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Coffee House

Thatcher didn’t really save Britain. She allowed Britain to save itself.

20 April 2013

12:04 PM

20 April 2013

12:04 PM

Thatchermania has died down now, and I’ve personally stayed out of it. The quality of commentary from people around at the time has been outstanding, not least  The Spectator’s own Charles Moore. The Thatcher drama is one where I can’t even claim to have been a spectator. I was not into politics when I was young, not listening to Budget speeches on the school bus like the young George Osborne. Strife didn’t hit us much in the Highlands. I once crossed a picket line with my mum when teachers at my school, Nairn Academy, went on strike. She was a special needs teacher there and didn’t talk much about it, except to say she didn’t believe pupils should be made to suffer in disputes between adults. I agreed with the sentiment and insofar as I thought about Mrs T, I was all for her. But I’m afraid to say that, during the 1980s, I was far more influenced by The Kids from Fame than anything that happened in Westminster.

But I did meet The Lady a few times, during events where she would generally say very little and patiently listen to those who queued to pay homage.  Once she was sitting down, and I knelt to talk to her. “Stand up,” she told me. “You’re a journalist, you can’t kneel to a politician.” The other time was an event in Mayfair where a businessman was being similarly effusive. He’d started a small business which had become a large one, all due to her. Or so he said. This seemed to irritate her. The exact words were reported back to me, and went something like:

“No, you have got it wrong. If you’re thanking me, then you have misunderstood what my government was all about. It is I who should be thanking you. It was you who took the risk, you who had the idea, people like you who worked hard and turned the country around.”

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The struck me because it contrasts with the situation now where politicians always try to take credit for everything that goes right. Thatcher’s policy was to empower and trust the people, then sit back and see what they do.

This week, The Spectator publishes secret Kremlin transcripts of Gorbachev’s talks with Thatcher where she makes these points to Gorbachev. The Soviets believed in the state. Britain believes in the people. To me, her state funeral – and the idea of the politician-as-saviour – seemed at odds with her approach to politics. I’m told by those who know better that Mrs T did come to regard herself as a saviour in her later  years of government. But the woman I saw that night was someone who seemed to believe that she owed thanks to a country, not vice versa.

 

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