I wasn’t always a fan. When I was young, being conditioned by the prevailing attitudes in the solidly socialist Labour area where I was being brought up, to denigrate Maggie Thatcher was not only the norm, it was expected. ‘Thatcher the milk snatcher’ was a familiar refrain in my school when she took office in 1979.
My mother was a Labour borough and county councillor and my father was an engineer at British Airways and senior trade union official in the TGWU as it then was. There was little love for Maggie, but my parents were old school and despite their absolute rejection and dislike of Thatcher and the Conservatives they didn’t resort to name calling, abuse or vitriol.
The turning point for me was when as a teenager my class won a competition at school and the reward was a trip to the Houses of Parliament. Coming from a political family I relished the trip, which was taking part on a Tuesday – Prime Minister’s Questions day. The trip around the Palace of Westminster was led by the Conservative MP for the constituency in which my school was.
For me the visit was magical. The history of the place and the events that had occured there, the sense of power that filled the corridors and meeting rooms, seeing famous faces of senior politicians walking past, entering the House of Commons from behind the Speaker’s Chair (and sneaking a quick sit down on the government’s front bench right in front of the dispatch box, just so I could say I had sat on a seat of power), and seeing just how small the chamber was compared to the impression pictures have constantly given.
But the highlight of my day was when the MP secured several tickets for the public gallery and I was given one. When Parliament convened and Prayers were being said I raced up the stairwell as fast as I could. I still remember the frustration as security checks delayed me getting into the gallery. But eventually I was in and took a seat just as Neil Kinnock rose from his to ask his first supplementary question of the session. He was on the attack about defence and Thatcher, in characteristic fashion tore him to pieces. For a young teenager this was exciting, heady stuff in a rarefied atmosphere in a forum that mattered.
Rather than find myself in agreement with Kinnock’s argument, I found myself agreeing with Thatcher’s position. I could not fault her logic, reasoning or the force of her argument. That was the day when I learned to evaluate an argument on its merits, not assume a tribalist position just because that’s what my side’s position happened to be. Mum and Dad were delighted that I started to debate them and challenge their thinking, and respond to their challenges with reasoned thinking of my own. I’ll never forget that day; Mum said to me that she would respect any viewpoint I held, including and especially those that opposed hers, so long as it was an informed one that had been developed by carefully examining the arguments on both sides.
As years passed my dislike of Margaret Thatcher was replaced with respect and admiration for her. Some people, those who detest Thatcher, wonder why. So I’ll explain.
My East End family lived on an urban council estate, tenants in a council house. While honest, loving and hard working, the pay wasn’t great and Mum and Dad sometimes struggled to make ends meet. As good parents do, Mum and Dad went without to ensure me and my siblings had what we needed. My earliest memories were of power cuts and the excitement of having candles lighting the house. Two things in my youth transformed our fortunes. Council house right to buy and privatisation.
Thanks to her principles and convictions – two things the preening, identikit lightweights that have infested Parliament since do not possess – Margaret Thatcher saw to it my family was able to climb out of reliance on the state and become stakeholders instead of clients. Mum left the Labour Party, having been sickened by policies that trapped people in dependency. Dad too left the party, and the union, but went further and switched his vote too. At last, hard work started to be rewarded in a way it hadn’t been before. Aspiration was no longer something to be sneered at or viewed with suspicion, it was something shared by many.
I saw and experienced how my family was presented with the opportunity to take personal responsibility and enjoy the freedom to better ourselves. My parents found they could do so much better with the state off our backs and more of their money in their pockets to spend as they saw fit. Labour resented it and opposed it at every turn, desperate to re-apply the stranglehold that had kept us down for so long.
Margaret Thatcher’s policies contributed directly to my family’s emancipation from the waste, spitefulness and harm inflicted by socialism. What she put in place has directly influenced my life and career. For that I will always be grateful.
It’s no surprise seeing the hatred and bile now being hurled by those whose viewpoint is the opposite of mine. Maggie did more than any other British leader to liberate this country from the socialist mentality that smashed our economy, saw the population held to ransom by unions, and was characterised by the demand for subsidies by (at that time) inefficient industries still wedded to socialist ideals despite overseas industries embracing efficiency and tackling costs to be more competitive.
Socialism is a vicious ideology, so naturally it follows the behaviour of its supporters can be relied upon to be equally hateful. The sickening glee with which the death of an aged woman who transformed this country for the better wouldn’t be any surprise to the Iron Lady. It would simply reinforce and evidence everything she said about socialism. No doubt she would dismiss their behaviour with the contempt it deserves and simply point out they don’t know any better.
We have lost our last principled conviction politician, a Parliamentarian who had a guiding philosophy and who was motivated by a desire to improve this country rather than service a narrow self interested agenda. We will never see her like again, much to the detriment of this country.
Thank you, Margaret. Rest in peace.