Margaret Thatcher: a personal view

When Thatcher was elected leader of the Tory Party in '75, many people, myself included, thought it was either a fit of madness or that she was simply an interim leader. The rest is history

by Tim Hedges on 9 April 2013 11:32

There will be a number of obituaries, far more knowledgeable than I could write, of Margaret Thatcher, who has died aged 87. I wanted to make a couple of observations on how she affected my life and that of so many others.

I had been a young Conservative and rejoiced when Ted Heath came to power in 1970. I was studying economics at school and what he seemed to espouse was the new economics, the new politics. By 1972 he had abandoned it. When he petulantly went to the country in 1974 on the principle 'Who governs Britain?' my feeling like that of many others was 'Not you, mate, obviously'. 1974 was the first time I voted and, knowing that I could not support Labour, I voted Liberal, the only time I have done so.

Margaret Thatcher had been, I think, education minister in the dying years of the Heath Government and my abiding memory was of a friend at Oxford who collected idiot headlines: 'Margaret Thatcher in Food Tins Scandal Probe' he showed us: she had admitted stocking up with tins of stuff in case there was a general strike, and this somehow, the obvious intuition of any housewife, was deemed to be a sin. People believed that if she had some of the food tins, others would have less, not that more tins would be brought on to the supermarket shelves. That was how we lived in the 1970s.

When Mrs Thatcher was elected leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 many people, myself included, thought the Tories had either had a fit of madness or that they had elected an interim leader before a proper one emerged.

In fact it was the opposite. In the late 70s I was something fairly minor in the Young Conservatives and working for a Swiss Bank. The Swiss, who like most people internationally had thought that Britain was a basket case, were terribly impressed by Margaret Thatcher. She even took her (short) holidays in Switzerland. Word came down from on high that I was to be given as much time off as I needed to campaign for her. And I did.

For an impressionable observer of politics the Wilson-Callaghan administration was Britain's low point. Wilson resigned amidst a cloud of speculation that he had been having an affair with his secretary, that he had made his friends life peers (including the secretary), that he had been in the pay of Moscow (he had been a director of a company, Montagu L Meyer, which banked with my employers, which regularly sent him to Russia), and that the country was in such a state that a coup d'état was being planned, led by the Duke of Edinburgh.

Callaghan, who assumed the reins of power without an election, was if anything even worse. He was so weak that it seemed that every time someone criticised him he appointed a Royal Commission to sweep the matter under the carpet. Britain went begging for money to the IMF.

Mrs Thatcher forced a vote of no confidence in the Callaghan administration and won. And once she had sailed into Downing Street the world was staggered at the stuff she was coming up with. For the first time since Churchill we had a Prime Minister who seemed to believe in things and put them into practice. Sir Keith Joseph, her main economics spokesman, was saying all the things I believed in about monetarism, responsible fiscal policy, and so on, which we take for granted today (at least we take the verbiage for granted). Geoffrey Howe, the chancellor, was like Geoffrey Boycott, England's solid opening batsman, quietly seeing off the new ball.

When the Falklands came along everybody, simply everybody assumed that this was another nail in Britain's coffin. Mrs Thatcher found the right man, a retired admiral, who thought we could do it, and assembled the task force. I would stop off at a pub on the way home from work and found the place packed, the customers urging on, not their football team but their country. Houses bore the Union Jack, people talked about nothing else.

The country was united in a way it hadn't been since the war, before I was born. And Britain was a winner for the first time in my lifetime. It had the confidence to become a world leader, which it did with Mrs Thatcher's alliance with Ronald Reagan to resolve the Cold War. Thatcher and Reagan seemed to stand strong together and I felt a part of the bringing down of the Berlin Wall. The long decline, which perhaps began in 1914, was over.

Years later I was on a shoot, in Padua of all places, and was introduced to an old farmer. “Giuseppe here was a big fan of Signora Thatcher”. I replied that for us she had been the only one in British political life with coglioni (balls). ''Si', he replied, 'ma lei ne aveva quattro' (but she had four).

Tim Hedges is a weekly columnist for the Commentator. He previously worked in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer and novelist

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