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Meeting Margaret – the many faces of Thatcher

Meeting Margaret – the many faces of Thatcher

🕔16.Apr 2013

I was working at BBC-CWR in Coventry in 1990 when the news came through that Margaret Thatcher had resigned. All the programming for the rest of the day was abandoned and the airwaves were full of people expressing their views.  I felt a sense of elation and believed Britain would change for the better, even with a new Prime Minister who would still be a Tory

When I heard of her death last week I just hoped that everyone would simply allow her family to mourn.  However I’ve been as appalled by the triumphalism that has come from the Tory Party, as much as I’ve been discomforted by those who believe it a cause for “celebration”.

However in recent days I have thought carefully about Thatcher, the few fleeting moments I dealt with her office and the two occasions that I met her face to face and had something approaching a conversation.

My first recollection of Margaret Thatcher was when she withdrew the funding for school milk to every child. She became known as “Thatcher the Milk Snatcher”. Shortly afterwards her party lost office following the 1974 general election and it seemed as if she was destined for obscurity of opposition.

It was in the late 1960s and early 1970s that the Tories first began to pull away from the settlement that had emerged following the Second World War. In 1970 Edward Heath then Leader of the Tory Party had called a meeting of his Shadow Cabinet at a hotel in Selsdon, Surrey. It was at that meeting that the ideology emerged that we now call “Thatcherism”. Margaret Thatcher simply took up the ideas when Edward Heath was overwhelmed and did his famous “U-turn” back to Keynesian solutions.

At that time I was on the fringes of what we now call “The Westminster Village”.  The secretary of one West Midlands Labour MP organised a party and I was surprised to find that many of the other guests worked for Tory MPs, one being the secretary to Margaret Thatcher. She told me something of the workings of her office and how Thatcher clearly led from the front. I was quite impressed by what I heard. There was another Tory there, a little more confrontational, who said with menace that the next Tory government were going to deal with miners.

But like many in the Labour Party I was astonished when the Tories – of all people – elected Margaret Thatcher as the first woman Leader of the Opposition. Labour’s response was curious. Many welcomed the promotion of a woman but there were others who descended into some of the most disgraceful misogyny. I remember one bright young Labour frontbencher, who is now a distinguished elder statesman, assure me and other members of Solihull Labour Party who had just selected me a their prospective parliamentary  candidate, that there was absolutely no chance the British people would vote for a woman Prime Minister.

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