On an Oct. 10, a British prime minister made it clear: “To those waiting with bated breath for that favorite media catchphrase, the ‘U-turn,’ I have only one thing to say: You turn if you want to: The Lady’s not for turning.”
Those were the resolute words of then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was speaking at a Conservative Party conference on Oct. 10, 1980. It was a defining speech that underlined Thatcher’s firm rebuttal to calls to perform a “U-turn” in response to opposition to her agenda of liberalizing and revitalizing the British economy.
Unfortunately, in marked contrast, Britain’s Liz Truss—who announced her resignation as prime minister last week—said that she had “absolutely no shame” in performing a dramatic policy U-turn on her economic reform agenda, particularly concerning cutting the top individual income-tax rate of 45%. Truss further noted that she “took the decision very rapidly” to axe the policy, which was “becoming a distraction” from the rest of the government’s economic plan.
(It was announced on Monday that Rishi Sunak, a former chancellor of the Exchequer, the British equivalent of Treasury secretary, would succeed Truss, likely as soon as Tuesday.)
Pointing out policy missteps made in recent years, Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng, another former chancellor of the Exchequer, had been initially quite upfront about their preferred path forward to restoring Britain’s economic dynamism by offering a clear free-market principles-based alternative to the certainty of steeper economic decline, and to spur much-needed investment and productivity growth in the private sector.
Regrettably, Truss backtracked on her initial economic reform plan in direct and indirect concessions to the Left in the U.K. and failed to stand her ground. That ultimately weakened her position and made her the shortest-serving prime minister in the country’s history, having assumed the office just 45 days earlier.
Indeed, as succinctly underscored by Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation:
Liz Truss’s resignation and disastrously short tenure is a leadership lesson for conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic. Never surrender to the Left, don’t U-turn on key policies, and stick to conservative principles and ideals.
Conservatives across the United States should take note of that, particularly in light of the fact that America’s economic freedom is in growing peril. A recent Wall Street Journal editorial pointed out unambiguously that “the dumbest argument is that Ms. Truss’s fall is a warning to U.S. Republicans not to cut taxes,” noting that she “wanted pro-growth policies to counter the economic failures.”
America’s economic freedom has been measurably undercut by the tax-and-spend drive engineered by the Biden administration and its far-left allies. Despite America’s already weakened fiscal health, the Biden administration has barreled full-steam ahead to implement a failed big-government policy agenda that has added trillions to the national debt, hiked taxes through higher inflation, increased the regulatory burden, and centralized more federal power over the economy.
Widening deficits and a growing debt burden, both of which are direct consequences of poor government budget management, have led to the erosion of America’s overall fiscal health, which the ongoing spending spree has been exacerbating. Deviations from sound fiscal positions often disturb macroeconomic stability and induce economic uncertainty, and thus undermine America’s economic freedom and resilience.
The nation’s competitive position isn’t threatened if the federal government fails to spend enough. The problem is that government has grown too big in scale, scope, and power over our daily lives.
To that point, Thatcher elaborated in her speech to the Conservative Party conference in 1980:
Of course, our vision and our aims go far beyond the complex arguments of economics, but unless we get the economy right, we shall deny our people the opportunity to share that vision and to see beyond the narrow horizons of economic necessity.
Without a healthy economy we can’t have a healthy society, and without a healthy society, the economy won’t stay healthy for long. … [I]t isn’t the state that creates a healthy society. For when the state grows too powerful, people feel that they count for less and less. The state drains society not only of its wealth, but of initiative, of energy, the will to improve and innovate, as well as to preserve what is best.
What the Iron Lady powerfully pinpointed more than four decades ago still rings clearly relevant today and serves as a timely reminder for America. Preserving and advancing policies based on conservative principles and economic freedom matters more than ever.
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