Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Entrepreneurs .... you may have Maggie to thank!

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The passing of Margaret Thatcher has caused me to pause and think back on just what a determined leader can accomplish.

Reams have and will be written about her achievements and the changes she brought about. This post is a personal one and not intended as a general tribute.

I never actually voted for Mrs Thatcher - nor for the Tory party who seemed to me to stand for privilege - in any of the 8 elections for which I have been fortunate enough to qualify. I guess at the time I didn't fully appreciate that her rather uncomfortable, uncompromising approach was exactly what was necessary to change a declining, deeply troubled Britain.

We came to the UK from South Africa at the end of  1976...immigrants like many others. Attracted by the relative freedom and open democracy  but fearful of my ability to thrive as an entrepreneur.
The liberalism of Britain was like a breath of fresh air but the country was in a dreadful state. Morale was rock bottom. People could not understand why one would choose to come to a country where nothing worked.
British Steel, British Leyland, British Rail, British Airways were a national laughing stock, labour strikes were crippling. The great in Great Britain was entirely absent.
The winter of 78/79, named the Winter of Discontent brought the country to a standstill.

There seemed to be a complete absence of enterprise, the major industries and institutions were run by the great and the good who went to the right schools and belonged to the right clubs (the aristocracy). They were clueless as to how to deal with industrial relations. 
In my view, one of Thatcher's greatest and lasting achievements was the ruthless reduction of the power of the aristocracy - from within the Tory party - through deregulation, privatisation and the unleashing of a meritocracy.

The transformation of Britain was not comfortable nor easy - especially for those with a liberal social conscience. A lot of  what Mrs Thatcher did was done in an arrogant and heavy handed way and her demise, 11 years later in 1990 was at least partly due to her stubbornness and divisive style.
Interesting how many of her fundamental economic policies were adopted by Tony Blair and new Labour, enabling him to win 3 terms as PM.
Although the grocers daughter would never have allowed Govt spending to get so out of hand as did in the new century. 'Living within ones means' and 'good housekeeping' were among her favourite mantras.

How different is the UK of today. Today, I believe the UK is the best place in Europe to start and build a business. The nation has its pride back and is, by and large, at peace with itself - in it's multi- cultural and cosmopolitan skin.

The challenges that remain are immense and one does have to wonder whether we have the global leaders today with the clarity of purpose and determination to overcome them.

I guess we have a lot to thank Mrs T for.
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