By: Anak Agung Gde Agung
It is quite unprecedented that a former Prime Minister was honored by a funeral befitting a monarch. Nor is it usual that the funeral was attended by so many heads of state and government. However, there is nothing ordinary about former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, whose funeral on Wednesday received world attention.
Who is Margaret Thatcher and why such attention? Besides being Britain’s first female and longest serving premier, Thatcher practically turned her country’s rapidly downward-sliding economic and social situation into recovery mode that would eventually lead to a prospering nation.
This she did practically alone with steely determination and unmatched courage where no leader had dared to tread before, facing the ferocious and monumental onslaught of the omnipotent labor unions, which for many decades had dictated British economy and politics.
Guided by her strong belief in what was good for Britain, she was not one bit unnerved by the bloody and continuous demonstrations of the unions that marked the first few years of her rule, which earned her the title of “the Iron Lady”. Together with US President Ronald Reagan, her partner across the Atlantic, Thatcher ushered in a new era of world peace and democracy by pushing for the dismantling of the Berlin wall, the downfall of the Soviet Union and the cessation of the Cold War.
How did this daughter of a small middle class grocer achieve such historic monumental feats that few other statesmen can claim?
Based on her own admission, the driving force for such achievements was her iron-clad conviction that one is born to pursue noble goals in life, to make a difference to one’s surrounding. To her, the paramount noble deed was to free Britain of the paralyzing grip of the unions, which she called the tyranny of the minority, and make the “great” part of Great Britain a living reality. In this endeavor, no stumbling block was too great, including overcoming the fact that she was a woman facing rivals who were highly seasoned politicians in a society largely for men.
The other factor that contributed significantly to her awesome success, besides her high ideals, was her decisiveness. Once convinced of the “right” path, Thatcher never wavered in her resolution. This was most apparent when Argentina invaded the Falklands. The British prime minister regarded the invaders as thugs and made the decision not only not to negotiate with them but to take the Falklands back for Britain at whatever the cost. This was not only a bold but precarious decision as the British navy was hardly ready for immediate action. Neither was the British economy, which was still reeling from the almost daily riots against her government’s policies.
All these were of little concern to Thatcher. Her only burning desire was to right the wrong done to Britain and reclaim the territory. In this resolution Britain was helped by the critical assistance of the US, who bowed to her iron will. But had America not helped, Thatcher would undoubtedly not have been swayed to do otherwise. She knew what was supposed to be done and she also was certain of the outcome. Britain’s victory proved her right and this historic event brought the nation together as well as providing the turning point in Thatcher’s career.
Noble ideas and decisiveness brought Thatcher to greatness and the many benefits that came with it to the British people and the people of the world. Admittedly, Thatcher was not without faults. As a human being, she was not free of wrongdoings, perhaps in much bigger dimensions than those who did not have the chance to make such an impact on the world. Her lack of remedial action for the downtrodden, who felt the greatest brunt of her policies, is one example to cite.
Be that as it may, history will be the final judge whether Thatcher’s policies brought greater good or bad. The facts, however, remains to behold and we can learn from her that noble goals and decisive actions focused to benefit humankind are critical success factors for a great statesman.
It is sad to see that the “noble goals” of many of today’s politicians go no further than to benefit the self for power, position and fame, which have become ends in themselves as opposed to means for the greater good.
Also, decisiveness is currently replaced by “flexibility” and the dictates of the polls. Such wishy-washiness is nowadays rationalized as “prudent actions”, “careful decision-making”, even “good public relations”. Thatcher described people with such attitudes as “wimps” with no backbone.
Great nations call for great statesmen. As Thatcher showed, this in turn calls for great convictions that are the inspiring force to be followed with steely determination to realize them. Today’s statesmen can learn much from the life philosophy of this woman with a modest background, who succeeded where many others failed by just following the simple convictions of honor and integrity.
Footnote: This opinion article has been displayed in an online newspaper, The Jakarta Post, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Friday, 19th April 2013; and in Paper Edition was available at Page 7. For full and original paper, it is also available at: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/04/19/thatcher-a-great-leader-emulate.html [accessed in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia: 22 April 2013].
The writer is a graduate of Harvard and Leiden universities and was Minister of Social Affairs in the Cabinet of President Abdurrahman Wahid.