Coffee House

‘If only people could see the real Margaret Thatcher’: Lords pay tribute

10 April 2013

10 April 2013

Today’s debates in Parliament about Baroness Thatcher were supposed to be a tribute to the first female Prime Minister. If you were looking for the most faithful rendition of this, you should have been sitting in the House of Lords, not the Commons this afternoon. In the Other Place, the debate is always rather more civilised and measured, though it has grown rather rowdier in recent years. But today the speeches painted a fascinating picture of Margaret Thatcher, not least because many of them came from those who worked with or in opposition to her when she was in power. Some were notable by their silence: Lord Howe arrived with notes, but left without speaking. Lord Heseltine was nowhere to be seen. The Chamber was packed to begin with: the Tory benches crammed to bursting, the Labour benches nearly full.

The most powerful speech came from Lord Tebbit, who appeared to struggle rather sincerely with emotion, sighing heavily as he told peers that his great regret was, because of the commitments he had made to his wife (who was left permanently disabled by the Brighton bombing), he left her government and did not return as a minister when she asked. ‘I left her, I fear, at the mercy of her friends. That I do regret.’ He, like many others, had a story to tell of the personal kindness his party leader had shown to him, allowing him to continue working as a Cabinet minister while being absent for three months.

Lord Waddington gave a glimpse of her human frailty. After the Brighton bomb, he said he saw her ‘slumped’ behind the scenes in the conference hall, saying she couldn’t go out and give her speech. He watched Gordon Reece egg her on, and off she went.

Subscribe from £1 per week


The criticism in the Upper Chamber was more gentle, but it was answered forcefully and politely by Lord Lamont, who said he felt compelled to answer some of the comments made about the negative impact on certain communities. He argued that it was costing the state so much to prop up jobs in ‘loss-making industries’ that other job creation was being stifled.

Those who had found themselves working against her remained respectful. The strongest criticism came from Baroness Royall, who led the Labour tributes. She remained polite, and praised Thatcher’s ability to smash the glass ceiling, ‘and proved that it could be done but she did not hold out a helping hand for others to follow’. And she criticised Thatcher’s refusal to espouse ‘the consensual notion of One Nation’.

Paddy Ashdown gave a speech of far greater generosity than Clegg’s offering in the Commons. He said she was ‘the greatest Prime Minister of our age’, but also said she did little for the gay community, the people of Scotland and the standing of women in British society. He also joked that he was ‘ritually handbagged twice a week’ by her.

There was even some praise for her looks. Baroness Trumpington complained that the many men who had spoken had failed to compliment Thatcher on her looks. ‘It took a French president to appreciate it,’ she said, referring to Mitterand. Later, Lord Gummer went just a little bit further, telling peers that the former Prime Minister had ‘beautiful hands and lovely ankles and she knew how to use them’. He added: ‘It was a pleasure to see her, the way she turned herself out.’

David Cameron watched some of the proceedings from the Bar of the House. He was smiling throughout, nodding and chuckling every so often at an anecdote that he recognised. He particularly enjoyed a comment from Lord Forsyth that Thatcher had been one of the biggest purchasers of stationery from Smythson, and another story from the same peer about her winning at the races and joining in a rendition of ‘Roll out the barrel’. ‘I thought, if only people could see the real Margaret Thatcher,’ he said. Some of the tales of her personal kindness and steely humour might have given listeners a further glimpse of that woman today.

The debate continues. If you have a chance, do listen in. Or read the whole Lords Hansard tomorrow when it is published. It was a magnificent and fascinating debate: not just because its participants praised the Iron Lady, but because some of them criticised her, too, in a gracious and polite manner.


More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us.

Show comments
  • thanksdellingpole

    We probably will find out, one day, when the BBC is demolished.

  • http://www.facebook.com/barbara.stevens.790 Barbara Stevens

    Well for one have seen the real Thatcher, the poverty, unemployment the riots, and the unfairness she created, that’s why still we have division within this country. Some revere her all well and good, but I also remember those who committed suicide from her policies when homes and famlileis were lost. Unless you saw it felt it and lived it you cannot comprehend. I’ll concede she did have some good points like standing up against the EU. But the loss of industry for political gain was unforgiveable. It should have been more tapered to lesson the impact but no political gain and dogma were more important.
    Now we see the Conservatives in her death using her for political gain as their numbers dwindle, the family are to blame for allowing them to take over and use her past for their future.
    I hope she rests in peace but when she meets her maker she as many quesitons to answer. As for the state sharing the cost I don’t agree with that either, I thought we had no money?

