Coffee House

Full text and audio: Ed Miliband’s tribute to Margaret Thatcher

10 April 2013

3:53 PM

10 April 2013

3:53 PM

Mr Speaker, I want to join the Prime Minister in commemorating the extraordinary life and unique contribution of Margaret Thatcher.

And I want to join him in sending my deepest condolences to her children, Carol and Mark, the whole family and her many, many close friends.

Today is an opportunity for us to reflect on Margaret Thatcher’s personal achievements, her style of politics and her political legacy.

As the Prime Minister said, the journey from being the child of a grocer to Downing Street is an unlikely one.

And it is particularly remarkable because she was the daughter, not the son, of a grocer.

At each stage of her life, she broke the mould.

A woman at Oxford when there was not a single woman in the University who held a full professorship.

A woman chemist when most people assumed scientists had to be men.

A woman candidate for Parliament in 1950, against the opposition of some in her local party in Dartford, at the age of only 24.

A woman MP in 1959 when just 4 per cent of MPs in the whole of this House were women.

The only woman in the Cabinet when she was appointed in 1970.

And, of course, the first woman Prime Minister.

Mr Speaker, it is no wonder she remarked as early as 1965 in a speech to the National Union of Town Women’s Guilds’ Conference:

“In politics if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.”

I am sure some people in this House—and no doubt many more in the country – will agree with this sentiment.

Having broken so many conventions as a woman, it can’t be a coincidence that she was someone who in so many other areas of life was willing to take on the established orthodoxies.

Margaret Thatcher’s ability to overcome every obstacle in her path is just one measure of her personal strength.

And that takes me to her style of politics.

You can disagree with Margaret Thatcher.

But it is important to understand the kind of political leader she was.


What was unusual, was that she sought to be rooted in people’s daily lives, but she also believed that ideology mattered.

Not for her the contempt sometimes heaped on ideas and new thinking in political life.

And while she never would have claimed to be, or wanted to be seen as, an intellectual, she believed, and she showed, that ideas matter in politics.

In 1945 Mr Speaker, before the end of the War, she bought a copy of Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. There is even a story that she suggested that Conservative Central Office distribute it in the 1945 campaign.

She said, “it left a permanent mark on my political character.”

And nobody can grasp Margaret Thatcher’s achievements, and Thatcherism, without also appreciating the ideas that were its foundation.

And the way in which they departed from the prevailing consensus of the time.

In typical home-spun style, on breakfast TV she said this in 1995:

“Consensus doesn’t give you any direction. It is like mixing all the constituent ingredients together and not coming out with a cake…Democracy is about the people being given a choice.”

It was that approach that enabled her to define the politics of a whole generation and influence the politics of generations to come.

The Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and I all came of age in the 1980s, when you defined your politics by being for or against what she was doing.

It’s fair to say, we took different paths.

Thirty years on, the people of Britain still argue about her legacy.

She was right to understand the sense of aspiration of people across the country.

She was right to recognise our economy needed to change.

She said in 1982:

“How absurd it will seem in a few years time that the state ran Pickfords removals and the Gleneagles Hotel.”

She was right.

And in foreign policy, she was right to defend the Falklands and bravely reach out to new leadership in the Soviet Union.

And something often forgotten, Mr Speaker, she was the first political leader in any major country to warn of the dangers of climate change.

Long before anyone thought of hugging a huskie.

But it would be dishonest and not in keeping with the principles that Margaret Thatcher stood for, even on this day, not to be open with this House about the strong opinions and the deep divisions there were, and are, over what she did.

In mining areas, like the one I represent, communities felt angry and abandoned.

Gay and lesbian people felt stigmatised by measures like section 28, which today’s Conservative Party has rightly repudiated.

And it was no accident that when he became leader of the Conservative Party, the Right Hon Member for Chingford wrote a pamphlet, called There is Such a Thing as Society.

And on the world stage, as this Prime Minister rightly said in 2006, when he was Leader of the Opposition, she made the wrong judgement about Nelson Mandela and about sanctions in South Africa.

Mr Speaker, debates about her and what she represented will continue for many years to come.

This is a mark of her significance as a political leader.

