Tomorrow’s Spectator includes a three-page symposium on Margaret Thatcher from a selection of her friends colleagues, admirers and sparring partners. Here’s the full version of what Steve Hilton – No.10’s strategy officer from 2010-2012 – has to say about our first female Prime Minister.
I was lucky enough to meet Mrs Thatcher (as I will always think of her) on a few occasions, and one in particular stood out. We talked about Communism, and my family’s experience in Hungary. I was feeling incensed at the time because of the way in which the ruling elite dabbled in capitalism for their own personal enrichment, but denied the opportunities of enterprise to most people. ‘Yes!” she exclaimed, ‘I hate that. Hate it. That’s how elites always behave! It’s the trahison des clercs!’
This seemed to provide validation for my own suspicion of, and instinctive hostility towards, elites and establishments of any kind. That’s why Mrs T was such an inspiration to me, and I suppose why I was so upset — much more than I had imagined I would be – to hear the news of her passing. I didn’t know Margaret Thatcher, so I can only describe what she represented to me.
I saw her as thrillingly anti-establishment; as much of a punk – and as brilliantly British — as Vivienne Westwood who once impersonated Margaret Thatcher on the cover of Tatler. In today’s techno-business jargon, Thatcher was the ultimate political disruptor – determined to shake things up, unleash competition, challenge and confront vested interests and the old ways of doing things. That’s why she was so transformative. Yes, change on that scale and in that way is not just exhilarating but can be uncomfortable too. Yes it brings casualties. But it is progress. To be against Margaret Thatcher, queen of disruption, is to be against progress — the favourite word of the left.
And it was her character that was the key. The virtues most admired and valued in today’s culture – innovation, energy, daring – defined her. She was Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Lady Gaga; all rolled into one, and a thousand times more consequential than any of them.
Oh, and here’s a final story – not mine, but one that I cherish and re-tell whenever I want to capture the audacity of her governing style (and I don’t want to hear from anyone that it’s not true!).
So hostile was she to the BBC (and more importantly to the fact that people were forced to pay for it), that she regularly convened meetings in Downing Street with scientists and engineers, urging them to invent and put on sale a TV set that couldn’t pick up BBC stations. It is the sheer magnificent unreasonableness of this that I so admire. Because if you want to change things, being reasonable doesn’t get you very far. In politics and government, it is unreasonableness that improves people’s lives.