  • Davidh

    Enough already. Parliament should be for honest debate about the future of the country, not eulogy. Those who felt they could not honestly participate in such eulogy did well to stay away.

    • Colonel Mustard

      If Parliament were just about honest debate for the future of the country the whole of the Labour party would be required to troop out in shame, never to return.

      • David Ossitt

        Well said Sir.

  • Makroon

    Watching the tributes, it is interesting to see the large number of (apparently) pretty impressive individuals, with humble backgrounds and real life achievements, awaiting their chance on the Conservative benches (new intake).
    And Cameron is supposed to believe his back-benches “don’t have enough quality” ?
    Maybe you meant the front-bench David ?

  • Hookeslaw

    The best tribute to the years of Thatcher’s conservative government and its necessary policies probably come from this EU Commission analysis of France today under socialist management…

    The EU warned that France’s diminishing growth prospects are toxically
    combined with soaring sovereign debt levels, expected to rise to 93.8 per
    cent of economic output next year.
    “France’s public sector indebtedness represents a vulnerability, not only
    for the country itself, but also for the euro area as a whole,”
    “The resilience of the country to external shocks is diminishing and its
    medium-term growth prospects are increasingly hampered by longstanding
    imbalances.”
    “While these reforms are steps in the right direction, they will not be
    sufficient to solve the competitiveness issues and, in view of the
    challenges ahead, further policy response will be needed,”

    France has been putting off competitiveness issues for a generation.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Left wing regimes self destruct. The oddity is that having seen it so many times the same half-wits keep clamouring for more of the same medicine.

      • Curnonsky

        Human stupidity – the only truly renewable resource.

        • David Ossitt

          And malice.

  • Daniel Maris

    I have literally lost count of the number of articles that have been posted on her departure.

    • salieri

      Your point being…?
      I look forward to seeing you say the same when the venerable Mandela shuffles off this mortal coil. And Brixton will come to a standstill.

      • Daniel Maris

        Mandela has his place in history as does Thatcher but both are being over-lauded and their sins scratched out from the record books.

        Who has mentioned Thatcher the Patriot’s intention of bundling her two kids off to America with a pile of money if Labour had won in 1979. How very patriotic? Who has mentioned her support for treating Mandela as a terrorist? Who has mentioned the huge Saudi arms deal and the issues of probity surrounding that? Who has mentioned her enthusiastic support for Osama bin Laden and the other Islamic Jihadists in Afghanistan?

        • Colonel Mustard

          I don’t think Mrs Thatcher’s sins are being “scratched out” at all. The negative side of her record, real, imagined or deliberately created, has been paraded in all the usual places by all the usual suspects, including here, including you.

          What you will find with the left’s heroes will be completely different. Chavez was an example of it. Mandela will be another. The negative side will not just be conveniently absent from the BBC-led eulogising but even the mildest naysaying will get the full faux outrage treatment. There will also be an absence of street parties, etc., because the right is essentially decent and respectful about the death of a human being, however flawed.

  • Augustus

    “David Cameron watched some of the proceedings from the Bar of the House. He was smiling throughout, nodding and chuckling every so often at an anecdote that he recognised.”

    “If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.”

  • salieri

    A rare mistake, this photograph, but a depressing one. Surely there were more than 25 peers present?

    • Russell

      This was taken during the follow on debate about “Tributes to the qualities of Tony Blair & Gordon Brown”.

      • salieri

        LOL. Just as well, then, that it wasn’t either of them on his own.

  • telemachus

    I have been impressed both by Commons And Lords
    Cameron was predictably good
    Ashdown compared with Clegg shows how much the great liberals have gone backwards
    “Courage in abundance,frightened of nothing”
    Ed Miliband gave a truly statesmanlike performance
    Indeed apart from the disrespectful MP’s who did not turn up on the Labour benches in Commons and Lords all were well behaved
    Glenda Jackson should be shot

    • Russell

      Glenda Jackson and Diane Abbott,,,,,ugly on the inside as well as the outside. Disgraceful MP’s in the same gutter as Galloway and Prescott who is singing Jacksons speech praise on twitter.

    • David Lindsay

      I have long wondered why it was not Dame Glenda Jackson. I am not wondering that now. But if you are going to have a parliamentary debate, then it has to be about politics. Her speech was not inappropriate. The inappropriate thing was the holding of this debate in the first place.

      For that is what it is: a debate on a motion. Altogether out of place. Whereas, since such a thing is happening, the speeches appropriate to such are entirely to be expected. Even encouraged. The motion, simply by having been tabled, cannot but encourage them. Or did the Government truly believe that Thatcher was an uncontroversial figure? She was certainly not uncontroversial among their own upper-class Tories.

