Here are some tales, from people who knew her
Others may have known her better than I and will have a lot to
tell about her life and work, but my memories may be no less valuable,
for they go back to the time of our co-operation at a pivotal moment in
the history of Europe and of the world.
We had stayed in touch, exchanging letters from time to time. I
have read books about her and I'm familiar with her articles and
memoirs. I read her book Statecraft. Though there are statements and
judgments with which I do not share, I agree with the high marks the
book got from many political leaders, scholars and journalists for its
author as a political writer and historian.
I met Margaret Thatcher in late 1984 when I visited Great Britain at the head of a Soviet
parliamentary delegation. We arrived in London on a Sunday, warmly
welcomed by members of the British parliament. The following day, I,
Alexander Yakovlev and Leonid Zamyatin were invited to Chequers.
After the welcome and introductions, for Margaret was with
several ministers of her government, we were invited to lunch. The
conversation that began was without precedent. It was open and friendly.
Nevertheless, our ideological differences immediately became apparent.
Sometimes jokingly, and sometimes more seriously, unflattering remarks
were made about capitalism and communism.
It was clear even then that this was a woman of character. At
some point, our conversation became so tense that some of those present
thought that it would have no continuation. And then I said to Margaret
that I had no instructions from the Politburo to persuade her to join
the Communist party of the Soviet Union. She broke into laughter, and I
hastened to add that we respected her views and I was hoping that she
would treat my views the same way.
We soon found that although we represented two opposing alliances
and ideologies, we could engage in a real political dialogue on the
most critical issues. We argued and we disagreed. But we had joined the
dialogue. And that, in and of itself, was important - for the
confrontation had reached a dangerous point. On many issues, our outlook
was different, but the need to look for a way out was clear to both of
Her famous remark, "I like Mr Gorbachev, we can do business
together," was later helpful to me. When I became general secretary of
the Communist party, it made it easier to seek contacts and mutual
understanding with Ronald Reagan and with leaders of other countries.
I might add to my account of the Chequers meeting one detail that
brought into focus the way the atmosphere between the parties was
changing during the course of just a few hours.
After lunch we retired to a small room for a talk. First, I took
out my papers prepared in Moscow, and Margaret opened her ever-present
purse to get quite a pile of pages that contained notes for the
conversation. I began, putting aside my papers. She did the same,
putting aside hers. She even took off her shoes and made herself
comfortable in her armchair. It was all happening by an open fire. It
was, after all, December - and a harsh one at that. Yet it was warm
inside and as we went along, the atmosphere was improving.
I then unfolded in front of Margaret a diagram divided into 1,000
squares. I said that if all nuclear weapons stockpiled primarily by
the US and the Soviet Union were divided into 1,000 parts, then even one
of them would be enough to cause irreparable damage to all life on
Earth. The question was, why continue the race, what is the point of
this insane competition? She replied that they had been forced to
respond to the nuclear armament of the Soviet Union - a country that had
not renounced the goals of world revolution. I countered that it was
the US that had started it all - it invented the nuclear bomb and used
it in Japan, when there was no military need for it, just the political
calculus. I said that documents had already been published showing that
just after the second world war there had been plans to strike the
Soviet Union, at its vital centres, which would have devastated and
virtually destroyed our country. The US led the race, I concluded.
On top of it, let us not forget Winston
Churchill's speech at Fulton, which in effect, ushered in the cold
Margaret argued the western viewpoint - and she was fully
committed to it. In fact, she was the ideologue for the view that
nuclear weapons were a necessary deterrent to the USSR.
She was the ideologue for the view that nuclear weapons were a
necessary deterrent to the USSR
I have to say that even later, and even after my meeting with Reagan at Reykjavik and the signing of the
treaty eliminating all INF missiles, she continued to uphold her view of
nuclear weapons. In one of our conversations, when we had already come
to know each other well and were talking amicably, though as always,
earnestly, I asked her why she felt so comfortable sitting on a nuclear
Be that as it may, it was then, during that talk at Chequers,
that the special relationship was born, one that we not only preserved
but expanded, working to change relations between our countries and put
an end to the deep freeze in which they had been kept.
I recall vividly her first visit to the USSR in spring 1987. She amazed me
by her knowledge of our domestic developments, her understanding of the
nature of changes then under way, her ability to evaluate them
realistically and her readiness to share with us the experience of what
she called "my own perestroika". Margaret was eager to talk to ordinary
people - not only in Moscow, but in Krylatskoye district, where she was
greeted by hundreds of people. She also she visited Zagorsk, the site of
the Trinity-Sergius monastery, a sacred place for Orthodox believers,
and then went on to Georgia. That the Soviet people welcomed her so
warmly and with genuine interest, that they were so open to the "Iron
Lady", was evidently an enjoyable experience to her. I felt that it also
gave her a different view of our country and its citizens.
Notwithstanding our differences of opinion, which remain, we worked closely
and fruitfully together to advance the important processes of that time -
curbing the arms race, European developments, German unification and
reversing Iraq's aggression in the Middle East.
She was genuinely interested in what was happening in our
country. She closely, and with astonishing command of detail, followed
perestroika and glasnost, and sincerely wished for our process of change
to succeed - though, of course, she had her own expectations as to its
She closely, and with astonishing command of detail, followed
perestroika and glasnost, and sincerely wished for our process of change
But in her book, Statecraft,
Strategies for a Changing World, Margaret, for some reasons, would not
give full credit to the role the Soviet Union's new policies played in
the global transformation of the late 1980s.
Both when we were in power and after each of us had stepped down
from office, we met many times. Lady Thatcher was certainly a remarkable
person and a major political leader. Even though our talks were
sometimes quite dramatic and more than lively, I found them
intellectually stimulating and admired her deliberate approach to all
subjects, her thoughtfulness and her ability to stand her ground -
stubbornly but persuasively. Indeed, she had a rare ability to delve
deeply and thoroughly into the events of the past century, evaluate the
scope and meaning of each of them, and analyse the unique features of
different countries and regions.
Her experience as a state leader and her thoughts about the
prospects of our changing world had to be appreciated whether one agreed
with them or not. I valued my political and human relationship with
Margaret, particularly during the most significant years of my time in
politics. For me, she was "a person one can deal with". Our co-operation
with Margaret Thatcher went beyond the routine of partnership.
I have good memories of Mrs Thatcher. The first time I met her
she came to Poland in 1988. The iron curtain still separated east
from west. Solidarność was struggling with the communist dictatorship.
For us, her visit and spiritual presence were extremely important. It
meant that there were world-class politicians supporting our fight for
pluralism and economic reform. Thatcher had to be a very brave person to come to the city of Gdańsk at that
time. She made our struggle for freedom visible to the world. During
this visit, Solidarność' chaplain Jankowski was hosting a dinner in the
rectory house of St Brygida's church. I remember Thatcher was very much
amused by the ample pheasant. It was served with its colourful feathers.
She asked if we ate this in Poland that way. We didn't, of course, but
it was the only time we had a laugh. Without her, our fight against
communists would have lasted much longer. It would have been confronted
with bigger difficulties, if not destruction.
