Mark Fox is a political commentator and former Parliamentary candidate.
Tomorrow, Mrs T goes to her rest. Those that chose to will mark the occasion with respect. The state will provide as much formality as any commoner could wish for. The Bishop of London has the unenviable task of bringing focus and unity to a unique occasion in his sermon.
There have been many good words and happy memories shared over the last few days – and a few silly and unpleasant ones. Some have been trying to defeat her in a way they never managed to at three successive general elections. Others have romanticised and mythologised. In the end, the sweep of history will bring perspective, documents will be published, and the truth will emerge. I am sure Charles Moore’s biography will bring much needed information and perspective.
It will also be interesting to see whether some of those who claim such close acquaintanceship today did, in reality, play such a big part in the story of this remarkable leader and human being. And it is as a human being, not as a myth or a legend, that Mrs T deserves to be remembered. She had her strengths and weaknesses, peculiarities and foibles. She had many successes and she had failures. All these deserve to be remembered, appreciated, and valued as part of a full life well lived, of which being a wife, mother, grandmother, sister, and daughter were also a part.
I was nine in 1979 when Mrs T won that first general election. I remember fwell being read bedtime stories by candlelight because of the power cuts, the rubbish on our streets at home, the sheer grinding drabness of the time, and the fact that Ted Heath’s and Jim Callaghan’s Governments had been humiliatingly ejected from office because they were unable to impose their will on the political landscape around them.
We knew things were not working. It made an indelible impression on me. My father took my sister and me up to Downing Street where we walked along (it was still possible to walk up and down Downing Street like any other street in the country at that time), and stood to look at the front door. The street was not busy that day, and as we stood looking at the door a great black Rover swept up and out stepped the Prime Minister. She saw us, smiled, and waved. And I have never forgotten it.
When in later times I had opportunities to talk to her it was always remarkable. We knew then, as some have forgotten now, that this was no triumphal progress over the next eleven years but a hard-fought battle for the future of Britain. That period was clearly a turning point in the history of post-War Britain. For me, the greatest moment was the Falklands. Like Winston Churchill, and unlike Anthony Eden or Tony Blair, Mrs T was an involuntary war leader. A piece of British territory was invaded and our leader was called upon to respond. She did. For me that is why she deserves the ceremonial funeral. Her domestic political achievements were considerable. Her impact on the world stage impressive. Both can be argued about. But when it came to a critical moment when as Prime Minister it fell to her sole responsibility to make the decision and give the order to the Armed Forces to recover a piece of British territory she did not flinch.
What happened then and subsequently will be fought over, argued about, and hopefully lessons of policy and style will be learnt. Tomorrow we should cherish the memory of a remarkable human being, let her go in peace, and then look forward.