      Glenda Jackson was only doing what Parliament does; what Parliament is for. That, and not her specific contribution within it, was the thing inappropriate to the occasion. To what was happening, her conduct was entirely appropriate. But it ought not to be happening. Not in this way, at least. Not really at all.

      • salieri

        You make one fair point: ‘debates on a motion’ are an artificial parliamentary form of tribute in either House. True enough. But the artificiality in no way detracts from the purpose, solemnity or decency expected and demanded of the occasion. If you truly believe that Jackson was only doing what Parliament is for then you have, I believe, a warped idea of Parliament.
        QED

        • David Lindsay

          The solemnity and decency could not have been served by this particular procedural device, which was by no means the only one available. It is very Thatcher-esque, designed to encourage robust debate. Then, when someone tries to have one, that poor soul is pilloried as if Thatcher had been a symbol of national unity. She never sought to be, and she never was.

          Say what you like about Glenda Jackson, but she entered Parliament after an immensely distinguished career as something else. On retiring at the next General Election, she will be only a few days short of 79, and she will have been an MP for 23 years. So much for luvvies. Unlike all manner of dross brought in by Blair and Cameron (especially, it must be said, female dross), she deserved to be there and she has gone the distance.

          • salieri

            Two questions: what other procedural ‘device’ was available; and what, apart from mere survival, do you mean by ‘going the distance’? On your logic, Jackson deserved to be in Parliament either because she had previously been a distinguished actress or because she had been repeatedly re-elected by the luvvies of Hampstead. “Say what you like abut Glenda Jackson”? I’d rather not.

            • David Lindsay

              On your logic, Jackson deserved to be in Parliament either because she had previously been a distinguished actress or because she had been repeatedly re-elected by the luvvies of Hampstead.

              Both. As much as anything else, she was at such a point that in those days she probably took a cut in income in order to enter Parliament. And you can only be elected five times (it’s a very mixed constituency indeed, by the way) if you submit to the electorate five times. Which of the 2001, 2005 or 2010 intake, on whichever benches, is ever going to do that?

              • salieri

                Is it possible she entered Parliament because she was too old to keep getting her kit off?

                • David Lindsay

                  Think about that one, and you will see why it is wrong.

      • Makroon

        A dame ? Why ?
        It’s pretty obvious that that hate and bile spewing performance in ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, was not acting, just La Jackson being herself.

        • David Lindsay

          Two Best Actress Oscars and then more than 20 years as an MP, including a spell as a Minister. People have had it for far less than that. For less than either of those things alone, in fact.

          It is not as if she would decline it on principle, a frightfully un-Old-Labourish thing to do; she is already a CBE, the Order of the British Empire having largely been invented for municipal Labour and the trade unions, who have always loved it. I really do not understand how she has never had the DBE. Perhaps when she retires?

          • salieri

            That’s her testimonial, is it?

            • David Lindsay

              People have had it for vastly less.

              • salieri

                That may be so. But what you said was that “she deserved to be there”. Not for the first time, you’ve moved the goalposts.

                • David Lindsay

                  She had had a genuinely distinguished career in a notoriously tough profession in which to get on. She was 56. She had brought up a son on her own. She was no glorified intern. Until 2010, 1992 was probably the last chance for someone like that to get in on the Labour side. On the Tory side, it would still be impossible, indeed more difficult now than ever.

      • 2trueblue

        Her speech was totally and utterly inappropriate. There is a time for everything, and clearly Jackson has no idea of timing. But then she wrote it herself, hence the lack of quality.

      • Daniel Maris

        Where were the eulogies from Heseltine and Howe?

        • David Lindsay

          I know. I was looking forward to them. But I had a misspent political youth, and therefore know how to relish the delicious hypocrisy of these occasions.

        • Makroon

          Howe came with his speech notes, (probably written by Elspeth – sorry Geoff, couldn’t resist), but after being given “the glare” by Norman Tebbitt, thought better of it, and shuffled off without delivering.

      • Nicholas chuzzlewit

        Like Glenda Jackson you never fail to ‘sink’ to the occasion.

    • salieri

      Why is it that I don’t believe a word you say?

      • telemachus

        At times like this we celebrate Britain and its world heroes

        • Colonel Mustard

          And at other times Stalin.

    • Makroon

      Shame about David Winnick, I respect the old boy’s passion and integrity, but, boy, didn’t he rave on !?
      And Meacher – he could bore for England.

      • telemachus

        I guess that is the point
        “bore”

    • Wilhelm
      • thanksdellingpole

        Then we’ll just have to get rid of them all won’t we.

Close
Can't find your Web ID? Click here