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Thatcher called 'last of a generation of giants'

| Monday, April 8, 2013, 11:58 p.m.
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TOPSHOTS (FILES) - A picture dated July 17, 1987 shows former US President Ronald Reagan and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher posing for photographers on the patio outside the Oval Office, Washington, DC. Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, the 'Iron Lady' who shaped a generation of British politics, died following a stroke on April 8, 2013 at the age of 87, her spokesman said. AFP PHOTO/Mike SARGENTMIKE SARGENT/AFP/Getty Images

When conservatives talk about an economic turnaround, many of them are really talking about Margaret Thatcher's Great Britain.

“She was terrific,” said Allan Meltzer, professor of political economy at Carnegie Mellon University and an adviser to Thatcher during the 1980s.

Thatcher's reforms transformed the British economy during her 11 years as prime minister, including a flurry of deregulation that came to be known as the “Big Bang,” which helped make London a center of the global financial industry. Critics say those policies hurt unions and the working class.

“There are a lot of critics of hers in Britain,” Meltzer said. Yet voters gave her three terms as prime minister, he said. “The public liked her.”

Thatcher, who died Monday, pitched conservative policies as being about more than lowering government spending, said Edwin J. Feulner, former president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.

“She talked about (privatization) not so much to fix the British government's balance sheet but to give people a stake in the system,” Feulner said.

Heritage began the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom in 2005. Tribune-Review publisher Dick Scaife is a member of The Heritage Foundation's board of directors.

Her political opponents in the Labor Party vindicated some of Thatcher's policies by keeping them in place after they won, Meltzer said.

“She knew how to lead. She had long-term goals that she knew she couldn't realize on the first day,” Meltzer said. Those were to “bring down the inflation rate, lower the tax rate and get the economy moving again. She did all those things. She turned the country around.”

Meltzer described Thatcher as “very businesslike.”

“She was very much, in that respect, like President Reagan,” whom Meltzer also advised, he said. Reagan was “a more open, affable person, but you didn't get close to him, and you didn't feel you were close to her.”

Great Britain's parliamentary system required Thatcher to be more immersed in policy details than Reagan, Meltzer said. Twice each week, she would face opposing politicians on the floor of the House of Commons.

“President Reagan never really cared about the details,” Meltzer said. Reagan trusted his staff to make decisions because, if you worked in his administration, “he believed you shared his objective. She was much more hands-on.”

“But they shared a similar commitment to free markets and free people,” Meltzer said.

Sen. Pat Toomey called Thatcher “a hero of mine” and credited the “shopkeeper's daughter” with reshaping Britain's government and economy “with her conservative convictions.”

“Margaret Thatcher was a trailblazer who never thought there would be a woman prime minister in her lifetime. She shattered that glass ceiling herself,” Toomey, R-Lehigh County, said.

Thatcher was “the last of a generation of giants in the fight for freedom,” said U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley.

“Her principled leadership led to economic renaissance in Great Britain and demonstrated the power of free markets and a free people,” Rothfus said.

Mike Wereschagin is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7900 or mwereschagin@tribweb.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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