Admirably unreasonable

Margaret Thatcher may have been at times unreasonable as prime minister, says Merryn Somerset Webb - but that's exactly what we need today.

You might think you've read enough about Margaret Thatcher by now. But I'm afraid that if you are going to get to the end of this week's magazine, you are going to read more.We've looked at her rise to power and at some of the responses to her legacy,and we've looked at how her work really affected the UK economy then and now.

Skim those, and you will see why most of us at MoneyWeek admired her greatly. She was a fabulous leader, a firm feminist, an intelligent policy maker and, as prime minister, a person who was clearly dedicated to improving the lot of as many Britons as she could.

She didn't get everything right, of course (although her foresight on the problems inherent in the euro, among other things, was impressive) and the financial help she got from North Sea oil revenues is rarely fully recognised by her idolisers. But what she did do was to recognise the real problems facing Britain; to recognise the failure of the policies that had come before her tenure; and to force through change.

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The best tribute to that core characteristic I've seen yet comes from one-time Tory party moderniser Steve Hilton in The Spectator. She was, he says "thrillingly anti-establishment". She had all the virtues we most value today: "innovation, energy, daring". She was determined "to shake things up, unleash competition, challenge and confront vested interests". All that made her the "ultimate political disrupter".

Many people have only ever seen Thatcher as a deeply unreasonable woman. But focus-group-style compromise doesn't always get you what you need in a time of crisis (and no one really denies that Thatcher took over a country in crisis). As Hilton says, if you want to be transformative, "being reasonable doesn't get you very far. In government, it is unreasonableness that improves people's lives."

Doubters might note that on Thatcher's watch, real wages rose for every UK income group, and median wages rose faster than in either Labour's second or third terms (Institute of Fiscal Studies/Channel 4). Just think how thrilled we'd all be if someone as unreasonable as Thatcher turned up today and made that happen again.

Now there seems to be a new disrupter emerging in Japan. Bank of Japan chief Haruhiko Kuroda (now known as 'Helicopter Haruhiko') has unleashed an extraordinary campaign of money printing, aiming to reverse 20 years' worth of deflation and near-deflation. Bill Bonner says it is "insane lunacy". Tim Price says it is akin to a "holy war". Hedge fund manager Kyle Bass says it marks the start of a run-up to hyperinflation. And James Fergusson says it's a fabulous opportunity.

We are mostly with James (obviously), but either way, the yen is down 20% or so in trade-weighted terms since it became clear that Kuroda had a plan, and the stock market is up around 40%. Nothing for MoneyWeek readers to complain about there.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.