher and led her MPs to reject her in 1990. But time or physical distance can make it easier to see qualities. The unveiled files show that leaders around the world could barely believe that such a unusual prime minister had been toppled.

Now, in 2016, the fact that even a country as dynamic as America struggles to find a brilliant leader underlines how rare Mrs Thatcher’s qualities were.

She had flaws. In Northern Ireland she alienated her natural supporters by implementing the Anglo Irish Agreement. Mrs Thatcher came to regret that when she saw that Dublin was not beefing up its response to the IRA as she had hoped.

But her overall record of intelligence and fearless leadership is one that many countries are now searching in vain for.