The Margaret Thatcher legacy

         If there is one gift that Margaret Thatcher could give to her successors, it would for me be the gift of her honesty.

          Margaret was that rare and brave politician who told people how she thought things were, regardless of how that polled. She spent most of her long waking hours wrestling with the problems of the public. She mainly asked herself how she could right wrongs and make things work better.

          Of course she understood the need to present well. She spent endless hours trying to perfect each main speech. She cared about how the photos would look, and chose a good ad agency. All that came at the end of a project. It came after much work on how to solve the problem. If the answer to a trouble was politically difficult you did not drop the answer. You just had to argue an even better case.

           She was conscious of the polls but not ruled by them. She was told daily what the press and her  opponents were saying about her. We did not hold back the criticisms. She did not usually read it herself. She would think about whether a line of criticism was fair or worrying, whether she needed to do something about it or change the policy. She normally spared herself the unpleasant personal bitterness of much of the criticism in the form of the original article or cartoon. When Ministers suffered from sharp and unpleasant attacks, she always advsied them not to read them.

          She was well aware of the dangers of her forthright approach. She once told me that she was prepared for it by an old friend who had warned her that she would suffer  a barrage of personal abuse and criticism for what she was trying to do. Somehow knowing in advance allowed her to handle it when it came.

       She was also very brave. When she returned from one trip abroad she was asked why she was wearing sunglasses, as the critic thought they spoiled the pictures. Without affectation or flinching she said she had been warned to expect an attack during the walkabout. She simply said she  feared they would throw acid in her eyes, and she needed her   eyes to do her job.

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23 Comments

  1. Mike Stallard
    Posted April 17, 2013 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    Well, I was just a voter.
    I watched Spitting Image a lot and laughed my head off.
    “And what you have?” asked the waiter. “I’ll have the steak,” said the Thatcher figure in her stripy man’s suit. “And what about the vegetables?” Looking down at the cabinet seated round the table, “They will have steak too.”
    By the end, she had lost my support. I was glad when she went. I believed in the EU. I believed in the people who loathed the poll tax. I was pleased when the innocent and harmless Mr Major took over.
    Just saying…..

    But I also remember the 70s…..and Arthur Scargill……

    • margaret brandreth-j
      Posted April 19, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      I am with all you say Mike

  2. Peter Daviee someons
    Posted April 17, 2013 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    We were truly lucky to have someone of that calibre, I believe history will tell us there is no doubt about it. How we could do with a Thatcher re incarnation now

  3. outsider
    Posted April 17, 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Dear Mr Redwood, Your tributes to Margaret Thatcher are heartfelt and touching as well as illuminating. They remind us (if we needed it) that the leaders of political parties today are of a higher social class but lower political class.

    Unfortunately, her successors particularly in your party, unconsciously absorbed a very false lesson: that if a policy is unpopular, it must be right. Not so. Mrs Thatcher carried out painful policies where they were needed, particularly on the economy, in fiscal management and in making sure that semi-political strikes did not topple the third government in a row. But she did many more things that were popular, or at least popular among the great majority of ordinary people.

    The false inheritance is that people cannot be trusted to know what is good for them and this must be imposed on them by the elite. This philosophy is shared by senior civil servants, in the European Commission and European courts. Even among politicians, populism has become a dirty word. But Mrs Thatcher was populist, not in the sense of bread and circuses but because she instinctively understood for most of her time how ordinary people felt, what ordinary families aspired to and wanted from their government, in a way that today’s party leaders do not.

  4. Christopher Ekstrom
    Posted April 17, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    You have just described the polar opposite of the current PM; our darling Wonder Boy (& appropriately Princess Di fan!). Now we have an out right liar, who makes Cast Iron pronunciamentos only to abandon promises by throwing an election against Gordo (he of Arthur Scargill popularity). RIP Lady Thatcher: No U- Turns!

    • Global City
      Posted April 18, 2013 at 12:51 am | Permalink

      Yes. He is the clear heir to Edward Heath, not Margaret Thatcher. The similarities in character are striking, especially the intent to lie and deceive. he will lead the charge to try to con the electorate about the EU, just like Heath did. A number of regular, pointed questions about the European minister’s knowledge on the structures of the EU should be raised in the House, for example, can the minister explain the difference between a free trade area and a customs union? This would force them to answer either properly, or have their errors pointed out, removing the possibilty of them lying to the population without their own words being thrown back at them.

