Today I wish to remember the life and achievement of Margaret Thatcher.
It was my fortune and privilege to work closely with her in the middle years of her administration, and to be a helper and Minister in the later years. The woman I knew was kind, keen to do the right thing, honest, and ever willing to consider a new approach or criticisms of what was happening. I was twenty six years younger than her, but as her chief policy adviser I did not need to worry about my lack of years, only about the quality of my research and the strength of my arguments. She would argue and argue, with no personal antagonism. That was the way she learned and the way she strived to improve. It was my job as her adviser to understand when the arguing was over and a decision had been made, and my job to argue on with new evidence where I was concerned for her and the country she loved.
She was no ideologue. She did not start out with a set of unalterable views, and refuse to listen or to change. When I arrived in Downing Street she was still an enthusiast for the European Economic Community. Events and the ruthless pressure for more integration slowly changed her into a Eurosceptic. She told me in the 1970s that she would not be able privatise. By 1983 she was ready to liberate telephones, gas, and electricity from state control. She was rumoured to believe in tight or honest money, yet when she welcomed in Alan Walters as Economic Adviser she readily accepted his advice that money was too tight and needed to be loosened to stimulate a much needed economic recovery. Toward the end of her time in office she was most concerned about global warming, but later came to think there were dangers in the policies pursued in its name.
Nor did she set out to demolish old industry, close old mines, and replace them all with services. She inherited a country with a long past of industrial decline. 465,000 coalmining jobs had gone in the post war years before she took office. There were only 235,000 left in 1979. As a chemist she was proud of manufacturing and wished to see it flourish. As a Prime Minister in her early years she found it as difficult as her predecessors to stimulate a UK manufacturing revival. Later it did start to happen, with a successful reconstruction of the motor industry through substantial inward movement of money, talent and design from overseas.
Apart from my many personal memories I will always remember her well for two great developments. The first was domestic. She did give voice and votes to the cause of wider ownership, to a society where many more could own homes and shares. That was a vision I argued for then, and one I wish to encourage again now. The second was her important contribution with President Reagan to liberating eastern Europe from communism. Their joint steadfastness against intense USSR Cold war pressures was crucial. So was her own ability to speak to both leaders and led in the communist bloc, so they turned away from their tyranny as her period of office neared its end. If you would like to see my speech to Parliament or other views on politics after Thatcher, please turn to www.johnredwoodsdiary.com.