Later, whenever I had a meeting with Thatcher, there were always
many different matters to be sorted out. Usually, everything would go
according to the previously prepared schedule, no improvisation. She had
a very pragmatic attitude toward whatever we were doing and there was
always a feeling that you couldn't refuse her. Observing her at work was
a great opportunity to learn how to achieve goals. Once she gave me
advice: "Write down the 10 steps from where you are now to where you
want to be." It was a good lesson.
Thatcher was a very active person with great commitment in her
duties. She had a clear vision of the world. She was a distinguished
lady who acted in a tight and organised way. The Iron Lady was an
unforgettable personality of the past epoch of the cold war.
I didn't meet Thatcher until the day I started work for her,
which was the 10 September 1978 when I went to the House of Commons as a
package deal with David Wolfson. He was on the board of Great Universal
Stores and was trying to help her to win the election.
Our relationship sort of built up. She won the election and we
went to Downing Street. I was working in the political office, doing
whatever came along. I soon started to travel with her. We built up a
rapport. It probably came about because I didn't have to rush home to
cook an evening meal for my husband. (He was living in Worcester. I
wasn't with him during the week.) I could stay on and perhaps do
something with her in the evening, chat to her or help her sort out her
wardrobe. I came home every weekend and she went to Chequers. She was
always very sensitive to people who had families. She used to say:
"Well, you must go home, dear."
Mine was a supportive role. I was there to make sure her personal
life went smoothly. We used to have meetings before every trip. She and
I would sit down with the programme and decide what she would wear at
In 1987 she was going to Russia for the first time and I had
seen a wonderful coat in Aquascutum's window and I went to get it. A lot
of her clothes up until that time had been homemade by a lady. She made
all those dresses and blouses with bows and things. Mrs Thatcher went
to Russia and she looked absolutely fabulous. I said to her: "If you are
going to fight an election in June, why don't we ask Aquascutum to make
you up some working suits." She agreed, so we ordered these suits. It
was when the power shoulders were in and it just revolutionised her. She
looked fantastic. She enjoyed all the new outfits and got away from the
dresses. She never wears trousers, not even today. She always likes
formal clothes, even at home. She hasn't got a lot of casual clothes.
Every outfit had a name. It was mostly the name of the place
where it was first worn, such as Madrid Pink or Prague Green
Because her mother was a dressmaker she knew exactly how things
should be made, how hems should be turned and how stitching should be
Every outfit had a name. It was mostly the name of the place
where it was first worn, such as Madrid Pink or Prague Green. We might
say, "We'll take Waddesdon Navy" - because she had several suits in
navy. Waddesdon was where she took Mitterrand, and they had a wonderful
meal. We knew we were talking about a navy suit that had a trim of a
cream collar with navy roses. That was easy because then we knew what we
were talking about.
I wouldn't hesitate to say, "You can't go out in that" or "Your
makeup isn't right" or "Your hair looks a mess". I wouldn't hesitate. I
mean, your best mates tell you, don't they?
We had a few arguments. I usually lost. Not yelling, she didn't
yell. Not about politics. It was about domestic things. She was very
forthright and determined about her views.
We had a few arguments. I usually lost. Not yelling, she didn't
yell. Not about politics. It was about domestic things
I think she enjoyed being with her political chums more than
anything. She had very few close friends; a sister, of course, but few
The Falklands war showed her in her real colours. I used to stay
at Downing Street with her, and we used to sit up all night listening to
the World Service. We used to sit on the bedroom floor - the heating
would have gone off and there was a two-bar electric fire in the bedroom
- kick our shoes off and relax. When she went up to Northwood for the
briefing every day, I used to go to bed, but she didn't. She had
practically no sleep for three months. Just catnapping. She was so
incredibly strong and determined. Not once did she flag.
At Christmas 1988 my husband was knocked down in the road. I had
to come straight home. The next day was the Lockerbie disaster. It was a
horrific day. Even that night she phoned me to see how my husband was.
She was always very sympathetic. I said: "Look, you mustn't ring me
because you have had such a terrible day yourself but she said, 'No, I
wanted to know how things were'." I don't think it ever came across
during her premiership that she had this soft, sympathetic side. It was
always that she was the Iron Lady.
When the Brighton bomb went off, everybody was in a terrible
state. We were all just packing up. I think it went off at 2.50am.
Somebody said: "What are we going to do with the speech that she was due
to give the next day?" We decided we would put it in the handbag - that
was the safest place. Anything that was highly secretive or precious,
we would put in her handbag because we knew she was never parted from
We went to the police station first, then to the police training
place at Lewes. We shared a room. I can see it now. It had an avocado
bathroom suite. We said a prayer and we lay down, but we didn't sleep.
And, of course, we went back to the hall and she did her speech. It was a
very strange and strained night.
In 1990, when she didn't get the vote in the leadership contest,
we sat up all night in Paris. She had to go to Versailles after hearing
that news and she said she would fight on. When we were leaving for
Paris, I had gone to see Denis and said that hopefully we would come
back with the right result. But he said to me "she is done for now". I
went to Paris and I never whispered a word of it to anybody. When she
found him to say that she hadn't got it, but she was going to fight on,
he still supported her. But in the end, it was him who said.
She used to read the odd thriller, especially on holiday. But
she was always hungry for news. Whenever we travelled, we had CNN on
non-stop. On Saturdays at Chequers, Denis used to insist that she sat
down after dinner and they used to like to watch Miss Marple. She was
very interested in the garden at Chequers and Downing Street. She put in
some lovely rose beds. She didn't do it physically herself, but she
took a great interest in it. And the art. When she became PM she brought
in a lot of traditional art: Turners and a Henry Moore. She has always
been a very neat person, so she would always spend a little time tidying
her wardrobes and cleaning her shoes. That would be relaxation for her.
She used to read the odd thriller, especially on holiday. But she
was always hungry for news
Her sense of humour was very, very dry. In fact, so dry you could
miss it. She wasn't known for her sense of humour. She lived a very
serious life and conversation - well, there was no small talk. She loved
discussing politics. She and Ronnie Reagan had this great rapport about
politics. She admired him beyond words - and Gorbachev. She would
always say how much she admired him and what he had done for the world,
and he adored her. He had a soft voice and he used to talk to her in a
wonderful way. Gorbachev was a bit of a flirt, actually, the eyes would
be flashing a bit. She didn't mind that, I mean, nobody minds a bit of
flattery, do they?
When I read something about her in the newspapers that I knew was
incorrect, I felt very annoyed for her. She tended to take those sorts
of things far more on the chin. She also never wanted somebody patting
her on the back every five minutes because she knew herself that she had
done her level best. I think her father instilled that in her. Do your
very, very best and never follow the crowd. That was her personal
I would defend her to the last because she was a complete star in
my life. I learned a lot from her, and I tried to do all I could for
her. She taught me lots of things, including that you should only do one
job at a time and concentrate completely. Whether she was writing a
speech or tidying a drawer, it had her total concentration. She taught
I think she did a lot for the women of this country and I know
that she worked her socks off for the country. She did her utmost for
Britain. I don't think she ever got over the way in which she was
deposed by her own party and her own colleagues. It still rankled, and
there is no doubt that with the possible exception of Churchill, she was
the greatest prime minister of the last century. In my book, she was
the greatest prime minister.
For a workaholic, No 10 was the perfect home: a staircase of
just 17 steps led from the private flat to the prime minister's study
on the first floor. It had to be the shortest commute in London.