      By the way, is it the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in order to frustrate any attempts to build the links with the Commonwealth, like a hostile containment action?

      Should not the Commonwealth have it’s own department? It would be great if this was campaigned for, as I do believe that the FO officials are as hostile to it as they are fanatically supportive of the EU.

  5. Mike Wilson
    Posted April 17, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Honest, forthright, decent, caring for others – not in hock to the city or the aristocracy. This is what we expect of all politicians – but Margaret Thatcher actually delivered.

    She stands head and shoulders above most politicians of her generation. And, as for this generation, I despise them all with their obsession with spin. ‘How will this play?’ That is ALL they care about. She was a giant amongst corrupt pygmies.

    Nice to see the country giving her the respect she deserved today.

    Who will deliver us now? In 1979, after Labour’s debacle, the dragon that needed to be slayed was union power. Surely, without Maggie, we would have gone completely to the dogs.

    In 2010, after another Labour debacle, we are saddled with a public sector whose cost means we must borrow £150 billion a year to pay it. I am sure if Maggie were in power now she would be tackling the issues head on. And winning.

    If only David Cameron had 10% of the steel she had in her backbone.

    R.I.P. Margaret Thatcher.

    • Jerry
      Posted April 17, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

      @Mike Wilson: “If only David Cameron had 10% of the steel she had in her backbone.

      It’s nothing what so ever to do with steel in a backbone, Maggie had no steel in her backbone, she had conviction and self-belief (not the same thing, and politician who is unbending does their job very badly, hence why so many dogmatic left-wingers have not only fallen by the wayside but are all but forgotten. Nor did Maggie (as some would have it) instinctively know what was correct, she used her scientific and legal training to study the facts and -usually- come to the correct conclusions. I can only think of two issues, both acted out with the best of intent, that she got terribly wrong, one was disastrous for her politically, one has become a noose around this country, I refer to the Poll Tax and the Single European Act.

      R.I.P. Margaret Thatcher.

      Indeed, and the Nation did her proud today, for someone who gave so much of her self to the country I for one do not begrudge the cost of her funeral (and would like to see the whole cost fall to the nation).

      Oh and please don’t take my silence over the last couple of weeks or so as disinterest or criticism, it was caused simply due to the dreaded Flu, I have read many of John’s blogs but could not think clearly enough to add anything worthy…

    • Martyn G
      Posted April 17, 2013 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

      Hear him!

      Maggie, with whom I count myself extraordinarily fortunate to have spent 15 wonderful minutes in conversation with in 1992, was literally a giant of honesty, endeavour, knowledge and committed leadership when compared to the miserable pigmy-like crew of today’s self-centered politicians whose only desire seems to be self-aggrandisment with a view that the Devil should take the hindmost.

      We shall not see her like again for many years, if at all when viewing the way politics are unfolding in this era. Maggie had more cojones than any man I have met in my 72 years on planet earth….

  6. Electro-Kevin
    Posted April 17, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    “Margaret was that rare and brave politician who told people how she thought things were, regardless of how that polled”

    And that is what I believe your lost voters crave.

    I viewed the photo of her Union flag adorned coffin with great sadness. To me it marked finality for many things British. Including the veneration of honesty in public office.

    Oh, to have a ‘conviction’ PM once more. To be unwavering and prepared stand or fall on openly declared beliefs.

    Mrs Thatcher didn’t seek consensus – this is because she already understood what it was before she started. It was best summed up by a chap standing on the funeral route today:

    “Margaret Thatcher didn’t destroy the unions – the people did. They were fed up with being ruled by union barons and wanted a return to democratic representation.”

    • uanime5
      Posted April 19, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      “Margaret Thatcher didn’t destroy the unions – the people did. They were fed up with being ruled by union barons and wanted a return to democratic representation.”

      Pity that the people ended up being ruled by large corporations after unions were no longer able to fight against them. So the UK still has a way to go before returning to democratic representation (whenever this was).

  7. Robert Taggart
    Posted April 17, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Indeed, Johnny, but…
    Given your loyalty to her and her cause – why did she never return the favour – by giving you ‘high office’ ?!

