Yes, many restrictive practices were swept away by Thatcher. But look again at the industries privatised by Thatcher or her successors. No major decision on the railways – whether it is building HS2 , electrifying existing routes or buying new trains – is made by anybody other than the government. The track, stations and signalling are all owned by Network Rail, a not-for-profit company (effectively, the government again) that replaced the failed private Railtrack. For the last two and a half years the key East Coast route has been run by the government again, following the collapse of the last private franchise.
In energy, the private companies seem unable to make good the looming energy shortage. Of course, they blame it on government but if the market is so good, it would surely sort itself out without any reference to government at all, wouldn’t it?
Just as Thatcher jeered at the dinosaur state running Pickfords and Gleneagles today we cast a baleful eye on the ludicrous incompetence and dodgy practices of many private enterprises and observe that once-private banks required part nationalisation to avoid collapse. Just as the state has to run railways when the private contractors run away.
The last word on Thatcher, the Iron Lady of over-centralised government, should perhaps go to Shakespeare. In The Tempest, Gonzalo waxes eloquent on the freedoms he would introduce “Had I plantation of this Isle”: “Riches, poverty, use of service, none: contract, succession, borne, bound of land, tilth, vineyard none: no use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil: no occupation, all men idle, all: and women too, but innocent and pure: no sovereignty...”
“And yet he would be King on’t”, Sebastian retorts. The same apples to Reagan, spending billions on defence that he refused to pay for in taxation because it offended his free market principles.