The flat quickly dispelled the popular image of grand living. It
was converted out of attic rooms during Neville Chamberlain's time. When
it was portrayed in a Bond film, we all looked enviously because it was
much more glamorous than the real thing.
I recall domestic arrangements being very do-it-yourself. Often,
guests who came up to the flat for an early-evening gin and tonic would
find one or other of my parents co-ordinating glasses, with one of us
racing down the stairs to the catering kitchen to fill up the ice bucket
from the machine there because no one had thought to refill the ice
trays in our own freezer. My father wasn't keen on ice in drinks,
though. "Dilutes it," he used to claim.
My mother regarded food simply as fuel and had no claims to being
a foodie. The late playwright
Ronnie Millar, who used to come in for speech-writing sessions
often on a Sunday evening used to raise his eyebrows and mutter:
My mother had total tunnel vision when it came to work. As kids,
my bother and I were watching a pop music show on TV while she was doing
constituency paperwork in the same room. I asked if she wanted me to
turn the volume down. No, she replied, she hadn't realised it was on.
When I was at boarding school she was meticulous about turning up
to school functions but always had a file of paperwork to sign or read
when there was a lull in proceedings.
I think she was the most practical, efficient and organised
person I have known. I once read that she was described as "fanatically
tidy" while I was "fanatically messy". I couldn't argue.
You can argue about whether Margaret Thatcher was our greatest
peacetime prime minister of the last century - my own view - or a
partisan, narrow-minded shrew, which would seem to be the opinion of
many Guardian readers. But no one can dispute that she was the most
energetic PM in British history. She never stopped. The working day
began at 6am with Farming Today and rarely ended until the last red box
was completed at 2am or 3am.
Weekends were, in her view, an annoying intrusion to the routine,
a problem solved by turning Chequers into a second office. Holidays
were viewed with distaste and punctuated with eager phone calls seeking
an excuse to return to London once the obligatory photograph on the
beach with Denis and a borrowed dog had been snapped. Others were
expected to observe the same. One No 10 private secretary had to absent
himself once on a Friday for a family event and, as luck would have it,
Mrs Thatcher asked for him. When it was explained that he was taking the
day off, she ever afterwards would remark plaintively: "Of course, Tim
doesn't work on Fridays."
Ceaseless activity went with excessive punctuality. Her official
car often had to pull into the side on approaching a town, because we
were too early and the police escort was not in place, leaving startled
citizens wondering what the prime minister was doing in their local
layby. The record was achieved on a visit to Prague, when she arrived
early at the president's palace, whereupon the guard of honour snapped
to attention and the band struck up the national anthems. Mrs Thatcher
began to inspect the Guard of Honour. The only person missing was
President Havel. He materialised a few minutes later, at the double and
pulling on his jacket.
Whether this perpetuum mobile was the best way to run a
government is something that historians and psychiatrists can argue over
endlessly. But it suited Mrs Thatcher's permanently striving
I also recall most sharply her intensity. Mrs Thatcher is a
believer, a crusader, whose mission as prime minister was to galvanise
Britain out of the stupefied state into which it had descended in the
70s. This passionate intensity carried through into her style of
working. She could turn almost anything into an argument, because that
was how she arrived at her views. It was something that did not appeal
to public school-educated male cabinet, who were mostly brought up to
defer politely to ladies. She irritated the hell out of them, but her
style was an intrinsic part of her personality: I argue therefore I am.
Together with her unflinching will power, it played a crucial role in
the success of her policies.
As PM she never stood on her dignity or became grand. In rare
moments of enforced inactivity, she would sit on my desk and answer the
phone. You would hear an alarmed Whitehall official stammer that he must
have got the wrong extension. "If you want Charles, you can't speak to
him, he's too busy," she would say, putting down the receiver.
She was remarkably non-judgmental about her colleagues' sexual
peccadilloes, though could also be disarmingly naive. I recall her once
snatching a copy of the hated Private Eye, in which I'd been reading
about the Ugandan activities of a prominent member of her party. She
handed it back triumphantly: "It's completely untrue, I know for a fact
he's never been to Uganda." Yes, Prime Minister.
If you look at anything Margaret Thatcher wrote or the speeches
she made before she became leader of the party, there's nothing
outstanding or distinctive about them. She really only made an impact on
us in the party when she was, to our surprise, elected leader. Put
simply, nobody thought a woman could win - and then suddenly, there she
was. I remember when she appeared for the first time at the meeting of
the 1922 committee, this frail little woman in the middle of an all-male
gathering, but rather proud of herself. And all of us surprised to find
ourselves forming a quasi-Elizabethan court around her.
But she began to gain confidence from that point. When she and I
found ourselves beleaguered after the 1981 budget - it was fiercely attacked on the day after
its delivery - she was the only voice to speak up in defence of it. We
turned out to be right on that. The following year came the Falklands,
about which she was decisive; almost a lone cabinet voice in insisting
that we had to recapture the islands. After those two events her
confidence had grown hugely, and her personality was solidifying in
Margaret became recognised as a dominant figure on the world
stage before she was at home. The chattering classes in Britain could
never accept how well respected and admired she was abroad. Initially
this was because she was a very early and therefore very striking
example of a woman prime minister. I remember when we went to our first world summit together in Japan in 1979, she was the only
woman there. While she was speaking, I noticed that the audience
consisted of a large number of Japanese women, who had come in from
neighbouring offices to see her. You could see them really being wowed.
Several years later we went to Moscow, and she was a phenomenon,
this instantly recognisable woman getting out of her car - which Russian
leaders didn't do - to go to meet the crowds. It made a huge
The fact that she also had a very dynamic authority first became
recognised, crucially, at her meeting with Gorbachev in 1984. We had
then been working together in foreign affairs for 18 months. And we had
decided that we had to find some way of getting inside the Soviet
system, of persuading the leaders that it didn't make sense to maintain
this hostility. We were lucky to identify Gorbachev as the man who was
going to be chosen as leader.
To be present at that first meeting between Margaret and
Gorbachev was an extraordinary experience. We were struck by how he was
unlike any Soviet leader that we had met. He had a warmth that engaged
people, and we could see a relationship of candour springing up between
them in those first few hours. And then she ended with that great
comment when he left: "Here is a
man with whom I can do business." (The "I", of course, is
Within a week we left to sign the Hong Kong agreement with China,
and the following Saturday we were in Washington to meet Reagan.
Frankly, Margaret's most important contribution to the world was her
ability to convince Reagan, with whom she had a very good relationship,
that Gorbachev was a guy with whom he could do business, too.
I don't think Margaret consciously exploited her gender, so much
as it was something of which her interlocutors were always aware. I
remember a European summit meeting in Copenhagen at which we were trying
- surprise, surprise - to work on reform of the common agricultural
policy, and which we had addressed many times before. It was about
12.20am, a few days before Christmas, and we still hadn't reached
agreement, so the chairman called it to a close. Suddenly Mitterrand
launched into a great monologue about how we had reached the end of the
road, we shall have to consider if we can ever manage this, and so on.
