To be the first woman Prime Minister would be achievement enough for many women, but not for Margaret. She didn’t just want to hold the office, but to use it to improve and change the country she loved.
She won three elections, a rare achievement in modern UK democratic politics. Even rarer that she won a larger majority on the second and third occasions than on the first, showing that she could win and hold support in office for what she did as well as from opposition for what she promised.
These are good reasons to remember her, but not the main reason why the nation has never stopped talking about her from the day she first won office at Number 10. The country senses that she was a different kind of politician to many that have followed since. She did not ask how something would play in the polls, or how something should be spun. She wanted to know what was the problem and did your idea offer a solution. Would it make things better for people, even if it might make it tougher for the government in short term. Only once the policy had been settled did she invite in press and media specialists to deal with the second order question of how could you best persuade people that the decision was right.
I first took the idea of equity for everyone to her in opposition. I told how how she could offer shares and property for the many, from a large privatisaiton programme. It could include employee ownership and employee buy outs, as well as the big show privatisations. After a lively argument at one of her issue lunches she told me “They won’t let me do that”. It was a very revealing answer. She was all too conscious of the power of the state establishment, and of the dangers of sounding too radical, but she did not rule it out for later.
Some of us built the case through think tanks and the press during her first Parliament as Prime Minister. After the 1983 election victory she was ready to take on one of the big battles of her Premiership, the battle to return the family silver to the family, the battle to let many more people participate in the wealth of the nation through share and property owning. I was invited in to Downing Street and recommended setting up the first large privatisation programme. The memo came back with no objections to the strategic sweep of the policy, nor to its aims. It had instead the question “how do we do that?
She threw herself into understanding the challenges and techniques needed to transform loss making job shedding state monopolies into modern competitive industries. It became one of the dominant themes of her period in office.
Her energy and determination was such that she still had plenty of time to help an American President win the Cold war, to offer freedom and enterprise to the long suffering victims of communism in Eastern Europe, to begin the opposition to the Euro and a centralised EU, and to negotiate a free enterprise future for Hong Kong at the end of its lease.
She inherited a strike ridden and poor country with high inflation and too much debt. She passed on a country of good repute, She showed courage, dignity and honesty in equal measure as she sought to slay the dragons that she felt had damaged Britain.