Tag Archives: Margaret Thatcher

WHO IS THE WORLD’S MOST POWERFUL WOMAN?

This morning, two of the world’s most famous females met.

Queen and MUlala

Malala Yousafzais the 16-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban for encouraging girls to attend school.  She now lives in Britain where she received life- saving surgery after being shot in the head.  Today, she met the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace.

Women have been in the news a lot this week.

After the temporary resolution of the debt crisis in Washington, news channels pointed out that the resolution owed a great deal to conciliatory efforts by women in Washington.

Janet Yellen was nominated by the president October 9th, as the new chairman of the Federal Reserve.  If approved, she will be the first woman ever appointed to the post.

There is, of course, increased talk of Hilary Clinton running for president in 2016.

Meanwhile, Germany’s Angela Merkel has won another term as Chancellor of Germany.   Since the 2008 financial crisis, she has led Germany to the top position in Europe.  As one British paper pointed out recently she has achieved in five years what the Kaiser and Hitler failed to do – raise her nation to a position of dominance in Europe.

What is interesting about the above is that I’ve heard each of the above adult ladies at different times described as “the most powerful woman in the world.”  That was a label often given Mrs. Clinton when she was Secretary of State.

Now, they can’t all be the most powerful woman in the world.

So, who is?

Queen Elizabeth is the Head of State of 16 different countries and Head of the 53-nation Commonwealth, an organization of mostly former British colonies.  In 2002, on the 50th anniversary of becoming queen, an American writer observed that she had done more than any other person in the world to advance democracy.  This was written at a time when the US and allies had invaded Afghanistan and were about to invade Iraq, partly to spread democracy to these countries.  The article pointed out that the queen did a great deal behind the scenes to ensure all Commonwealth countries stuck to democracy and she did it without firing a shot.

However, this does not mean she is the world’s most powerful woman.

What about Janet Yellen?  Is she going to be number one?

Certainly, as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, she will be very powerful.  But will she be more powerful than Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, another woman I seem to remember hailed as “the most powerful woman in the world?”

Presumably, if Hilary Clinton does become president after the 2016 election, she will be the most powerful?  Maybe.  But that will depend on US standing at that time.  A report in USA Today this morning says that the US could not even handle one war right now due to military cut-backs.  If the growing perception that the US is well past its “sell-by” date gathers more steam, then the international power of the presidency will also be diminished.

Which leaves Frau Merkel, the head of the German government.  As Germany is now the fourth greatest economic power (after the US, China and Japan), she is very powerful.  But when we consider that Germany is at the helm of the European Union, the world’s greatest single market, she is even more powerful.  She has also been instrumental in resolving (some would say dictating) the financial crisis of a number of European countries, putting her ahead of both the Director of the IMF and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

I for one will not get drawn into this debate.  I just find it tiresome hearing so many powerful and accomplished ladies all described as “the most powerful woman in the world.”  They clearly can’t all be.

I will say one thing, though.  Margaret Thatcher was the best British prime minister in my lifetime and is the only one since Winston Churchill to leave an international legacy.

As David Ben-Gurion once said of Golda Meir – “she is the best man in my cabinet!”

Some of the ladies above have got more guts than the average male leader.

That goes for Malala, too, daily risking her life to encourage other girls her age to go to school.

FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER MARGARET THATCHER HAS DIED

Margaret thatcher

It was announced today that former British Prime Minister, Margaret (Baroness) Thatcher, has died of a stroke at the age of 87.

It is impossible to appreciate the difference she made without looking back to the changes that took place after World War II, when Britain entered a different era.

At the end of World War II, the British people voted in a Labour government, rejecting their wartime leader, Winston Churchill.  The new government was pledged to radical changes at home and abroad at a time when Britain could least afford it.

In accordance with socialist convictions at the time, major areas of the economy were brought under state control – railways, coal mines, steel, health, to name just four.  At the time, socialism was all the rage.  The Soviet Union was still looked up to by many, after its significant efforts in World War II, as “the worker’s paradise.”  Other countries in Europe had also embraced communism, along with China, North Korea, North Vietnam and Mongolia.  Many of the countries in western Europe were social democracies, meaning that their economies were mixed, with government heavily involved in many areas, including healthcare.

It was to be a long time before most people realized that government should not run businesses.  Even today, the conviction remains in most western countries that healthcare is best administered at the government level.

