Margaret Thatcher 1923-2013: A Churchillian Remembrance

Margaret Thatcher 1923-2013: A Churchillian Remembrance

Margaret Thatcher: Excerpted from a tribute, 2013

Every­one is famil­iar with Mar­garet Thatcher’s career. Every­one depend­ing on their pol­i­tics will have their own vision. It is left to say here what she meant to the mem­o­ry of Win­ston Churchill, the prime min­is­ter she revered above all. More than any­one who lived at 10 Down­ing Street, she had real appre­ci­a­tion for him. She read his books, quot­ed him fre­quent­ly, even host­ed a din­ner for his fam­i­ly and sur­viv­ing mem­bers of his wartime coalition.

In 1993 she was in Wash­ing­ton to coin­cide with a Churchill Con­fer­ence host­ing 500 peo­ple, includ­ing 140 stu­dents, a dozen lumi­nar­ies, and ambas­sadors from Britain and the Com­mon­wealth. Ambas­sador Sir Robin Ren­wick kind­ly host­ed a recep­tion for her and us at the British Embassy, invit­ing Col­in Pow­ell and Cas­par Wein­berg­er. Here I first caught sight of the famous leader, though my wife, a much bet­ter talk­er, spent more time chat­ting with her.

I did over­hear a con­ver­sa­tion between Lady Thatch­er and Gen­er­al Pow­ell, which at the time I thought sin­gu­lar. “Now Col­in,” she was say­ing in her most pow­er­ful tones, “you must do it—you know you must. There is no get­ting around your duty.” I am told she was ask­ing him to use his influ­ence in solv­ing the strife in Bosnia that had erupt­ed the pre­vi­ous year.

Falklands reveries

She gave an elo­quent lit­tle speech thank­ing Amer­i­ca for sup­port­ing Britain in the 1982 Falk­lands War. The next evening at the Mayflower Hotel, I was seat­ed next to for­mer U.S. Ambas­sador to the Unit­ed Nations Jeane Kirk­patrick. She want­ed to know what Lady Thatch­er had said.

Unknow­ing, I repeat­ed her words: “Many voic­es in Amer­i­ca were opposed to help­ing Britain. But Cap Wein­berg­er was not one of those voices.”

There was a pause. Then Mrs. Kirk­patrick said qui­et­ly: “I was one of those voices.”

Real­iz­ing my gaffe, but opt­ing for Napoleon’s “l’audace, tou­jours l’audace,” I screwed up my courage and replied: “But you were wrong, weren’t you?”

An even long pause ensued, bring­ing to mind Churchill’s remark: It cer­tain­ly seemed longer than the two min­utes which one observes in the com­mem­o­ra­tions of Armistice Day.”

Final­ly Ambas­sador Kirk­patrick kind­ly said: “Yes, on reflec­tion, I prob­a­bly was.” I think this showed the pow­er of per­son­al­i­ty that Mar­garet Thatch­er exert­ed, even on those who had dis­agreed with her.

Lady Thatcher and The Dream

At the Embassy I pre­sent­ed her with a fine­ly bound copy of Churchill’s 1947 short sto­ry, The Dream. There­in he tells the ghost of his father all that hap­pened since Lord Ran­dolph Churchill died in 1895. At one point, Win­ston says there are now women in the House of Com­mons. “Not many,” he assures his flab­ber­gast­ed papa. “They have found their level.”

Lady Thatch­er wrote me that she stayed up all that night read­ing the sto­ry. Lat­er she remarked, “I roared at that one.”

“He’s with me.”

We met again at Ful­ton in 1996, when the Nation­al Churchill Muse­um marked the 50th anniver­sary of the “Iron Cur­tain” speech. They invit­ed Lady Thatch­er to give the address. After­wards, she was sur­round­ed by Ful­ton people—and by heavy security.

Celia Sandys asked, “Have you been ush­ered into The Pres­ence?” No, I said. “Fol­low me,” she replied, approach­ing the guard at the inner sanc­tum: “I am Sir Win­ston Churchill’s granddaughter—and he’s with me.” We were allowed in to say hello.

Pay­back: at din­ner that night, our gen­er­ous hosts induct­ed two new Fel­lows of the Churchill Memo­r­i­al. One was Mar­garet Thatch­er. The oth­er was me.

To my relief, they pre­sent­ed my gong first, which gave me a chance to say thanks and get out of the way:

“To receive this at the same time with the great­est prime min­is­ter since Win­ston Churchill is a unique expe­ri­ence.” I said that look­ing direct­ly at the great lady….who gave me a benig­nant wink.

The debt we owe

It was years before the grat­i­tude due to her was tot­ed up. As a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor in those years, I could not help but notice the pal­pa­ble improve­ment in the lot of Britons. Any­one who saw her in Par­lia­ment wit­nessed her dev­as­tat­ing effec­tive­ness in debate.

No one who admires prin­ci­ple and courage could help but admire her devo­tion to them, win or lose. The poll tax issue some say was her down­fall in 1992 man­i­fest­ed her prin­ci­ple that the cost of local gov­ern­ment should be paid by all, includ­ing those who pre­vi­ous­ly paid noth­ing, while vot­ing for everything.

Inter­na­tion­al­ly, she was always out front. Her reac­tion to tyrants, from Leopol­do Galti­eri to Sad­dam Hus­sein, was con­sis­tent. She was the first to say “we can do busi­ness” with Gor­bachev. More than talk, her sup­port of the Anglo-Amer­i­can alliance was an arti­cle of faith.

Her rela­tion­ship with Pres­i­dent Rea­gan was a mod­el we may nev­er see again. Yet when she dis­agreed, as over Grena­da or Strate­gic Defense, there was no doubt where she stood. She fought the good fight and made a huge dif­fer­ence, for a time.

I fear betimes that her era is past, lost in a col­lec­tivist and glob­al­ist dream. Be that as it may, I have no hes­i­ta­tion in para­phras­ing Sir Winston’s words about Roo­sevelt. She was the great­est British friend we have known since Churchill, and one of the great­est cham­pi­ons of free­dom who ever brought help and com­fort from the old world to the new.

Further reading

“Mar­garet Thatch­er and Win­ston Churchill: Two Meet­ings,” 2023.

“Thatch­er to Con­gress, 1985: Worth Remem­ber­ing,” 2016.

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