Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher: Two Meetings

Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher: Two Meetings

Excerpt­ed from “Churchill and Mar­garet Thatch­er,” my essay for the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project. For the orig­i­nal arti­cle with end­notes and more images, click here. To sub­scribe to week­ly arti­cles from Hills­dale-Churchill, click here, scroll to bot­tom, and fill in your email in the box enti­tled “Stay in touch with us.” Your email address is nev­er giv­en out and remains a rid­dle wrapped in a mys­tery inside an enigma.

Q: How often did Margaret Thatcher meet Winston Churchill?

In a recent pod­cast, Steve Win­duss inter­viewed Bill Mur­ray, son of Churchill’s long­time body­guard Edmund Mur­ray. Bill recount­ed a 1964 meet­ing between WSC and Mar­garet Thatch­er. Were there any oth­er encoun­ters?” —P.R., England

A: Twice, in 1950 and 1964

Charles Moore’s From Dart­ford to the Falk­lands, his biog­ra­phy of Mar­garet Thatch­er, describes what he thought at the time was their only meet­ing. It occurred in Jan­u­ary 1950, when 25-year-old Mar­garet Roberts (as she then was), ran for Par­lia­ment for the first time.

The con­test­ed seat was Dart­ford, Kent, then a Labour Par­ty strong­hold, held by Labour’s pop­u­lar Nor­man Dodds. Miss Roberts ran a spir­it­ed cam­paign. A famous Churchill asso­ciate, Bill Deedes (lat­er Lord Deedes), who did win a seat in that elec­tion, remarked: “Once she opened her mouth, the rest began to look rather second-rate.”

Roberts reduced Dodds’s pre­vi­ous major­i­ty by 6000 votes over the com­bined Con­ser­v­a­tive-Lib­er­al com­pe­ti­tion. In 1951 she ran again, a one-on-one match, cut­ting into Dodds’s lead again. It was the begin­ning of a career that would see Mar­garet Thatch­er elect­ed for Finch­ley in 1959. And the rest is history.

Churchill’s endorsement

Bill Mur­ray revealed that Churchill wrote a let­ter endors­ing Mar­garet Roberts’ candidacy:

We have set out the meth­ods by which we Con­ser­v­a­tives intend—if returned to power—to restore our nation­al finances, regain our inde­pen­dence, and set our coun­try once more on the high­way to even­tu­al pros­per­i­ty. Miss Mar­garet Roberts, the Con­ser­v­a­tive can­di­date, is pledged to sup­port this pol­i­cy, which I com­mend to you. I ask you to give her your votes in the full con­fi­dence that she will dis­charge her par­lia­men­tary duties by com­bin­ing the care of your inter­ests with the inter­est of the British nation.

There is no indi­ca­tion that they met in the cam­paign, but the stage was set for an encounter. On 7 June 1950, Mar­garet Roberts was the “youth speak­er” offer­ing a vote of thanks to Churchill at a par­ty ral­ly at the Roy­al Albert Hall. This was a mass meet­ing of 7000 mem­bers of the Con­ser­v­a­tive Women’s Association.

“The Win­ston meet­ing went off quite well,” she wrote her sis­ter. I was absolute­ly ter­ri­fied of the enor­mous audi­ence but got through all right. Every­one was very flat­ter­ing about it.” Alas, Moore writes, “there is no record or mem­o­ry of the pri­vate words that she and Churchill exchanged or of what she said in her vote of thanks.” For­tu­nate­ly for his­to­ry, there is a com­plete record of Churchill’s.

“The noble structure of State-planned controls…”

It was a grand, rol­lick­ing ral­ly that Churchill rose to address. In the Jan­u­ary elec­tion, the Con­ser­v­a­tives had gained 90 seats, only 16 short of Labour. Com­bined with the ten Lib­er­als, whom Churchill was overt­ly court­ing, they were close to a major­i­ty. It was obvi­ous that Prime Min­is­ter Attlee would have to go to the coun­try again, soon. Churchill took aim at the bureau­crat­ic super-state he saw devel­op­ing under what he always referred to as “the Socialists”:

Three years ago I pro­claimed the watch-words, “set the peo­ple free.” What a clam­our the Social­ists raised at that. How shock­ing, they exclaimed, that any­one should seek to weak­en that noble struc­ture of State-planned con­trols and reg­u­la­tions enforced by two mil­lion offi­cials, nation­al and local, by which alone we could be kept alive. But now we see them on all sides cast­ing away these very restric­tions and con­trols which they assured us were the only means by which we could enter the brave new world from which they are run­ning away so fast with their tails between their legs (laugh­ter).

