A Pivotal Period in Britain's History

It has been a whirlwind three weeks since my arrival in Washington. I've visited the White House to present my credentials to President Obama and watched from the House gallery as he delivered his State of the Union address. I've travelled outside of D.C., seeing the South Carolina Republican primary at first-hand and meeting with business and political leaders around Florida. And I have met many wonderful, kind and welcoming Americans. The weekend before I arrived, another British export reached American shores, albeit to slightly greater fanfare: The Iron Lady, the UK-produced biopic of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The film's warm reception in the United States -- including several well deserved awards nominations for Meryl Streep -- speaks volumes to the interest of Americans in the UK, our policies and society. The Iron Lady harks back to a pivotal period in Britain's recent history. Margaret Thatcher -- later Lady Thatcher -- became Prime Minister at a time when the United Kingdom faced great economic hardship, with high unemployment and stagnant growth. The reforms her Government enacted were sometimes controversial, and remain so for some today. There are parallels with today. The UK is recovering from a global recession. Growth has been too slow and at times uncertain; the 0.2 per cent GDP contraction in the last quarter of 2011 shows we have work to do, especially to resolve the debt crisis that is dragging down so many European economies. The current UK Government acted swiftly to deal with the UK's debt and deficits. But spending cuts were designed with an eye toward fairness and shared sacrifice -- a bit of belt-tightening, to be sure, but not shredding the social safety net. And by getting deficits under control, we have been able to take measures to stimulate growth. We have cut the corporate tax rate -- already the lowest in the G7 -- to encourage investments that will create jobs. In 2011, our exports were up by a tenth over 2010 and nearly one-third since 2009. Our rate of unemployment remains lower than that of our European neighbours. We are a long way from full recovery, but we are moving in the right direction. The Iron Lady reminds us that terrorism was another major theme of Lady Thatcher's premiership. She narrowly escaped death from an IRA bomb at the Grand Hotel in Brighton in 1984; many others were less fortunate, on that day and others. Today, Northern Ireland is at peace, with formerly warring sides sharing in government. Terrorism today comes from different sources. But it still has the ability to knock governments and public sentiment off course. We must face it in much the same way: with an unwavering attachment to the values we believe in and strong co-operation between nations. Even two decades after leaving office, Margaret Thatcher remains a political figure who excites strong views, both for and against. But in one other respect I think of her as I begin my new assignment. Few would deny that she brought the United States and United Kingdom closer together. Her relationship with President Reagan personified the close relations linking Britain and America. As I begin my tenure as British Ambassador to Washington, I look forward to playing my own small part in keeping that relationship in the best possible repair.