By Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC
have numerous memories of Margaret Thatcher and all of them are fond
ones. To me, she was not just a colossus of British politics but also a
fiercely loyal friend when I was under fire. Her death today, aged 87,
has saddened me greatly.
I credit Margaret Hilda Thatcher with
rekindling my interest in politics after I had drifted away from it for
well over a decade. I had admired her from afar long before I knew her –
and not just because she was Britain’s first (and to date only) woman
I thought that if a grammar school-educated
grocer’s daughter from Grantham in Lincolnshire could make it to the top
in the Conservative Party (she led the party in opposition for four
years before becoming Prime Minister in 1979), then there had to be room
for a wider variety of people.
By the time Margaret became Prime
Minister, I had been fortunate enough to make some money as an
entrepreneur. I applauded her strong leadership of the country and I
decided I wanted to help out the party financially.
In 1981, I made
my first donation to the party: £50,000. By the time, Margaret stood
down as Prime Minister in 1990, I had contributed £1 million to the
party and lent it £3 million. While she led the country, I – and many
other like-minded people – felt proud to be British.
As a party
donor and supporter, I was first introduced to her in the early 1980s
when I was in my mid-thirties. It was impossible not to be impressed by
her drive and leadership, together with her vision and commitment to the
party and country that she loved.
Particularly after Margaret’s
firm handling of the Falklands crisis in 1982, I felt inclined to give
British politics another go having drifted away from the party in the
mid 1970s because, although I was a natural Tory, I had felt the party
was out of touch with its the electorate and its core supporters.
Doesn’t that sound familiar!!
The Conservative Party under
Margaret’s leadership in the 1980s was a genuine meritocracy: it allowed
people to get to the top through their ability rather where they had
gone to school, or how rich and well-connected their parents were.
was single-minded and cut through the nonsense. With the Falklands War,
for example, she had a direct approach. She knew that the islands
belonged to Britain, the Argentinians had invaded them and therefore,
unless they withdrew, Britain would send a force to eject them.
the miners’ strike saw her equally decisive. Anticipating an ugly
dispute marred by violent picketing, she resolved to increase the
nation’s coal stocks. She was determined that Britain would be in a
position to survive a long dispute and finally curb the power of
militant trade unionism, which had grown too strong for the good of the
Events in industries that I knew about had also propelled
me towards her. For years, many public services were overmanned and run
in the producers’ interests. Some Conservative-controlled councils
wanted to cut costs and raise productivity by scrapping restrictive
practices and opening local-government services up to private
competition – so-called tendering out.
This allowed private firms
to bid for work such as street cleaning and school maintenance. Although
this was common in other countries, the response in Britain was
extraordinary. Strikes and sabotage – refuse trucks were even set on
fire – were just a few of the reactions from left-wing extremists. No
country could afford to be governed in this way – and Margaret made sure
her Government stood up to such utter nonsense.
During the 1980s,
I became friends with Margaret and, even more so, with her husband
Denis, who, when we were serving on the board of the same public
company. Denis was also a founder Trustee and staunch supporter of
Crimestoppers, the crime-fighting charity that I launched 25 years ago.
The Thatchers were a loving and devoted couple and were married for more
than 50 years before Denis’s death in 2003.
I have one abiding
memory of Margaret that I will take with me to my grave. Shortly before
she resigned as Prime Minister in November 1990, I had to meet Denis to
discuss some business affairs.
Because he was particularly busy,
he asked me to pop round to see him at 10 Downing Street. We were
sitting in the Thatchers’ lounge going through some papers when Margaret
walked into the room.
I immediately got up to greet her but she
just said: “Sit down, sit down. Would you boys like a cup of tea?” It
was a strange feeling sitting there while the Prime Minister of the day
disappeared into the kitchen, boiled the kettle and poured us tea in
silence so as not to disturb our meeting.
Even today, I sometimes try
to imagine how Britain would be without Margaret’s resolve and
leadership. She undoubtedly deserves to go down in history as Britain’s
greatest peacetime Prime Minister. It took someone with astonishing
willpower and principle to change the course of history, and Margaret
Thatcher was that person.
As Prime Minister, she offered people
hope, opportunity and a chance to run their own lives. I have lost an
old friend while Britain will be a poorer place without her. One thing
is certain: we will not see her like again soon. And isn’t that a pity
in the world today.
Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative
Party, an author, international businessman and philanthropist. Visit
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