The Czech news site iDNES published an interesting report on Margaret Thatcher yesterday. Apparently, when Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, she immediately ran roughshod over staff trying to spend 1,836 pounds (over 7,200 pounds in today’s money) on modifying 10 Downing Street to suit the new residents.
The aptly named Iron Lady demanded the paperwork and started making decisions. I’ve got my own dishes and linen for our bedroom, she said, and I’ll buy my own ironing board, thank you very much. And so on, and so forth. (“I can’t believe these numbers,” wrote her assistant in the margins. “I can’t, either,” added Thatcher.)
Hurricane Maggie stunned not just staff. Everyone within her long reach was affected. Welsh politician Nicholas Edwards, for instance, was taken to task for his plans to renovate the ministerial apartment in Cardiff – for 26,000 pounds sterling. “Great idea,” Thatcher wrote him, “but not at that cost. I can’t believe that renovation of a one-bedroom apartment could cost that much. Get some more estimates.”
Edwards’ apartment was ultimately renovated for 12,000 pounds sterling, or 46% of the original estimate.
That’s the kind of firm hand that every budget needs, be it my personal checking account or the U.S. federal budget (oh, wait, what budget?). It takes courage, it takes determination and, above all, it takes experience.
Mrs. Thatcher is of a generation which grew up in war and post-war scarcity, and knew how to make a good home while economizing. These are all real-world skills that apparently our well-heeled politicians, with Barack Obama in the lead, do not possess.
The time to sweep them out and to replace them with mini-Thatchers is now, if not yesterday.