Growing up in England in the 1950’s and 60’s, there was a sense of terminal decline.  The economy seemed to be in perpetual crisis, culminating in the 1967 devaluation of the British currency, which, in turn, led to the collapse of the sterling area.  Britain’s currency had been the second reserve currency after the US dollar since Bretton Woods, with all former British colonies (except Canada) using it to trade and leaving their savings in British banks.  By 1967, Britain could not maintain the value of its currency and change was inevitable.

At the same time, the postwar Labour government had started dismantling the empire.  This process speeded up during the 60’s.

In the first few years of the 70’s, the crisis just seemed to get worse and worse, with the unions holding the country to ransom.  In 1974, the country introduced a three-day working week in an effort to conserve power.  In the middle of winter, people were freezing.  Television stations (of which there were only three) had to close down at 10.30 pm to save power.  Because too many people all went to the toilet at once (the British do not say “bathroom”), the TV stations had to stagger their closing times so as not to drain the water supply!

By 1979, the British were tired of this continual decline and voted in a new Conservative government led by Margaret Thatcher, who became the first woman prime minister in British history.  In contrast to the terminal decline of previous decades, the 80’s were an exciting time to be in Britain, with significant changes taking place.  Of course, these changes did not please everybody.

In trying to turn things around, Mrs. Thatcher had to tackle the unions, who were very powerful.   Unemployment increased rapidly in the first few years of her period in office, but she stuck to her avowed policies of returning the country to greatness.  The prime minister was unyielding – “the lady’s not for turning” as she proclaimed at a Conservative party conference.

Internationally, her strong will shocked other countries, un-used to British leaders standing up for their country.  In 1982, when Argentina seized control of the British Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic, she sent a military force to forcibly take them back.  She frequently battled with EU leaders who she thought were taking advantage of Britain.  When on a visit to Poland, she insisted on meeting with Lech Walesa, the anti-communist union leader, whom she encouraged to pursue a course that contributed to the collapse of communism in eastern Europe.  Whereas it was generally believed that once a socialist revolution had taken place, there was no turning back, she showed that things could be reversed.  Eastern Europe is very different now that it’s free!  It was the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who named her “the Iron Lady.”

In the UK itself, you can see clearly what a difference private enterprise makes when you take a journey by rail today!

Millions of people who once worked for the state now work for private companies.  The City of London, Britain’s financial center, which accounts for 20% of the UK economy, was radically altered by her administration.  Other nations copied her actions – extending free enterprise and reducing taxation.

Having made a major difference to Britain’s economy, Mrs. Thatcher failed to address what is arguably the biggest drain on national finances – the National Health Service.   With her passing, it is doubtful anybody else will ever have the courage to tackle the NHS, which means that the financial burden is set to continue.

Internationally, there were two great failings – Zimbabwe and Hong Kong, the last two British colonies of any consequence.  Her policies led to the disastrous dictatorship of Robert Mugabe, which continues to this day; and, it was felt, she could have got a better deal for Britain’s most economically successful colony, Hong Kong, when it was returned to China in 1997.

Margaret Thatcher, it has been said, put the “Great” back into “Great Britain,” at least for a time – the country once again seems to be unraveling in the Great Recession.  The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, described her as one of the “defining” political figures of her age.

She was returned to power in 1983 and 1987, but finally ousted by members of her own party who did not appreciate her strong will and abrasive manner.  Living in the UK at that time, it was hard to find anybody who said they supported her, but when election day came, people voted with their wallets!  Most people felt they were financially better off with her in office.

Change is always risky.  Mrs. Thatcher set in train policies that continue to change the country, some in ways she would not appreciate.  Decentralization led to devolution, which gave the Scots their own parliament – and may result in Scottish independence next year; her beloved House of Lords was made more democratic during Tony Blair’s government; her staunch pro-Americanism led Tony Blair to back unpopular wars instigated by the United States; her anti-EU rhetoric may culminate in Britain leaving the EU within the next two years.

The greatest compliment to Mrs. Thatcher lies in the fact that all successive prime ministers, whether Conservative or Labour, have lived in her shadow and have continued most of her policies.  For her, and now the country, there was no turning back!

On a personal note, she paid a heavy price for her commitment to her convictions.  On at least one occasion she talked of her regret at not having time with her grandchildren, saying, “You can’t have it all.”

The government has said that she will not be given a state funeral but will be honored with a ceremonial funeral, on a par with the Queen Mother and Princess Diana.   At her own request, she will not lie in state.

A century from now, it is likely that only two prime ministers will be remembered from the 20th century – Sir Winston Churchill and Baroness Thatcher!