    Reply She made me Head of her Policy Unit. She made me a Minister 2 years after first entering the House, and she was then dismissed by the Parliamentary party.

    • Robert Taggart
      Posted April 17, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      Granted, but, after the reproachful resignation by Lawson… !

    • Richard1
      Posted April 17, 2013 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

      I greatly enjoyed Martin Durkin’s insightful documentary, as I enjoyed his others, ‘The great global warming swindle’ and ‘Britain’s trillion pound horror story’. He should be made a peer. But I thought he got one thing slightly wrong. He made out that all the posh Tories were anti-Thatcher. It was not so. There were distinguished upper class Conservative MPs such as Airey Neave, Keith Joseph, Alan Clark & Jack Page who were strong supporters of Margaret Thatcher and were personal friends of her’s. Of course one prominent cabinet minister was reported as saying ‘the problem is we’ve got a corporal in charge not a cavalry officer’. But most who postured in that way were not as posh as they liked to think themselves.

      • Robert Taggart
        Posted April 18, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

        Agreed, but, Jack Page – WHO ? – must have missed him !

        • Richard1
          Posted April 18, 2013 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

          Conservative MP 60s-80s. War hero & true gentleman. Friend and strong supporter of Margaret Thatcher. At least as posh as Lady T’s prominent ‘wet’ critics, but unlike many of them, not in the least snobbish.

  8. Jon
    Posted April 17, 2013 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    An incredible powerful leader. I hope when her legacy is taught in history that its based on the facts and not the lefts political propaganda.

    I work in the City and remember how things were at the end of the 70s – depressing. The transformation of the country to the vibrant place it is now even with the disastrous Brown legacy began with that administration.

    The unions refused to accept desktop publishing software over their metal letters they would put into blocks, they refused coal face machines to dig the ore instead wanting to keep with the air hammers. They destroyed any industry they were in.

    • uanime5
      Posted April 19, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      Given how difficult to use computers were in the 1970’s it’s little wonder that they were opposed. Perhaps the companies should have offered to retrain all the people who would have have lost their jobs during the change from “metal letters” to whatever the computers of the day used.

      • Edward2
        Posted April 19, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        You are showing your lack of knowledge here Uni.
        This reference by Jon was to the way powerful print unions operated in the sixties and seventies and in the newspaper industry in particular.
        Their refusal to use modern machinery and embrace any IT in their industry, led to the move to Waping from Fleet Street and some violent incidents at Grunwick for example over their wish to force all print workers into their union.
        There isn’t time to go into the full horror but Im sure you can look it up your self and get better informed.

  9. Jon
    Posted April 17, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    One of the first responsibilities of the State is to protect its citizens.

    Like all politicians in our lifetime some issues are inherited from the actions of previous generations. Despite being bombed and I guess many more threats besides by the IRA she secured the Anglo Irish peace agreement. I work within yards of a small area thats been bombed 5 times.

    I had confidence that she was a leader who would have pressed the services to find and help secure the threats as much as possible. She was too patriotic to do otherwise.

    I grew up in the shadow of the cold war, at Junior school being given naive advice and instruction on the event of a nuclear attack. She was instrumental in building the trust with Gorbachev.

    The State should protect all its citizens from harm and in doing to allow them the democratic right to protest and uphold its responsibility towards the UN convention of the right to self determination. She upheld and protected that international convention for a right to self determination with the Falkland Islands as with the Anglo Irish agreement.

    As a subject, citizen as some prefer I had utmost confidence , more than any other leader, that she was a rock in this regard. God bless.

  10. Jon
    Posted April 17, 2013 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    A further thought. The US marines have a policy that no matter where you are be it injured or dead, they will come for you.

    The Falkland Islanders must have been relieved it was Margaret Thatcher in power. The blood that ran in her veins was that a UK subjects right to democracy and self determination was not for a poll or a committee but an unchallenged right. Had it been some others there would have been a leaked memo, a poll and if controversial abandoned.

    A world leader of note and worth that it was a pleasure to have lived under.

    • Bazman
      Posted April 21, 2013 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      I wonder if they would have spend the same on some sinking village in Britain?

  11. Mark
    Posted April 17, 2013 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    Your recollections have given us all a glimpse of some of the inside story as well as reminding us of the many achievements of a great stateswoman.

    Thank you.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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