Mr Redwood’s tribute to Baroness Thatcher, 10 April

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): It is a pleasure to rise so soon after two such outstanding speeches. On behalf of the House, I pay tribute to both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, who captured the essence of Margaret Thatcher the woman, and the essence of Margaret Thatcher the politician and stateswoman. We are in their debt for getting our day off to such a superb start.

I wish to be brief, but I would like to put on record that Margaret Thatcher was the best boss I ever worked for. I was her chief policy adviser in the middle years and was subsequently able to advise and help her a bit as a Member of Parliament and a junior Minister.

Margaret Thatcher was that great figure because her private side was so different from her public side. Yes, many people beyond the House remember the woman who was so powerful in argument and so fierce in conviction, but those who worked with her closely saw someone who worked incredibly long hours with great energy and diligence because she was so keen to get it right.

Margaret Thatcher took a very wide range of advice. When people worked with her and put an idea to her, not only did they need to produce all the evidence and the facts and go over it many times, but they knew that person after person going to Downing street would be given it as a kind of test. They did not know that they were part of a running focus group, but one’s idea was in front of the guests, who were asked to shoot it down, because she was so desperately concerned never to use the power of the great office without proper thought. She was also keen to ensure that, before she did anything, she knew what the criticisms would be and what might go wrong with it, because she had tested it to destruction. There is a lot to recommend that approach to those who are making mighty decisions—they should spend time and take trouble, go to a wide range of advice, and ensure that something works well before it is put out there.

Margaret Thatcher came, in the middle of her period in office, to be the champion of wider ownership and wider participation. To me, that was her at her best—when she could reach out beyond the confines of the Conservative party, which she led so well in those days, and beyond the confines of her fairly solid 40% voting support, much more widely in the county. A Prime Minister can become a great national leader when their ideas resonate more widely, and when their ideas become popular with, or are taken up by, those who would normally oppose them.

That spirit of Margaret Thatcher—she had fought her way as a schoolgirl to Oxford, as an Oxford graduate to Parliament, and as a parliamentarian to the Cabinet—made her feel that opportunity was there for people.

However, she recognised that it was very difficult, particularly for women and people from certain backgrounds, and always told us that it did not matter where people came from or who their mother and father were, and that what mattered was what people could contribute. That, surely, is a message that goes way beyond the confines of the Conservative party or the years of her supremacy in Parliament. We should all remember that.

When we tried to produce policies to reflect that more generally, we came up with an idea. Owning a home had been the privilege of the richer part of society, but we wondered why everyone or practically everyone should not aspire to it. That is when the council house sale idea gathered momentum. Many Labour Members in the early days were very unhappy—debates on the policy remain—but an awful lot of Labour voters and even some Labour councillors decided it was a really good policy and joined us on it. It was one of those policies that reached out so much more widely.

We tried to extend the idea to the ownership of big and small businesses with a big programme of wider share ownership, and with the employee and public elements in the great privatisations. Margaret Thatcher was determined to try to get Britain to break out of the debilitating cycle of decline that we had witnessed under Labour and Conservative Governments in the post-war years.

I have just one fact that the House and those who are worried by the depressing number of jobs lost in the 1980s in the pits and steel industry might like to bear in mind. The newly nationalised coal industry in the early 1950s had 700,000 employees; by the time Margaret Thatcher came to office in 1979, only 235,000 of those jobs were left. There had been a massive haemorrhage of jobs throughout the post-war period. Similar figures could be adduced for rail, steel and the other commanding heights. It was that which drove her to say that there must be a better answer and a way of modernising the old industries and bringing in the new industries. One of her legacies is the modernisation of the car industry, which gathered momentum under the Labour Government and, more recently, under the coalition.