When he finished, Margaret piped up, to my astonishment, and said: "No,
it hasn't been like that at all, President Mitterrand. It's been a very
good meeting. We haven't quite solved it, but we will. Cheer up,
Monsieur." A moment's pause, and then he said: "I sometimes think Mrs
Thatcher is even more beguiling when she is saying yes than when she is
He was reacting to her as Madame Thatcher, not that she was
consciously playing a female role. Though I can't imagine anyone other
than Margaret making that kind of gesture.
Looking at it overall, Margaret and I probably always had a
slightly uneasy partnership, but a very creative one. Eventually, every
meeting that took place in Whitehall or Westminster was subconsciously
attended, unseen and unspoken, by Margaret Thatcher. The discussion
would always come around somehow to: how will this play with the prime
minister? That gradually grew, to the point where she was so accustomed
to getting her own way that she became overconfident; less and less
dependent on consultation with colleagues, more and more dependent on a
narrow circle. It tends to happen. It happened to Ted Heath. It happened
to Tony Blair.
In Margaret's case, she became prepared to test her will to
destruction, and that's when she began losing colleagues. First Michael Heseltine walked out, followed by Leon Brittan, then Nigel Lawson, then me.
My resignation speech, in November 1990, was made with
genuine regret. I have often said that I was seeking a change in policy
not a change in prime minister. But I suppose I was beginning to realise
that that was an unlikely outcome, just as others were recognising that
her commitment to the poll tax was almost certainly taking us to
It was a real rupture. We had worked together as long as most
marriages last - since 1975 - and it had been a fruitful relationship,
because while there were disagreements, our instincts were the same in
many ways. I didn't always win all the arguments, obviously: some of
them I had to wait a day or two to win.
The interesting thing is what would have happened if Ian Gow
hadn't been murdered by the IRA in July 1990. Ian was Margaret's
closest friend and mine, and he was always anxious that we shouldn't be
torn apart from each other. If he had survived the outcome might have
been different? I don't know.
Margaret Thatcher was neither the cleverest nor the most
eloquent politician of her generation. But she was without question the
most determined. At a time of doubt and disillusion, her unswerving
belief in her own convictions proved to be her most important
characteristic. Her values were simple and straightforward, based on the
austere Methodism of her childhood - hard work, self-discipline and
thrift. There was little room for fun.
On paper, Margaret Roberts had little going for her, other than
determination. Indeed, there were three strikes against her as a future
politician. The location of her birth was the remote Lincolnshire market
town of Grantham. The family lived modestly and had few, if any,
influential friends. She came from the stratum of honest tradesmen, from
which Tory agents and local councillors might be recruited, but rarely
MPs. And she was a woman, at a time when the most that women could
aspire to was to be "the statutory woman", the obligatory female member
of government who made no trouble but could be called on to talk about
To get to Oxford from her grammar school was the first of her
triumphs. To do so, she had coached herself in Latin and chemistry, her
chosen subject. To become chairman of the Oxford University Conservative
Association, the second woman so to do, was another. Neither
achievement impressed Oxford's imperturbable dons. The principal of her
college, Somerville, the distinguished, radical haematologist Janet
Vaughan, dismissed her as "a second-rate mind", the ultimate academic
put-down. Like Tory party grandees 25 years later, the dons
underestimated her. They failed to see the engine that drove her, the
single-minded passionate will to power. To determination was added
resentment; as prime minister, she cherished no great affection for the
Launched on to the political stage by a brilliant campaign in the
safe Labour seat of Dartford, Margaret Roberts began to act more and
more like a Tory lady. She blossomed into dramatic hats, gloves and the
other appurtenances of a rising political star. Her new husband, Denis,
old enough and successful enough to be amused rather than threatened by
his wife's success, became her emotional and financial anchor. Over the
years, though they rarely shared the most critical moments of their
lives (when she told him she was running for the leadership, he asked,
"Leadership of what?"), she became increasingly dependent on his counsel
As a secretary of state for education and science, Thatcher
loyally carried out her party's policies, but did not much like them.
She put up with being patronised and disregarded by her prime minister,
Ted Heath. She bore the popular abuse she received for removing free
milk from primary schools as "Thatcher, the Milk-Snatcher", though the
policy was the treasury's, not hers. So when it came to the leadership
election, most Conservative MPs bought Airey Neave's reassuring message
that her candidature was just intended to shake up the unpopular Heath.
The MPs, too, had underestimated her. Like the guns of Singapore, their
weapons were pointing in the wrong direction.
A conviction politician, Thatcher got rid of "the wets" as soon
as she decently could. She had never had time for one-nation Toryism. In
her autobiography, The Path to Power, there are hardly any references
to Rab Butler, the architect of the postwar Tory party, nor even to his
great 1944 Education Act.
Thatcher's femininity was her secret weapon. Always elegant,
always formidable, but also capable of personal kindness to her staff
and helpers, she understood Tory men. Most of them had been brought up
by fearsome women of authority: nannies, matrons, distant and detached
mothers, whom one did not challenge or disobey. A woman leader baffled
them. They simply did not know how to relate to her, and they were
uncomfortable with anything that looked like competition or defiance.
Over three administrations, Thatcher gradually established
unquestioned command, disregarding her cabinet, and becoming a kind of
secular monarch. She became more remote, out-of-touch, capable of the
absurd folly of the poll tax. She who had treated her colleagues with so
little mercy received none from them at the end.
Margaret Thatcher was a very powerful, rightwing force in
society. She followed her beliefs and had clear objectives. Her policy
was to reverse the trends in modern politics that were made possible by
the trade unions being legalised. She decided to eradicate the power of
the unions, undermine local government and privatise assets - and these
were the three policies of the labour movement.
It was a major attack on democracy and at first it carried some
public support, but then it became unstuck, and in the end, it was
rejected. But ideas always come back and the modern Tory party is
influenced by her ideas.
Although I thought she was wrong, she said what she meant and
meant what she said. It was not about style with her; it was substance -
I don't think she listened to spin doctors, she just had a clear idea
and followed it through.
I remember her at the funeral of MP Eric Heffer. I was asked to
make a speech and as I was waiting, there was someone behind me
coughing. It was Mrs Thatcher, and at the end I thanked her for coming
and she burst into tears. She had come out of respect for someone whose
opinions she disagreed with.
I was a government whip in the early 1970s, and Margaret was
secretary of state for education. She was a tough and striking
character, and I got on perfectly all right with her, but I became aware
that Ted Heath was thinking of sacking her. Margaret had become
involved in a silly row, where the Labour party and the newspapers
decided that taking milk from schoolchildren was a dreadful, Victorian
thing to do. It plainly existed for the benefit of the farming industry -
it was a way of dumping milk on schools, and no longer had anything to
do with the avoidance of rickets - but she became an object of
criticism. We were all aghast that Ted was thinking of sacking the only
woman in the cabinet. He was persuaded not to, but no doubt he
occasionally looks back and regrets that he did not have the foresight
to get rid of the person who proved to be his most formidable rival.
When we went into opposition in 1974, there was huge pressure to
get rid of Ted. Many people wanted Keith Joseph, on the party's right, to stand. Keith was a
brilliant but indecisive character; he went through agonies, and then
made a somewhat ill-judged speech [on sexual promiscuity and social
deprivation] which, in the stupid daily atmosphere of politics, was
instantly assumed to have cost him his chance. Margaret had been close
politically to Keith, so there was a rush to get her to stand. The
result was that Margaret was the only opponent Heath had on the first
ballot, and she came ahead for the simple reason that she wasn't him.
