Gillian Shephard is a Conservative politician. She served as a member of Parliament and a cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher. She is the author of The Real Iron Lady: Working with Margaret Thatcher.
I first met Margaret Thatcher when she was secretary of state for education. I was an education official in Norfolk. Thatcher came to visit and I had to organize a tour for her. Well, when she arrived, she went around like a whirlwind. She was extremely well-informed and extremely well-rehearsed. And she was perfectly dressed. She left the impression of someone who is very much in charge, but also extremely feminine.
People say that Margaret Thatcher acted rudely, brusquely toward her peers. I didn’t have that experience. She tended to limit that behaviour to those whom she believed to be her equals in cabinet. But to her subordinates, she was always marvellous, encouraging and very open.
What I do know is that Margaret Thatcher loved an argument. And she never minded being bested in an argument. If she was convinced by your logic, she’d happily say: “You win!”
Interview by Katie Engelhart
Roy McMurtry, former chief justice of Ontario and attorney general for Ontario, was also the high commissioner to Great Britain from 1985 to 1988.
She had a compassionate side. Personally, with me, it had to do with the furs that were being exported to Britain and the European community from the Aboriginal communities. There was a lot of controversy in Europe and Britain about the harvesting of animal furs. There was a lot of political pressure on the government to prevent these exports or imports into Britain because they felt that some of the harvesting was not done in the most humanitarian way.
But I explained to Mrs. Thatcher over a couple of meetings that this is very important, these exports, to our Aboriginal communities, particularly in the Northwest but in other areas of Canada, because it was part of their traditional culture. So it was not just an economic issue, but equally, or even more important, it was a matter of self-respect in being able to maintain a traditional way of life that was diminishing quite rapidly.
The British government had passed an order in council that was going to lead to preventing any of these imports, but Margaret Thatcher took it upon herself—because I really think she had an understanding of the plight of our Aboriginal peoples—and personally had the order in council rescinded.
Interview by Rosemary Westwood
Penny Junor is a British journalist and biographer. She is the author of Margaret Thatcher: Wife, Mother, Politician.
I didn’t have much interaction with Margaret Thatcher while I was writing my book. She didn’t really want to talk to me, but she did allow her friends and family to.
I called my book, Wife, Mother, Politician, because I was interested in what Thatcher was like as a woman—rather than a politician. I found it absolutely fascinating that she was a real wife . . . almost a suburban wife. She loved decorating and making the house nice. There was no question about her husband playing househusband; he had a career of his own, and Margaret would be there to make the house nice and cook for him.
Her relationship with Denis was incredibly close. He was the perfect husband for her, really: a little bit older, established, with money. He was a positive asset to her career, and he financed her entry into politics.
But it was also an incredible match. He was hugely supportive of her. In the evenings, after a terrible day, Margaret would come home and kick off her shoes and settle down, curling her feet under her bottom. And she would sit in a chair with Denis. And they would have a glass of whisky together.
She was quite close with the children [twins Carol and Mark], too, though they were sent off to boarding school when they were about seven years old, which was quite young.
The children are quite different, really. Carol is absolutely delightful. Mark is . . . well, Margaret always spoiled him. She felt that all of his faults were because of her, because she was a working mother. And she was always guilty about working, and about leaving them.
When I did meet Margaret in person, one thing absolutely stuck out to me: her handshake. When she met you, she shook your hand and moved you to one side. The hand went up and down and to her right; she manoeuvred you very cleverly out of her way. You couldn’t linger in front of her. That was so she could get on to the next person!
Interview by Katie Engelhart
Alison Redford, premier of Alberta
She was in her prime when I was about 25 years old. I find it interesting that so much of what we’ve heard is about Margaret Thatcher as a woman leader. I just don’t think she’d have any of that if she was sitting here.
I think her values as a person and her family background were fundamental to her as a leader. What she did is she used her life experiences to inform how she led. That was a magical time. President Reagan, prime minister Mulroney, prime minister Thatcher—they redefined the world. When they saw the world changing, they seized that opportunity. And I think that, especially because she was the prime minister of the country that we had once been a colony of, the fact that she was so accepting of Canada as an international player, it was terribly important.
I remember being in Paris once (I think it was the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe), I was working for Joe Clark and it was a first ministers meeting. I remember sitting in the anteroom during the speeches and watching her walk in. What struck me about her is she was just serene. Nothing fazed her. It was amazing.
