The Ribble Valley Conservatives would like to pay tribute to Margaret Thatcher, a very great prime minister, a giant in political terms in her era, the Iron Lady, a politician with a strong vision of how she wanted to see Britain.
The grocer’s daughter from Grantham came from relative humble origins to obtain a chemistry degree from Oxford University and eventually make her way to the House of Commons. She stood for the leadership of the Conservative Party at a time when it was unheard of for a woman to lead a great national party. She smashed the political glass ceiling for women in politics forever.
As a visionary, she believed in the property-owning meritocracy which she herself epitomised. Her view of allowing everyone owning their home was pursued by the innovation of encouraging council house sales to tenants, allowing millions to own their home.
She saw the state-owned huge swathes of British industry and introduced privatisation, shrinking the size of the state to its core functions, allowing private enterprise to run commerce.
The companies created increased the number of private shareholders from three million to 12 million and seeing the arrival of giants like British Aerospace and British Telecom; new companies ready to embrace the new technologies without the dead hand of the state holding them back.
She recognised that Britain was not competitive in the world and needed to free the industrial workers from the tyranny of the trade unions who promoted secondary picketing, opposed secret ballots, believed in the undemocratic factory car park show of hands meetings and sympathy strikes. In a series of Employment Acts she introduced democracy to the workplace and protected those who wanted to work rather than strike. She changed the nature of our industrial relations forever and as a consequence made Britain more competitive, creating an inward investment-friendly economy.
Economically the grocer’s daughter understood Britain could not live above its income. Her tight fiscal and monetary policy gained respect from world bankers. She also understood the supply side of the economy and recognised that lowering taxation for all was an important way to stimulate the economy and give to the man and woman in the street more of their hard-earned money to spend. This was tempered by vast increases in spending on the NHS and huge reform of the benefits system. The vulnerable were protected and her support for the police never wavered.
She was a passionate believer in the importance of Britain in the world and was determined not to be pushed about in the EU where she negotiated a rebate in our contribution which still exists. One of her greatest achievements was involving Britain in the European single market for free trade. However, she was always an outspoken critic of federalism.
By refusing to allow Argentina to occupy the Falkand Islands, she raised the respect and stock of the UK in the world. Men like President Gorbachev of Russia recognised her strengths and Britain punched above its weight in world diplomacy. She appreciated that the USSR was a military, not an economic power. By supporting American presidents, the arms race came to end resulting in the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of communism.
Her great strength was the lady was not for turning. She had a supreme intellect and read all the long versions of every policy, not the short document prepared for Cabinet ministers. All government ministers knew woe betide you if the boss found you wanting on the detail.
When the hunger striker Bobby Sands died in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland, she shed tears but knew democracy can never allow the terrorists to win. That brought new approaches and was the first step in the long march to the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland.
History will treat her well and recognise her achievements.
To the Conservatives she was not just a winner of three elections but a strong inspirational leader at a turning point in the development of Britain, and she will be remembered with real affection and respect.
For those of us who served under Margaret Thatcher, it was a great privilege to be led by such a giant of British politics. She has left her mark and can say ‘In the lives of the British people I made a difference.’
Kenneth Hind CBE (MP for West Lancs 1983 to 1992, now Ribble Valley councillor)