She gathered an enormous protest vote that had no ideological content,
which made her unbeatable in the second ballot. So Margaret became one
of the most unexpected leaders of the party that we had ever had.
As opposition leader, she had a rocky ride, because she had not
fully matured as a politician. She was a bit typecast; people used to
make rude remarks about her twinset and pearls - she epitomised a
rightwing, Daily Mail-reading, suburban housewife. She was subject to a
great deal of muttering: the other members of her shadow cabinet had all
been shocked by her becoming leader; a lot of the grandees deeply
resented that she was leading the party and they were not.
She was a difficult woman to get to know, and I'm not sure I
ever did. I combined my job with being a barrister, and one day, coming
back from court in the West Midlands, I fell asleep on the train. I woke
up to find, opposite me, Margaret and Ian Gow, who had got on at some
station and were teasing me. But she offered me a lift in her car from
the station. She took me back to her room in the House of Commons, and
offered me a cup of tea. She was wandering around, finding dirty
teacups, washing them in the sink, throwing a tea-towel at me and
getting me to dry them - she was remarkably feminine, and normal.
She was a difficult women to get to know, and I'm not
sure I ever did
We were all believers in free-market economics; we all thought
the trade unions were a dreadful, over-powerful vested interest. We all
thought we should stop bailing out lame-duck industries and pouring the
taxpayer's money into over-manned, overpaid and inefficient nationalised
industries. But once we came to government, in 1979, if it hadn't been
for Margaret, I'm not sure many of us would have had the courage of our
convictions. She gave us all the courage to do what we all believed
ought to be done. Over time, we pushed the boat out further and further,
and became more and more unpopular with the public - but she made us
put our tin hats on and get on with it. To our astonishment, we survived
as a government.
The poll tax was her undoing. I always said it was great fun
working in her government so long as you could stand the hassle. But
unfortunately, as always happens if people stay in office for too long,
she got carried away with her own infallibility. The poll tax was the worst example of that. She got some
sycophantic young men around her, whom I will not name because they are
friends of mine, and she wouldn't discuss it with her more senior
colleagues, who disagreed with her. We'd had many policies that were
unpopular, but many of us knew in our bones that the critics were right
on this: it was an uncollectable tax. She'd always flown by the seat of
her pants, by her gut instinct - but that time her gut instinct was
As soon as any prime minister starts thinking of his [or her]
role in history, it's the beginning of disaster. But I don't think she
did that much: she probably took the woman of destiny bit for granted.
Although she did once come out in cabinet with a bizarre statement: "Why
do I have to do everything in this government?" To which I think I
wasn't the only person sitting round the table thinking: "The trouble
is, Margaret, that you believe that you do have to. And you shouldn't.
And you can't."
At the end, when she was talked into seeing the cabinet one by
one, she saw me first because somebody had told her that I was the most
vehement [in believing] that she couldn't go on. She tried to jolly me
out of it, so I explained forcefully, as is my way, that in my opinion
she'd lost and ought to stand down. She accused me of being defeatist; I
said that she had been defeated.
I didn't seen her much [after that]. She never came to terms with
losing the leadership. She became embittered and persuaded herself that
it had all been treachery and some kind of plot, which was paranoid
Whenever I ask myself the mystifying question of why the
Conservatives, the natural governing party for centuries, dissolved into
civil war and swung so violently to the nationalist right, I think that
in some mysterious way it goes back to the trauma of Margaret's defeat.
I think there was a section of the rightwing of the party that never
came to terms with it; that believed the stuff about plots, and regarded
John Major's government, in some peculiar way, as a betrayal of
Margaret's legacy - when it followed Thatcherite policies pretty
consistently. What we tried to be in Major's government was Thatcherite
with a human face. But we were destroyed from within by people who
considered themselves the most loyal followers of Margaret. It was left
to Tony Blair to take over Thatcherism with a human face.
She was one of our great recent prime ministers. She'd be outdone
by Churchill, and possibly, although he was a much more flawed
character, by Lloyd George. But anybody writing the history of the 20th
century in Britain will regard Thatcher as one of the dominant political
personalities, and her era as one of the decisive phases in our
history. Which is why it was such a privilege to serve in her
government; as you may have gathered, I found it rather enjoyable.
We met for the first time in London. My husband was not yet in
office. She and my husband shared the same views and convictions. They
were political soulmates when it came to reducing government, expanding
economic freedom and ending the cold war.
For eight years as president, Ronnie never had a closer
[international] ally than Margaret Thatcher. But Margaret was not just
an ally, she was also a dear and trusted friend.
They disagreed over the Falkland Islands, but it didn't harm
their friendship at all.
Ronnie and I always enjoyed our visits with Margaret and Denis -
whether at the White House, Camp David, our ranch in California, or No
Ronnie and I happened to be in London at the time she stepped
down as prime minister. She came to our hotel to visit, and she was
obviously very sad. I think that was one of her lowest moments. But she
was a strong woman and soon returned to her normal self. Her lowest
moment was certainly losing Denis.
She was a constant source of strength and inspiration during
Ronnie's illness. As our lives changed through the years, our
friendship did not. Margaret represented strength, warmth and
Margaret Thatcher was a womanly woman and always considered it
important to use her woman's skills to the utmost. Before sitting down
she always had a little movement - and I've never seen another woman do
it - of hitching up her skirt, so she wasn't sitting on it. Her bum was
sitting on the chair - well, her knickers, of course - so when she got
up her skirt was uncreased. She always thought things out. She was a
great details person.
Margaret felt closer to the woman who goes out to work than the
one who stays at home. I don't think she had a great deal of sympathy
for the housewife. She felt she was part of a sisterhood of so-called
working wives. Women have many great qualities and Margaret had a lot,
but there is one male quality that is usually important in politics and
that she lacked - clubbability.
Mitterrand described her as having the mouth of Marilyn Monroe
and eyes of Caligula. Whether he meant it or whether he was trying to
charm her in order to undermine her resistance to whatever it was he
wished to do, I don't know. I think she could turn it on if she wanted
to, but sexiness wasn't the most obvious thing about her. She was also
She never bullied me. The only one she really bullied was
Geoffrey Howe. Listening was never her strongest attribute, but she was
infinitely better in the first half of her premiership. It was a gradual
process. The real deterioration set in at Christmas 1987, when Willie
Whitelaw had to resign on health grounds. That made a huge difference.
Until then, his presence at her side concentrated her mind.
There had never been a cabinet with so many Jewish men - me,
Michael Howard, Leon Brittan. I wondered why, and the conclusion I came
to is not that she had a thing for Jews, but that she was one of those
rare politicians without the faintest whiff of antisemitism.
Margaret's mind operated on at least two levels. There was the
saloon-bar populist, but there was also the sophisticated, calculating
politician. She switched from one mode to the other. She wasn't an
intellectual in the sense that Keith Joseph was. She was more like a
clever lawyer, quick at picking up a brief, and mastering all the
detail. She liked the company of intellectuals, enjoyed the debate, but
she thought of herself more as a woman of action.
