Regular readers might have guessed that I am no admirer of Lady Thatcher.But on the principle that one shouldn't speak ill of the dead - and that no-one is wholly bad - here are some things I think she deserves some credit for:
1. Pragmatism. Although both left and right like to mythologize Thatcher as a slasher of public spending, this is not true. During her premiership, the share of spending in GDP fell less than it did in the early years of New Labour, and less than it's planned to fall in the next few years. And spending was higher under her than it was during the 1964-70 Labour government*. Nor was Thatcher a great reformer of the NHS. In both respects, she was driven more by practicality than ideological zeal.
2. A recognition that politicians can effect fundamental change. During the Thatcher years, the Overton window shifted. This wasn't just because her ideology triumphed. She helped it along partly by effecting hard-to-reverse changes such as privatization, and partly by changing the electorate; selling council houses created client voters. A Labour party which spinelessly kowtows to public opinion has something to learn here.
3. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act. In the 60s and 70s, the police were corrupt, racist thugs. PACE was an attempt to rein them in. Of course, Hillsborough and the miners' strike showed that this effort wasn't wholly successful. But Thatcher deserves credit for displaying a greater scepticism about the police than many later copper-worshipping Home Secretaries.
4. "You can't buck the market." Thatcher recognized that there are some things that governments cannot do - for example, control prices and wages by legislation. And Lawson's attempt to shadow the DMark in 1987-88, and the UK's entry into the ERM in 1990 proved her right.
5. Being lucky. Thatcher got lucky in her first term of office in at least two ways. Most obviously, the Falklands war boosted her popularity hugely. But also, the economy did not follow her script. She hoped that the mere announcement of M3 targets would reduce inflation painlessly, by reducing inflation expectations. This didn't happen. Instead, she inadvertently engineered a recession which destroyed workers' bargaining power, thus raising profit margins and (eventually) the motive to invest. In this sense, she reminds us of the importance of luck in politics (and in the latter case, structural economic relationships), relative to that of intentions.
6. Reducing snobbery. When Thatcher became Tory leader, she faced both gender and class snobbery; she was seen as a shrill lower middle-class housewife. Her success reduced class and gender prejudice amongst the rich. I suspect that my job prospects (as someone with an accent similar to her natural one) improved because of her. I fear, though, that this increased equality of opportunity was only temporary.
I don't say all this to sing her praises. I suspect her legacy is mostly a malign one and that she was more of a class warrior than a genuine libertarian. I do so merely to suggest that she was not wholly the devil the left pretends.
* Table 2.33 of the OBR's supplementary fiscal tables.