Someone with deep convictions, willing to act on them.

As she put it:

“Politics is more when you have convictions than a matter of multiple manoeuvrings to get you through the problems of the day.”

And as a person, nothing became her so much as the manner of her final years.

The loss of her beloved husband, Denis, and her struggle with illness.

She bore both with the utmost dignity and courage.

The same courage she showed decades earlier after the atrocity of the Brighton bombing.

And Mr Speaker, I will always remember seeing her at the Cenotaph in frail health but determined to pay her respect to our troops and do her duty by the country.

Whatever your view of her, Margaret Thatcher was a unique and towering figure.

I disagree with much of what she did.

But I respect what her death means to the many, many people who admired her.

And I honour her personal achievements.

On previous occasions, we have come to this House to remember the extraordinary Prime Ministers who have served our nation.

Today, we also remember a Prime Minister who defined her age.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • Kumar Patel

    There is not one moment of sincerity in the whole forced, cowardly, slimy performance by Miliband. One can tell even from this sickly speech that the Labourites quite rightly despise Thatcher and the miserable people who worship her but do not have the guts to say so. They had no reason to spit; they merely had to say, personal condolences to her family, but she stood for policies that did immense harm to countless poor folk and we cannot pretend otherwise. Leave it at that.

  • Kumar Patel

    The only real long term winner in the Thatcher farce – apart from all the grinning greasy moneybags who got wealth redistributed to them like never in living memory – are the Scots, who will shortly quit the whole nightmare called Britain.

  • Kumar Patel

    There was nothing in her except a certain lower middle class English provincial spitefulness, and a mediocrity of mind and spirit so absolute that it seemed a kind of genius in itself. She knew virtually nothing and made a virtue of it. After all, knowledge would merely have weakened her resolve in pursuing her mind-numbingly banal project of imposing middle class Archerite mediocrity as the final arbiter of the world’s fate.

    Her crazed and simplistic supporters thought she was great because the Labour Party had fallen into the hands of sucidal fools like Michael Foot (what an apt name for a clown!) and shot itself in the foot with its idiotic idea of unilateral British nuclear disarmament. She had an easy win when she should have been roundly defeated.

    The Soviet Union fell in her time and her crazed and idiotic followers thought it was her doing. This fantasy was like Idi Amin claiming to have conquered the British empire in his after dinner rants.

    The whole sad Thatcher business was a cruel, vulgar farce, with the British rich using the folly of the left and the gullibility of the masses to rake in money as never before and push the balance of power in their lardy favour.

    The Scots will likely break away soon and Britain will end.

    So much for this provincial harridan saving Britain.

    • Augustus

      Thatcher pulled a failing nation out of its financial crisis. But of course she won’t get any credit from you progressives who think you should be able to suckle at the teat of the taxpayer no matter what. You know what they say, ‘when you get flak you must be over the target’.

  • 2trueblue

    Millipede rose to the occasion, shame that Clegg failed totally.

  • Terence Hale

    Full text and audio: Ed Miliband’s tribute to Margaret Thatcher. The empty opposition side of the House with Mr. Miliband shows he as witness and commander of a scoundrel party.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Lot of Harmon in that speech.

  • Augustus

    “Gay and lesbian people felt stigmatised by measures like section 28…”

    She voted for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967; and what business is it of my council to ‘promote’ homosexuality anyway? When the gay activist movement first started there was no mention of “marriage.” The goal was to simply abolish sodomy laws. Once that was achieved, it was not enough. The activists then turned their energy toward “marriage”, called “gay marriage. The goal has always been two fold: create a “protected” class of individuals based on their private sexual preferences, and normalize homosexuality, including teaching that homosexuality is a normal human condition starting in the very early school years. It has nothing to do with rights, tax, inheritance, fairness. It has everything to do with political clout and the progression of the Gramsci philosophy on the body politic.

  • Andy

    I would say the worthless piece of s*** got the tone about right.

    Pity he is always on the wrong side of the argument.

    • Kumar Patel

      How about the next one – yourself – now having a go?

  • Russell

    The only speech from Miliband which I have ever agreed with. Possibly the only decent thing about Miliband which I have observed, or will observe.