Margaret's political philosophy was shaped greatly by her family
background, particularly her father. She was very close to him, but not
her mother, who didn't go out to work.
She had a protestant work ethic and felt that everybody should
have the opportunity to make their own way by their own efforts, and
that no one should stand in the way of people bettering themselves. So
when groups appeared to have ancient privileges of one kind or another,
she would go for them - such as the restrictive practices of the legal
profession. She wasn't a class warrior.
One wouldn't say Margaret was totally humourless, but her sense
of humour was not highly developed. She did once make me laugh. I
showed her a new commemorative coin, and said approvingly at the head on
the coin: "Ooh, she looks just like Rita Hayworth!"
I didn't like her politics. I always regarded Margaret Thatcher
as a one-man demolition squad. She levelled the rickety old buildings of
corporate state Britain, brutally. She tore them down. There is a
constructive thing about clearing a space for a new building. She was a
destroyer. Not a wilful one, she was a destroyer with a purpose.
But she found it impossible to build on the ground she had
It was clear that if we on the left had had the same degree of
intellectual rigour about our ideas as she had about hers, however much I
didn't like most of them, we wouldn't have suffered so badly. We sat
there and we believed in the 1980s that we were on an easy conveyor
belt, which was always moving towards a more leftwing, more socialist
and social justice-based agenda. And she and the people with her spotted
the laziness and the flaws - the worm in the apple - and ruthlessly
exposed it in a highly effective manner.
I fought, sometimes mistakenly against elements of her agenda,
including some of her economic liberalisation agenda, but there's no
question that she was one of the great prime ministers of our century. I
remember saying three or four years before her exit from Downing Street
that in politics at this level everything always ends in tears and
people said: "No, Mrs Thatcher won't end in tears." And of course, she
She wasn't intellectually a forceful person. She was forceful
because of her character but that was enough. If you don't have courage,
all the other qualities you may have - good strategic sense and oratory
etc - vanish like the morning dew when you need it. But she had it.
Her other quality was of leadership of the sort that is rare in
senior leaders, but which is part of the Sandhurst training for 2nd
lieutenants. You'd be in the Commons at 3am or 4am and David Steel and
Neil Kinnock would be safely tucked up in bed, and Maggie would walk in
to support her backbenchers.
She tied people to her with genuine bonds of affection because
she appeared in the frontline when life was tough and inspired her
I'm told she once said about me: "Ashdown, glittering army
career? Can't imagine. What he's doing in the Liberal Democrats. Should
be a Tory."
After decades of creeping corporatism and relative economic
decline, Margaret Thatcher's premiership championed radical market-led
economic reforms that went on to become the foundation of our national
economic prosperity. It was profoundly in the national interest that
through most of that period the SDP, as a new force in British politics,
reinforced the better parts of her counter-revolution.
We in the SDP had serious disagreements with her over a broad
range of issues from the NHS, apartheid, the poll tax and her lack of
interest in alleviating, let alone eradicating, poverty at home and
overseas. Yet helping to sustain her economic, monetary and industrial
trade union reforms was worthwhile. She required guts to do it - her
single greatest quality - and she deserved some cross-party support,
particularly on two occasions: the Falklands and the miners strike, when
her personal resolve made all the difference between victory or defeat.
Thatcher would not have remained prime minister if General
Galtieri's forces had not been thrown off the Falklands. It is easy to
forget that in the first two weeks of 1982 her government was in
trouble. Two opinion polls put the SDP-Liberal Alliance ahead at 34% and
36% respectively, with the Tories coming second and third respectively.
Thatcher would not have remained prime minister if General
Galtieri's forces had not been thrown off the Falklands
Her concern for the sailors and their families after the bombing
of HMS Sheffield was palpable. There was understandable nervousness on
occasions but her nerve held on military matters and diplomatic
negotiations. As a result, and despite the pre-war failures of her
government's policies, the 1983 general election result was left beyond
doubt. But not only did her actions save her premiership, it meant that
those in control of Labour party policy, campaigning with CND over
cruise missiles and against Nato's nuclear strategy, were never given
the opportunity to prosper, as they would have done in the aftermath of a
The second battle was a domestic one with Arthur Scargill and
this, too, had to be fought to a clear-cut victory. The 1972 national
miners' strike was the first since 1926 and it was vindicated by Lord
Wilberforce's 17% pay award. The second miners' strike in 1974 was,
however, not justified and blatantly political. Though it helped Harold
Wilson defeat Edward Heath it fed industrial militancy and led to the
winter of discontent and the Labour government's defeat in 1979. What
is all too often forgotten was that there was a threatened third miners'
strike in 1981. It was one of Thatcher's wisest decisions to pay up and
settle with the NUM president Joe Gormley, while building up coal
reserves and planning for an inevitable confrontation with his
successor, Scargill. When Scargill called a national strike without the
traditional pit-head ballot in March 1984, she was ready for him. The
old traditional Conservatives' instinct for compromise over industrial
disputes associated with Walter Monckton, Harold Macmillan and Heath was
tested in October, when the pit deputies' union Nacod's threatened
I talked to Thatcher about my concern that any compromise then
would have fatal long-term consequences, given Scargill's capacity
to present such an outcome as a vindication of his stand. She made it
plain that despite the department of energy's attitudes, there must be
no question of letting him off the hook. Many blamed her when we saw the
sad spectacle of decent miners being forced to trudge back to work with
defeat on their faces, but without that result, the intimidation and
violence on the picket line would have been seen to have triumphed.
It was a tragedy for her and the country that she did not broaden
her vision on the back of those two great victories and develop a more
sensitive social-market approach, and step down with dignity on her 10th
I first saw Margaret Thatcher in the flesh at her first party
conference as leader in 1975. I was Birmingham's youngest councillor and
thrilled at the idea of a woman at the top. On the podium she seemed
tiny and vulnerable. She had buck teeth, frizzy hair and wore terrible
clothes with frills and bows. At 49, earnest and nervous, a scientist
and a mother, she brought to mind the pioneering heroism of a Madame
Curie, the dogged faith of a Joan of Arc.
By the time I entered parliament in 1983 the transformation was
complete. Margaret was the boss and enjoying every minute. I heard her
say in one interview: "I don't mind what my ministers say as long as
they do as I tell them." It was a revealing remark with not a hint of
irony. Had anyone dared to challenge her, she would have been astonished
at the notion that a cabinet divided could rule the country better.
She was feared, but she was also loved. Little things mattered.
Even her manner of appointing ministers had warmth. On the day in
September 1986 when she called me in to join the government, she opened
the door herself and whisked me away from the press, then talked quietly
about how the job might be done. Soon the doors opened to a dozen
excited new junior ministers, each with a drink in hand. We discovered
Denis's influence in the hefty triples pressed on us. As we headed
outside, we were a very merry bunch.
Her image is of a domineering matron of rigid moral standards,
but in practice, she was more easygoing than that. I never heard her
criticising colleagues whose marriages had broken down; she was, of
course, the second Mrs Thatcher.
In her heyday, she treated every encounter as a learning
opportunity. At one reception, she suddenly said: "Edwina, explain how
my constituents in Finchley gain from yours in Derby having a new
hospital when the waiting lists in London are so long." I flannelled,
then offered: "If Derbyshire people can be treated nearer home, they'll
come off those lists and your own constituents will be treated quicker."
