My Lords, I take my mind back to before I was elected to the House of
Commons, when I spent a great deal of time abroad. Like so many of us at
that time, I was constantly embarrassed at the sympathy that was
offered to me by foreigners for the state into which Great Britain had
descended. A few years later, I again spent a lot of time abroad, as the
Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The change could not have
been greater in the admiration that was expressed for what had been done
in this country. It was sometimes, I thought, slightly over the top. I
could never quite get my mind around the remark made to me in Italy:
"Oh, if only we had a Thatcher here!". Can one imagine the concept of an
Italian Margaret Thatcher?
The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, would indeed have had some problems then, I fancy.
We should also come
to some kind of consensus here today that there were two quite
remarkable Prime Ministers of post-war Great Britain: two Prime
Ministers who actually changed the country and did so in the way they
wanted to change it. They did not sit as change happened round about
them. They were Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher. We have
accommodated ourselves to many of the things which Clement Attlee did,
although many of us would have opposed them at the time. Even some of
those in his party, of course, opposed his policy on British membership
of NATO and possession of nuclear weapons, for example; and we, on our
side, for much of what he did in the social services area.
We should also
recollect that Lady Thatcher came into office in 1979 somewhat against
the odds that would have been offered a year or so earlier, because of
the winter of discontent. The trades union generals had brought down Ted
Heath's Government. They brought down Jim Callaghan's Government. They
brought into office the Government of Lady Thatcher. They expected,
particularly Master Scargill, to bring down her Government, too. What
would have become of our democracy had they succeeded?
How many Prime
Ministers could have defeated them and preserved our democracy? How many
of those who saw her in her early days as Prime Minister would have
dreamt that in partnership with Ronald Reagan she would have
precipitated the end of the Cold War and the bringing down of the Berlin
Wall? It was she, of course, who observed that Prague was not in
eastern Europe but at the centre of Europe. That is a geographical fact.
One of my regrets is that her successors did not sufficiently exploit
what she had done, and that we have left those other Europeans-the
Russians-still rather outside the European family and compact. There is
still much to be done.
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It is often said of
her, and we have heard it again today, that she was divisive. However,
there were two great influences in her life. One was her scientific
training-and I am particularly glad that the noble Lord, Lord May,
mentioned that aspect of her life. The other, of course, was her
religious belief. If I may observe to right reverend Prelates, there is a
precedent for being divisive: there are sheep and there are goats. The
noble Baroness was aware from both her scientific training and her
religious beliefs that there are things that are right and things that
are wrong, technically, scientifically and morally. She pursued that
which she believed to be right. I must say that as her party chairman I
found that my life was made much easier by my understanding of the
certainties of her beliefs. She never asked me to commission a focus
group. Had I been asked I would have resisted manfully, I hope. What is
more, if I woke in the morning, turned on the radio and heard the BBC's
version of the news of the day I would know what her reaction would be
to the news because of the certainty of the construct of her beliefs. It
made life very much easier for me.
I should also like
to say how grateful I will always be for the fact that she gave me the
opportunity to serve in high office the country that she, I, and I
believe all of us here, love. I am also grateful to her for that other
side of her character, for the support that she gave to my wife and me
after we were injured. No doubt somebody in this House will correct me,
but I cannot think of a precedent for a Secretary of State remaining in
office as Secretary of State although absent from the Cabinet for over
three months. She allowed me to run my office from my hospital bed.
Admittedly, I had the support of two splendid civil servants in
particular who ran my private office, both of whom have appeared again
in other roles: Mr Callum McCarthy, and another fellow who I believe has
achieved high office somewhere more recently; he was the Secretary of
State for Health not long ago. They were quality people, but it was she
who backed me and allowed me to continue.
I did not always
agree with her, because I have some rather strong convictions and views,
too. I recollect one occasion when I left her office at No. 10, walked
back to Victoria Street, got into my office and asked my Private
Secretary if there had been any calls from No. 10. "No, Secretary of
State", he said, so I knew then that I was still the Secretary of State
while I was walking back.
Of course, she was
brought down in the end not by the electorate but by her colleagues. Not
only is it quite remarkable that she won three elections
running-someone else has done that since-what was remarkable was that
she polled slightly more votes on the occasion of her third victory,
when she had been in office for eight years, than on her first. I regard
that as a triumph for her.
My regrets? Because
of the commitments that I made to my own wife, I did not feel able
either to continue in government after 1987 or to return to government
when she later asked me to do so. I left her, I fear, at the mercy of
her friends. That I do regret.
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