Margaret Thatcher as Tory leader

On February 11th, 1975, Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party. She had unexpectedly defeated the incumbent, Sir Edward Heath, in the first ballot a week earlier, leading to his withdrawal. A story that circulated later told that her supporters had persuaded some MPs to vote for her, expecting Heath to win, but wanting to humble him for his arrogant disdain by reducing his victory margin.

As Tory leader Margaret Thatcher led her party to victory in the 1979 election, and in the two elections that followed it in 1983 and 1987. She took over a country in deep malaise, one that had lost its self-confidence, one plagued by strikes and at the mercy of bullying union leaders. It was a country that looked enviously at others as its own economy languished and its inflation soared. It was a country called, even by itself, "the sick man of Europe."

She was a transformational prime minister. Under her leadership Britain went from having the lowest growth rate in Europe to achieving the highest. It went from the highest number of days lost through strike action to having the lowest. Ailing and loss-making state industries were privatized into profitable and tax-paying private companies, and it developed a world-leading financial sector.

In foreign policy she joined with US President Ronald Reagan in standing up to the Soviet Union, in countering its aggressive stance by deploying new missiles and modernizing the armed forces. The policy ultimately led to the collapse of what Reagan had called "the evil empire," as the populations of the communist countries one by one overthrew the tyrannies that had subjugated them for so long.

Although popular at the time, and applauded for the steadfast way she set about turning the country around, Thatcher has been subsequently vilified as a hate figure by left-wingers and their media sycophants. This is not surprising, since she took on and defeated left-wingers, internationally as well as at home. She is accused of hollowing out the North by "destroying manufacturing," whereas in fact manufacturing rose by 7.5% during her administrations. The rise of the service and financial sectors meant that manufacturing made up a smaller proportion of the economy, down from 17.62% to 15.18%, a smaller decrease than had occurred before she took office.

It is alleged that she took away the powers of the unions to protect workers' rights, but the reality is that she empowered the ability of their members to control militants. Secret ballots to elect their leaders and to decide on possible strike action led to more moderate leadership and less industrial unrest.

The left-wing chorus tells us that she cut taxes for the rich, but this is untrue. She cut the top rates of tax, but this resulted in the rich paying a greater, not a smaller, share of the total. The top 10% of earners had been paying 35% of the total, and this went up to 48%. The charge that she cut public services is similarly false because public spending increased by 17.6% over her period in office. It declined as a proportion of the economy only because the private economy grew so much.

She turned the country around and brought it back from stagnation and despair, and when she became leader of her party 44 years ago, it was one of the best things that happened to the country.