Monday, 27 April 2009

Margaret Thatcher's Revolution 30 Years On

THE TELEGRAPH: Her successors ruined the prosperous Britain she created. Now we must strive to re-build it, says Edwina Currie.

We should value Margaret Thatcher for what she did, not what she was. Photo courtesy of The Telegraph

She was a small, pretty woman with chintzy blouses and a nervous habit of clearing her throat. A stiff leather handbag hung like a weapon over her arm; if a wisp of hair escaped from the helmet of her coiffure, she fiddled with it anxiously. In mid-campaign, she was given a grubby calf to hold and didn't know what to do with it. Our first views of Margaret Thatcher weren't reassuring.

Yet it was la difference that underwrote her astonishing success. The unthinkable – a woman prime minister – had been made flesh. Suddenly anything seemed possible. I was a city councillor in Birmingham with two small children. I knew, with total certainty, that if she could do it, then so could I.

Mrs Thatcher learnt very quickly to turn her outsider status to advantage. Declaring that she didn't know much about economics but did understand a household budget was an election strategy of genius. It allied her with the victims of strikes and disruption, those who had to make ends meet, the "hard-working families" of modern parlance who had to put aside doubts if they were to vote for her. However bizarre it may seem to have a woman in charge, they reasoned, she talked sense and should be given a chance: she couldn't be worse than the men.

Within her first term the doubts vanished. The Iron Lady had seen off Galtieri and was preparing the same treatment for Scargill, so all one had to do was sound rather like her. I sailed into Parliament at my first attempt in 1983, one of 397 Tory MPs (some 200 more than now). It was not really a surprise to find myself the first maiden speaker of the new intake, treated as a representative of a new breed, and soon a minister.

It was a fantastic and terrifying experience. Come to a meeting not properly briefed and you'd be mincemeat, and rightly so. Get something right and she would praise you embarrassingly in public. With a blue-eyed stare that could turn men to stone, she would snap out orders and expect them delivered. Once, in a cold spell in January 1987, she insisted that no vagrant was to be found frozen to the pavements and I was given the job. We managed it, with the help of the charities and an open purse, a now-forgotten episode entirely to her credit; the Rough Sleepers initiative was the outcome. No inquiries, no reviews, no soundbites, no pointless legislation: just get on and do it. >>> Edwina Currie | Sunday, April 26, 2009