Margaret Thatcher’s other great triumph, as the Prime Minister mentioned, was to extend her argument to a much wider audience around the world. The ideas of empowerment, enfranchisement, participation, breaking up industries, allowing competition and new ideas, and allowing the public to be part of the process were exported and took off around the world. That lay behind much of the spirit of revolution in eastern Europe which led to the bringing down of the Berlin wall. If there is a single picture of the Thatcher legacy that I will remember, it is the tumbling of the Berlin wall and the realisation that the path of enterprise and freedom that has been adopted by all the democratic parties in this House is the right approach, and that tyranny and communism do not work.

We are discussing a great lady, a great stateswoman, a huge personal achievement and a very big achievement politically. At its best, it was an achievement that broke free from conservatism and party dogma, and which showed the world that there is a better way, a democratic way, a freedom-loving way.

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10 Comments

  1. scottspeig
    Posted April 12, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Good speech – I especially enjoyed the not so veiled criticism of policy decisions by the current government. Why you are not on the front benches baffles me. You have vast experience in both worlds, and seem much more competent than certain other figures.

    In fact, I always get confused why the PM doesn’t request CVs from all Conservative members and select the highest calibre candidate for government! I mean the current lot is a bittersweet advert for PPE at Oxford – gets you in power but then you’ll drown!!

  2. Sue Doughty
    Posted April 12, 2013 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    It is with regret that I will not be able to be one of those lining the route for Mrs Thatcher on Wednesday. Could I implore any genuine mourners to go and stand in my place, making sure there is no room for protesters within earshot of the great lady as she passes by?

  3. nicol sinclair
    Posted April 12, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Dear JR,

    I couldn’t have expressed my sentiments better than you have done. And this is without wishing to be considered as a sycophant…

    Thank you.

  4. Pleb
    Posted April 12, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Politicians are either weather vanes or signposts. Maggie was a signpost, Cameron and many others are weather vanes.

  5. David Saunders
    Posted April 12, 2013 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Great speech, JR. Southampton City Council, of which I was a member, pioneered the sale of council houses in the teeth of opposition from Labour well before it became national policy. We prioritised the sales to overcame resistance when at first council officers ‘went slow’ on the project. Ironically, when the Council became deadlocked, the incoming Labour Mayor used his casting vote to stop the sales, despite him having already taken advantage of the policy by buying his own!

  6. Gordon Mutch
    Posted April 12, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Many thanks for that view from inside No 10. I remember the wonderful change of attitude and outlook amongst us, on the outside, spreading during the 1980s.

    The 20+ years since she resigned have been hugely disappointing, and now we seem becalmed, facing a risk of sliding down into a prolonged decline. I am wondering what the Margaret Thatcher of those middle years as PM, that you spoke about, would recommend we do to avoid that fate. How about a blog on that?

  7. Alan Wheatley
    Posted April 12, 2013 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Well said. I wish I had been there to hear at first hand.

  8. Rods
    Posted April 12, 2013 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Excellent speech.

    By far the best and most effective Prime Minister that I have ever lived under.

    It is disappointing that none of the political parties or leaderships have been able to come close to all of the good that she did in her time in office. Sadly much of her legacy has now been revered of squandered, so the UK is back into the position of relative and actual decline and a pending massive economic crisis, where the current deficit and debt trajectory is unsustainable. We need somebody to get us out of this current situation, but unfortunately, I can’t see another Margaret Thatcher standing in the wings of politics for this time of need.

    RIP Margaret Thatcher.

    I look back on the 1980’s with fondness, when a colleague and I quit our jobs at the MOD to start our own business. This we successfully ran for the next 16 years until we sold it. About 95% of our revenue was from exporting all over the world, including selling small quantities into China and India.

  9. rd
    Posted April 13, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    Here here.

  10. William Long
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    That said it all for me; thank you.
    To me one of Baroness Thatcher’s great attributes was that you could sit next to her on the Underground or under the next dryer in the harrdresser, as my wife did, and she would be there because that was how life was, and it was part of her day, and not as part of a carefully choreographed show.

  • 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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