Even in a week of great political upheaval, politics can be dully predictable. I spent the first part of the week in Madrid for the unveiling of the Margaret Thatcher Plaza, which a vast array of media outlets excitedly reported was the first such honour to bestowed upon the Iron Lady anywhere in the world.
It was magnificent to be close enough to see a project, which at its outset seemed unachievable, succeed to present a widely unexpected but celebrated result: Spain being the first nation to properly honour Thatcher – cue an achingly predictable article from the Guardian erroneously pontificating on how this came about, and why it was a bad idea.
In it the renowned Spanish writer and journalist Miguel-Anxo Murado argues that Thatcherism is incompatible and without any support in Spain, because by his reading of history there has never been a significant movement toward free market economics in Iberia, and Spain is a nation in which social conservatism rules on the right. The analysis is not only wrong, it is an insult to Spanish and British history and those who have made it.
Guardian readers will no doubt suggest that an article supporting a dedication to Thatcher in Madrid on Breitbart London is equally dully predictable – the difference I offer you is that it is the real story of what has happened in Madrid, and why it’s lesson is fundamental for us in Britain too.
It seems bizarre to have to remind a Spaniard, even one from the hard left, that between 1996 and 2004 Spain was governed by President Jose Maria-Aznar – a man who reformed Spain so radically in 8 years as to drag it from the second world, second rate economies of southern Europe, to an economic powerhouse with equal focus towards Latin America and the Anglosphere. Some of his work was undone, inevitably, by the disastrous 8 years Socialist government that followed, but it couldn’t undo the foundation of what Aznar taught Spain – that a combination of patriotism, Judea-Christian values and free market economics builds the strongest most prosperous societies in the world.
Who taught Aznar that lesson? Margaret Thatcher.
I have spent a great deal of time in Spain throughout my life, and visiting as a child in the 80s and early 90s I would look at the dusty, empty shops lining most high streets with just a few products in the window and wonder how they earned any money, whilst equally being bemused that I couldn’t find anywhere to purchase the (often British and American) drinks and snacks I wanted to sup on the beach.
As I grew older I learned that many business in Spain were not funded by virtue of their trading, but by government subsidy. The doors were opened not to welcome customers, but to welcome a cheque from the state. Whilst government largesse was ever present, unsurprisingly Spain remained a visibly poorer country than Britain.
It was a bright group of students that formed around Madrid’s Compultense University, led by the economist Pedro Scwartz and a young Esperanza Aguirre in the early 1980’s, that were the first to recognise that the future of Spain lay in Britain – in replicating Margaret Thatcher’s revolution. Their work caught the eye of Jose-Maria Aznar, a young Spanish lawyer and politician who took it from academic texts and articles and combined it with a cultural vision to take it to the heart of Spanish politics, and so Thatcherism arrived in Spain, customarily late, in 1996 and as it had in Britain it changed the country forever.
When I moved to Madrid in 2008 I was summoned to the office of President Aznar. He wanted to memorialise Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher in Spain, and acknowledge how their interaction and influence has made a significant difference to Spain and its politics in the 20th and 21st Century. From anyone else this ambition would have been far fetched, but Aznar understood both why it was important, and how to do it.
He understood what many, and we in Britain, have forgotten and continue to pervert; that Margaret Thatcher was not a liberal, she was a conservative – and it is the combination of social conservatism and and a commitment to the free market that allowed Thatcher and Reagan to bring prosperity to their respective nations, but also defeat the cultural ideology of the Soviet Union.
On my way out I was given a copy of John O’Sullivan’s book, “The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World”, which Aznar had just had translated for a Spanish audience – it is the true essence of Thatcherism and Reaganism – that crucial partnership of patriotism, Judea-Christian values and free market economics. With any of those elements missing, the Thatcherite project would have failed in Britain as in Spain, and Aznar is of the view that those values must be taken forward if we are to meet the new challenges of radical Islam and the cultural Marxism of the progressive left.
It is for this reason that it is saddening and a significant defeat for British conservatives, to see a Spaniard gaining the understanding from the modern British reading of Thatcherism that her views were not compatible with Catholicism. Margaret Thatcher was not a Catholic, but she was one of the most Godly people I have ever encountered. Only the most finite of analysis could separate the conservative values that stem from her Methodism from those that stem from Catholicism. Her commitment to social conservatism, both personally and politically, were not as great as her commitment to free market economics, but greater.
The memorial to Margeret Thatcher in Madrid, and the award that President Aznar personally presented to her in 2011 are in memory of this legacy in full – in Britain we need to ensure that we are working as hard towards the true memorial to that legacy as President Aznar has in Spain – if we do not the importance of Thatcher’s ideas will be lost in place of memorials of mere iron and stone.