I STARTED my business career by accident the year after Margaret Thatcher was first elected as Prime Minister. She was not the reason why I became an entrepreneur, but she created the culture that allowed it to happen. If any post-war politician was heroic, it was Thatcher.
Over the course of three terms in office, she reinvented the philosophy of free enterprise. She pioneered a brilliant campaign of privatisation of inefficient state industries, making them dramatically more productive and responsive. She promoted capitalism and rolled back a suffocating state, deregulating and championing small government. And she achieved this despite being a woman, and facing powerful vested interests like trade unions, hostile civil servants, and reactionary elements within the Conservative party.
People quickly forget how desperate Britain was by the late 1970s, thanks to profound mismanagement by successive Labour governments. The country was an economic shambles, held to ransom by destructive union barons, suffering from chronic high inflation and in apparently irreversible decline.
For anyone who has tackled a corporate turnaround, the idea that a single woman could engineer the rescue of a entire nation might seem absurd. Carrying out a successful recovery is incredibly difficult. It’s also often a thankless task, because it involves painful but necessary adjustments. But for all her extraordinary public service, Thatcher was demonised by those on the left – who hated her for permanently discrediting socialism. I believe history will correct their fraudulent narrative. She was proof that the path of a nation is not simply made up of events, but by the interventions of remarkable individuals. Thatcher was a prime example of that rare breed.
By embracing a policy of individual freedom and independence, Thatcher unleashed renewed animal spirits across Britain that had far-reaching positive impacts on our economy, and indeed our country’s standing in the world. Almost every serious entrepreneur I’ve ever met in this country has held her in the greatest esteem, even if they are not natural Tory voters. They know that the restructuring tasks she led were vital for Britain’s future prosperity – and that without her ferocious determination to revolutionise society, we would be a much poorer place now.
Of course, she did much more than just encourage entrepreneurship. Together with US President Ronald Reagan, she battled the evil forces of communism, and hastened the collapse of Soviet Russia and its empire. The freedoms that millions of Eastern Europeans enjoy today are partly thanks to her efforts to promote democracy and the private sector in totalitarian regimes. Further, she defeated the Argentineans over the Falkland Islands, triggering the demise of the murderous regime in Buenos Aires – a fact few of her socialist critics ever mention. And she won three popular mandates in succession, despite executing a radical reinvention which would have defeated lesser figures.
Ultimately, that is why I salute her achievements – she won all the big intellectual and electoral battles on behalf of everyone who runs their own business, but also those who believe in freedom, private property and self-determination.
Luke Johnson is chairman of Risk Capital Partners and Patisserie Valerie, and is a former chairman of Channel Four and Pizza Express.