She became Margaret Thatcher. She didn’t start out as “Margaret Thatcher.” She had experiences in life that informed her ideas, that gave her resolve. You just get the sense that when she was running as a single woman for Parliament, she was not the Margaret Thatcher we thought of in 1988. That’s an interesting perspective, especially for us new politicians. It’s life experience that informs you.
Interview by Luiza Ch. Savage
Roger Edwards is a member of the Legislative Assembly for the Falklands Islands. During the 1982 Falklands War, he served with the Navy’s Special Air Service.
I met with Margaret Thatcher during both of her visits to the Falkland Islands.
The first visit was when she declared the freedom of the Falkland Islands, on January 10, 1983. That day is still commemorated every year with a public holiday; so the 10th of January is Margaret Thatcher Day. It’s when people remember the brave decisions that Thatcher made about recovery the Falkland Islands.
For years, it had been the policy of the Labour and Conservative governments to negotiate with the Argentines: to do a joint sovereignty or something. The islanders were not included in those talks and were very dispirited.
And you must remember that even after the 1983 invasion, both the chief of the Army and the chief of the Royal Air Force said there was nothing they could do to recover the Islands.
It was only when Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse showed up to see Thatcher that the situation changed. Thatcher asked Fieldhouse what she should do. And he said: You’ve got to recover the Falklands! And how true it was.
Thatcher gave Fieldhouse the go-ahead: to raise a taskforce and sail to the Falklands. The British recovered the Islands.
As a result of that, I really believe that Thatcher put the ‘Great’ back into ‘Great Britain.’ It was a very austere time… But she really did have an iron will.
Each year, on her birthday, we on the Islands used to send Thatcher a big bouquet of flowers. Our representative in London would deliver them to her personally.
The second time I met Thatcher was in 1992, when she came to see how the islands were progressing 10 years after the conflict. I think she was quite impressed. The economy had really taken off. A fishing zone had been established. New houses had been built. People had a brand new confidence. That was all due to Mrs. Thatcher.
On that occasion, I sat next to Thatcher: at a dinner at Government House.
What did we talk about? Oh, just about anything you can imagine. She was very easy to talk to. I got the impression that she liked you to tell her what you thought, instead of what you thought she wanted to hear.
Interview by Katie Engelhart
Patrick Minford is a professor of Applied Economics at Cardiff University. In 1981, inflation was climbing and Brits were rioting. A total of 384 leading British economists (including the Governor of the Bank of England) issued a joint statement, condemning Thatcherite economic policy. Minford gained notoriety by publicly defending the Prime Minister, in an article in The Times.
In the 1970s, Britain’s economy was in serious trouble. Growth slowed because of industrial inefficiency. Unemployment was rising. Fiscal and monetary stimulus only produced high inflation, which reached 25 per cent in 1975. As a member of the Heath government, Mrs. Thatcher watched in helpless frustration as the policies failed.
As Prime Minister, she faced overwhelming odds. It is hard now to recreate the thinking of that time, by the men who shaped British economic policy. (Yes, as the Iron Lady has reminded us, they were almost entirely men.) To them, policy consisted of using stimulative demand policies [which overlooked] ‘supply-side’ forces…
The first Thatcher government’s task was the reversal of this thinking. [Thatcher believed that] inflation must be cured by restraining government excess.
The biggest political fight was over the 1981 Budget. This cut the budget deficit at what seemed to be the deepest point of the recession. The knives were out and 364 economists famously joined in an attack on her.
My view was that budgetary toughness was vital to creating confidence. I therefore defended Thatcher policies against my fellow economists vigorously, in a Times article, though I was sadly a lone voice.
Typically, she wrote me a personal letter with reassuring words.
Fortunately, attempts to get rid of her and reverse the policies failed. The economy recovered well from around that time and by 1983 it was growing robustly.
Reform on this scale means massive change, and such change is bound to be unpopular. But most of the reforms were accompanied by measures that were aimed at compensating those harshly affected. In Wales, Mrs. Thatcher sanctioned large inward transfers, to help replace coal and steel with new industries.
Margaret Thatcher is seen by some as the promoter of the ‘get-rich-quick’, ‘me-first’ society. But she herself was a non-conformist and saw the creation of business riches as a means to endow the Good Samaritan.
Would we rather be poor?
The truth is that Thatcher saved us from economic disaster and turned Britain once more into an engine of economic progress. For this we must treasure and honour her memory.
Interview by Katie Engelhart