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Clairwil
Margaret Thatcher, (13 October 1925 – 8 April 2013), The Baroness
April 9, 2013 at 1:50 AM

Here are some tales, from people who knew her


Replies

  • Clairwil
    April 9, 2013 at 1:56 AM

    Mikhail Gorbachev

    President of the USSR 1985-1991

    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 us.

    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 war.

    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 powder keg.

    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 ultimate end.

    She closely, and with astonishing command of detail, followed perestroika and glasnost, and sincerely wished for our process of change to succeed

    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.

    Lech Walesa

    President of Poland 1990-1995

    I have good memories of Mrs Thatcher. The first time I met her was when 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.

    Margaret Thatcher and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa lay a wreath at the Gdansk monument in 1988. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

    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.

    Cynthia Crawford

    Personal assistant from 1978


    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 each event.

    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 done.

    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 best friends.

    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 it.

    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 policy.

    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 me that.

    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.

    Carol Thatcher

    Daughter

    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: "Lasagne again."

    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.

    Lord Powell

    Private secretary to the prime minister 1983-1990

    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 personality.

    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.

  • Clairwil
    April 9, 2013 at 1:58 AM

    Lord Powell

    Private secretary to the prime minister 1983-1990

    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 personality.

    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.

    Geoffrey Howe

    Chancellor of the exchequer 1979-83, foreign secretary 1983-89, leader of the House of Commons 1989-90

    Geoffrey Howe and Margaret Thatcher at the Nato summit conference in Brussels, 1988. Photograph: W. Lovelace/ Rex Features

    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 people's minds.

    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 impression.

    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 important.)

    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 saying no."

    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 disaster.

    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.

    Shirley Williams

    Secretary of State for Education 1976-79, co-founder of SDP, 1981

    Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

    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 "women's issues".

    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 ancient universities.

    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 and support.

    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.

    Tony Benn

    Former Labour MP and cabinet member

    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.

  • Clairwil
    April 9, 2013 at 1:59 AM

    Kenneth Clarke

    Health secretary 1988-90, education secretary 1990-92

    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 wrong.

    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 nonsense.

    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.

    Nancy Reagan

    US First Lady 1981-1989

    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 10.

    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 intelligence.

    Nigel Lawson

    Secretary of state for energy 1981-83, chancellor of the exchequer 1983-89

    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.

    Chancellor Nigel Lawson is applauded by Margaret Thatcher at the end of his speech during the Conservative Party's annual conference in Brighton, 1988. Photograph: PA

    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 extremely headmistressy.

    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!"

    Paddy Ashdown

    Leader of the Liberal Democrats 1988-1999

    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 levelled.

    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 did.

    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 troops.

    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."

  • Clairwil
    April 9, 2013 at 2:00 AM

    David Owen

    Leader of the SDP 1983-87, 1988-1990

    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 Falklands defeat.

    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 strike action.

    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 anniversary.

    Edwina Currie

    Junior health minister 1986 - 1988

    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.

    Steve Kemp

    Ex national secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers

    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 areas.

    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.

    Norman Tebbitt

    Employment secretary 1981-83, trade and industry secretary 1983-85, Tory chairman 1985-87

    Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit at a press conference in 1983. Photograph: Bettmann/ Corbis

    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 candidates.

    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 counter-revolutionary.

    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 day, it 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.

    Roy Hattersley

    Deputy leader of Labour opposition 1983-1992

    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 were phoney.

    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 Peston.

    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 free market.

    Bernard Ingham

    Margaret Thatcher's chief press secretary 1979-90

    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 wrong.

    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 decline.

    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 respected.

    Kenneth Baker

    Cabinet member 1985-92, education secretary 1986-1989

    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 great fun.

    James Baker

    White House chief of staff 1981-85, US secretary of treasury 1985-88, US secretary of state 1989-92

    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.

    James Baker makes a speech on a visit to Downing Street in 1990. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

    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 worldwide.

    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 of history".

    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 east-west reconciliation.

    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.

  • Clairwil
    April 9, 2013 at 2:10 AM




  • SallyMJ
    by SallyMJ
    April 9, 2013 at 3:51 AM

    Hilarious!

    And Chris is adorable.

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