She nodded thoughtfully. Later I heard her use the argument at the
dispatch box. Pity they don't make them like that any more.
I have nothing but contempt for Margaret Thatcher and I'm sure
she has nothing but contempt for me and the miners in the NUM. There was
hatred on my part and there still is.
I was 23 at the time of the strike in 1984 - I had started down
the pits on my 18th birthday at South Kirkby colliery. I was politicised
long before. I didn't have a family then, but lived with my partner,
who was a receptionist in the NHS. That helped financially. I couldn't
afford the mortgage. But there was community support - soup kitchens,
people handing out food and helping raise money.
Miners died on the picket line. The consequences of the pit
closures on communities are horrendous and ongoing. From Kent to the
north of Scotland, there are old mining communities living in
depravation, at a huge social cost. Local MPs would agree the
catastrophic effects are there for everyone to see. I will never forgive
the government of the day - it was heartbreaking for the men and their
Our communities understood the doctrine from Thatcher: they knew
it was about the break-up of communities, the break-up of society, and
the fact you shouldn't show feeling for others. But they also knew that
she wasn't going to succeed, they responded against it.
After the 1974 elections it became obvious that Ted Heath had to
go, and Airey Neave persuaded me to campaign for Margaret. The idea of
any woman leading a political party was unusual, and to lead the
Conservative party was even more unusual, and an awful lot of people
didn't believe it was possible. If there had been a man with the same
qualities as her I would have gone for him because it would have just
been easier. But quite clearly, she was the best man among the
What also attracted me to her was that she did not believe that
trade unions achieving high-wage awards or employers achieving large
price rises were causes of inflation. She correctly concluded by then
that the cause of inflation was government, and that governments
accommodated high-wage awards and accommodated upward pressure on prices
by printing money and that came out as inflation. Therefore, what
governments had to do was to say no, and people had to accommodate
themselves to this different world. It was a revolutionary doctrine. She
was a revolutionary, or perhaps, more accurately, a
To some extent, we were stealing Labour's clothes. If you go back
to the ethics of old Labour, it was about achieving at school and
fighting your way out. If you'd said to somebody in the 1920s, say in
the Welsh valleys or in Rochdale, "Well, you better bloody get on your
bike and do something about this", they would have understood precisely
what you meant. So in a way, Thatcherism was going back to that
grassroots feeling of working-class people who wanted to get on.
When the going got tough, she never panicked. In 1981, an awful
year in which high wages and low productivity meant labour was being
shed at a formidable rate, and unemployment rose to more than three
million. Until then, it had been assumed you couldn't let unemployment
go above one million. She thought we had to grit our teeth and get
through it, and it would turn. And because people realised she was not
going to bend, they began to adjust. It was a combination of strength
and obstinacy. Heath was obstinate, but he didn't have strength.
One of the problems about being a woman in politics is that a man
can shout, but if a woman increases the volume of her voice she tends
to squawk, so she got a great deal of help in how to raise her voice
without squawking. Thatcher showed that a woman could do anything, but
she wasn't a feminist - although she did sometimes make it obvious that
she thought men were the weaker sex because they couldn't multitask.
We had some brutal disagreements - about whether to make strikes
in the essential services illegal (I thought not, and eventually won),
and about whether to close down British Leyland (again, I thought no,
and won). You had to have a good argument and stand your ground.
I was never frightened of her. I used to look at it this way: the
worst that could happen was she could fire me. She once said: "As long
as you and I and Nigel [Lawson] stick together, we can do anything. And
then, of course, she lost both of us and it became difficult.'
I wanted her to go on, but she had let things slip, and lost
control. I took the view, like any good lieutenant, even if you know the
battle is lost, you still stand there fighting, and you have to be
there to be cut down at the end. That night she told me she was going to
go, and I told her to sleep on it. But she insisted, and I finished up
that night helping her write the speech that she made. It was an extraordinary speech. It wasn't politics that
was grand opera, and the music should have been by Verdi, and Maria
Callas should have sung the role of the prime minister. But there wasn't
a decent role for Pavarotti, because all the men looked such wimps.
She never recovered (from being kicked out). I think it destroyed
her. She took a hell of a lot of stress in her years as prime minister.
You can only feed your body adrenalin for a limited number of years
before it takes its toll.
I think she always felt bad about Brighton because clearly the
intention was to murder her, but she walked away and a number of her
friends died instead. She didn't talk about it. We didn't talk about the
impact it had on my life. I suspect in many ways we were alike in that
way: "So your wife is paralysed and you've had bloody great bits knocked
off you, and you've been in hospital for two or three months, but we
don't really make a fuss about it, do we?" I think we both grew up in
that school where you don't complain.
In 1973, when I was shadow education secretary and Margaret
Thatcher was the real thing, the Tory government published a white paper
called A Framework for Expansion. It announced great increases in
spending on schools and universities and confirmed the new generosity
with a statistical appendix that I couldn't understand. So, in
preparation for the House of Commons debate, I consulted Maurice Peston -
not then a peer, merely a professor of economics. He said the figures
Impatient at my inability to understand his explanation, Peston
drafted me a paragraph that he suggested I read to the House of Commons.
I stuttered it out with as much conviction as I could muster. There was
an immediate explosion of incredulous contempt. The notion that
Thatcher had got her figures wrong was regarded as ridiculous by
everyone - including the education correspondents of the major
newspapers. Stuart Maclure, editor of the TES and doyenne of education
journalists, told me that he proposed to discover the extent of my error
by consulting the only real expert on the subject - Professor Maurice
The result of the Peston adjudication was a unanimous outcry
among education correspondents that the government had got it wrong.
Nobody said that I had got it right. I wrote to Thatcher demanding an
apology. She didn't reply. I challenged her to a debate. She didn't
respond. One day, I met her in the lobby of the House of Commons and
said: "Sooner or later, you'll have to admit that you were wrong." She
looked me in the eye and said: "Never! Never! Never!"
When, 10 years later, I became deputy leader of the Labour party,
I occasionally stood in for Neil Kinnock at prime minister's questions.
Another peer (CCP Williams of Oxford and Essex) suggested that I should
approach her in the manner of a spin bowler. My first question should,
metaphorically, be a slow, long hop, which she hit for six. The second
should be cunningly disguised so that, when she attempted a second
boundary, she was bowled. More often than not, she scored off both my
deliveries. But occasionally, it worked.
Once I persuaded her to denounce me for suggesting that the poll
tax assessment was inaccurate and was then able to tell her that one of
her ministers had admitted it that morning. Her reply was that I was
"trying to cause trouble". Simon Hoggart in this newspaper wrote that it
was the nicest thing anyone had ever said about me.
Her last speech in the House of Commons - on the day she gave up
the premiership - was not half as good as people make out. It was the
way in which she opened the debate on the Westland affair that left the
most lasting impression on me. Knowing she was in trouble, Thatcher
simply reminded her backbenchers that she was the champion of the
ideology that they supported. That was, of course, her strength, and her
contribution to British history. She changed the ideological climate.
After Thatcher, nearly everyone hated public expenditure and loved the
There have been only two great prime ministers since the war -
Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher. Both changed the nature of
Britain. Attlee established a postwar consensus, of which Thatcher was a
part. It was increasingly abused and held to ransom and in the end
Thatcher broke with it. There had to be a better way of governing
Britain, she said. There was, though it earned her the lasting enmity of
vested interests and our so-called liberal elite, whom she proved
Attlee did not become a great prime minister by being nice. Nor
did Thatcher. She was, and had to be, tough-minded, determined, and
courageous to change anything, given the British establishment was
comprehensively defeated by 1979. All they could handle was accelerating
Her achievement was greater for four reasons. We had long since
seen the death of deference to authority, which helped Attlee. The pace
of government and politics had greatly accelerated, thanks to the
technology of travel and communications. The competitive pressures of a
more self-confident media had become explosive. And her sex was
provocation enough for some without her antipathy to the politically
correct movement, to whom her supposed lack of compassion was a red rag.
She was secure in her ideology. Her programme flowed naturally
from her less-government-more-personal-responsibility philosophy. She
was macho in a man's world, determined to work men under the table;
fierce in argument, asking no quarter and giving none; in the back row
when tact was handed out; impetuous; secretive; inspirational, and
utterly dedicated, with a constitution as tough as old boots.
She saw herself as the custodian of the government's covenant,
direction, tempo and temper - its quality controller, as well as leader.
To all this, she brought one great quality: like Attlee, she wasn't
much concerned about what the media got up to. This meant that she did
not crave to be loved. God save me from politicians who want to be
loved. It is sufficient to be respected. Margaret Thatcher was
When a policy matter came before the cabinet, Margaret's views
were usually signalled to the participants in three ways: her private
office would let your private office know how she felt; Willie Whitelaw
in a rather Delphic way would let it be known that there were some
difficulties; or there was her own manner at the meeting. Although you
knew how the ground lay, you also knew that Margaret liked a good
argument. What she could not stand were ministers or officials who had
not done their homework: those she would crush with withering contempt.
But if you argued your corner and the grounds were sound, she did reveal
a grudging respect.
Some of the trickiest meetings I had with Margaret concerned the
development of the national curriculum after the 1987 election. She
wanted a simple curriculum of English, maths and science, and I wanted a
broader one. The issue was debated at a series of meetings before a
cabinet committee. The other ministers, apart from speaking to their
ministerial briefs, often reminisced from their own experience or that
of their children, which was not particularly relevant to the
development of a national curriculum for state-sector education. Some of
the debates were very bruising. I eventually got virtually all I wanted
because the development of it was so complicated that neither Margaret
nor her ministers could read a 40-page proposal on the curriculum
content for science or history or English.
One of the intriguing things with Margaret was to discover where
she got her information. She would be provided with a brief from the
cabinet office, and being thorough, you could frequently see her
underlinings on the last page. Then she had a brief from Brian
Griffiths's team in charge of policy at No 10. It was shorter, but again
various parts were underlined. She would use these briefs in the
meetings, interlarding them with her own comments. But if the argument
was going against her, she would open the famous handbag and draw out a
scrappy piece of paper. She would say: "Did you know people are waiting
six months for an operation in Portsmouth?" or "Did you know there is a
total breakdown of order in schools in Lambeth?" I was never sure where
these bits of information came from because she had a network of her
own. I discovered that on education, one of her informants was her
hairdresser, who lived in south London. He would regale her with graphic
stories of the collapse of the education system in his borough as he
did her hair in the morning.
In dealing with Margaret, you had to cope with the conventional
and unconventional approach. It was always challenging and at times
From their first meeting in 1978, President Reagan recognised
Margaret Thatcher as a philosophical soulmate. Both passionately
believed the doctrines of democratic liberalism. Both instinctively
understood the ruinous consequences of communism, socialism and
excessive government regulation. And both spoke with such plain
eloquence about these things that they won the trust of their
electorates and, with it, the power to transform their nations and - in
time - the world.
When Prime Minister Thatcher took office, the clock had run down
on Britain's post-war experiment in socialism. Inflation reached 25%,
state industries lost millions each week, and the top marginal tax rate
was 83%. In the US, inflation, unemployment, and interest rates soared,
casting the economy into stagflation. Declinism was in the air. Experts
said we should stop thinking about growth and start thinking about the
limits of growth.
But Prime Minister Thatcher and President Reagan shared an
optimistic dream of what she later called "boundless opportunity built
on enterprise, individual effort and personal generosity." Beginning in
1979, she attacked the British disease with determination. But when
Reagan took his oath 19 months later, her privatisation campaign, tax
cuts, and other programmes had not yet borne fruit. At first, Reagan's
tax cuts (from 70% to 50%, later to 28%), deregulation, free trade and
sound money also failed to break the grip of recession. But both leaders
stood firm. "This lady's not for turning," she famously declared.
"[P]eople are prepared to put up with sacrifices if they know those
sacrifices are the foundations of future prosperity."
In November 1982, the US economy started growing again. Britain
regained its proper place among the most vibrant world economies. And
elsewhere, the demonstration effect of the Thatcher-Reagan revolution
ignited what one commentator called "a startling burst of innovation,
economic growth, and political freedom" that has meant opportunity,
hope, and better lives for billions of men, women, and children
Thatcher and Reagan, armed with deep faith in personal freedom,
also had the courage to speak truth to the Soviet Union. It was an "evil
empire", Reagan told parliament in 1982, to Thatcher's happy applause
at hearing her own long-held ideas echoed by an American president. (And
by the way, it was the Soviets who in the 1970s first called her the
"Iron Lady," and they didn't mean it as a compliment.) Both leaders also
clearly understood what most others did not - that communism would
eventually fail, that it was, as Reagan said, "destined for the ash heap
Yet they were also realists. The nuclear-armed Soviet Union was
still dangerous. When others would not, Thatcher allowed new and better
US missiles to be stationed on British soil and supported the American
president's rejection of unverifiable treaties. But she also recognized -
earlier than we - that the west could do business with Gorbachev.
Together, they engaged the Soviets in talks that began the process of
In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, validating the doctrines of peace
through strength and cautious engagement. It then fell to the first
President Bush to assure that the Soviet Union died with a whimper, not
with a bang. He avoided triumphalism, assured Soviet leaders that the
west had no military designs, and won their co-operation in the Gulf war
and Madrid peace conference. And in this, he had no better ally and
friend than Great Britain. The special relationship gave Thatcher
license to disagree on German reunification, the role of the United
Nations in the Gulf war, and other points. But she never ceased to be
our trusted adviser and ally, nor we hers.
Domestically and internationally, Thatcher and her American
presidential allies simply won the battle of ideas. Today, democracy and
free markets are widely honored (though sometimes grudgingly), and
outright collectivism rarely defended. Even old political foes and other
critics comfortably inhabit the structures that Thatcher and her Yankee
friends created. Ideas that once seemed radical are now commonplace.
Napoleon called Britain a nation of shopkeepers. It fell to a
British shopkeeper's daughter to demonstrate that what was intended as
an insult was, in fact, the clue to Britain's greatness. The same
personal, economic and political freedom that produces a nation of
shopkeepers also produces general happiness and prosperity for the
shopkeepers' nation. The job of government, Margaret Thatcher well
understood, is simply to preserve the security and freedom of all its
people, so they can run their own shops and their own lives.
And Chris is adorable.
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