“An experiment in freedom”?

With words that res­onate today—when we face the same sort of atti­tude by a reg­u­la­to­ry state vying to rule us—Churchill then turned to Hugh Dal­ton, Labour’s Min­is­ter of Town and Coun­try Plan­ning. In sum­ma­riz­ing a minor roll­back of reg­u­la­tions, Dal­ton had declared: “This is an exper­i­ment in free­dom. Be care­ful you do not abuse it.”

Was there ever a bet­ter exam­ple of the Sta­tist mind­set, then or now? Churchill was outraged:

Could you have any­thing more char­ac­ter­is­tic of the Social­ist rulers’ out­look towards the pub­lic? Free­dom is a favour; it is an exper­i­ment which the gov­ern­ing class of Social­ist politi­cians will imme­di­ate­ly cur­tail if they are dis­pleased with our behavior.

What a way to talk to the British peo­ple! As a race we have been exper­i­ment­ing in free­dom, not entire­ly with­out suc­cess, for sev­er­al cen­turies, accord­ing to what I read in the his­to­ry books, and have spread the ideas of free­dom wide­ly through­out the world. And yet, here is this Min­is­ter, who speaks to us as if it lay with him to dole out our lib­er­ties as if he were giv­ing bis­cuits to a dog who will sit up and beg pret­ti­ly. But all I can say is that we have chopped off sev­er­al bet­ter heads than Dalton’s in the past.

Oh dear, that would be deemed very offen­sive nowa­days. But it seems to be all right to hold up the sev­ered mock-head of unpop­u­lar pres­i­dents across the pond.

Fourteen years on: 1964

Charles Moore wrote that 1950 was Mar­garet Thatcher’s only meet­ing with Churchill, but the recent pod­cast reminds us of anoth­er. Bill Mur­ray explained that his father Edmund, Churchill’s body­guard, first met Thatch­er in March 1964. As the elder Mur­ray wrote, they met in a trou­bling circumstance.

Eddie’s daugh­ter Aileen, return­ing home one night, was fol­lowed by a stalk­er near a patch of wood in East Finch­ley. The police found no trace of him, but Eddie believed the mis­cre­ant had shel­tered in a bad­ly fenced wood. Since it was in Mrs. Thatcher’s con­stituen­cy, he called her to com­plain. The very next day

I had a let­ter from her pri­vate sec­re­tary, and the day after she came to see my wife and me and was very kind indeed and promised to look into the ques­tion of the rail­ings. The next time I went to look, months lat­er, new rail­ings had been erect­ed and the wood was only open dur­ing hours of day­light, hav­ing new strong gates that were locked at night.

MPs usu­al­ly didn’t vis­it indi­vid­ual con­stituents, but Mrs. Thatch­er knew Mur­ray from Churchill’s vis­its to the House of Com­mons. Giv­en the awe she felt for Sir Win­ston, it is believ­able that she went out of her way to assist.

The second meeting

Sergeant Mur­ray next describes how his encounter with Mar­garet Thatch­er led to her sec­ond meet­ing with Sir Winston:

Mrs. Thatch­er could nev­er pass the door to the [House of Com­mons] Smok­ing Room, when she saw me stand­ing out­side, with­out look­ing through the glass of the door to see my boss. I sug­gest­ed that Sir Win­ston would be very hap­py to meet her, but she was always too shy to go in. How­ev­er, there did come a day when she came along the cor­ri­dor in front of the Smok­ing Room when I was there with Sir Win­ston, just on our way towards the lift and the car. With great plea­sure I was able to tell Sir Win­ston as I intro­duced him to the lady who was one day to fill the seat he had been so proud to hold as Prime Min­is­ter of our great coun­try, that she had helped me in a domes­tic mat­ter. They shook hands and I felt at the time that Mrs. Thatch­er was a very hap­py woman. Sir Win­ston beamed at her, seem­ing to indi­cate that he was also very hap­py that one of his par­ty could spend time help­ing one of his friends.

Per Murray’s account, it is hard to imag­ine the Iron Lady, always known for forth­right­ness, being shy about any­body. But Mar­garet Thatcher’s respect for Churchill was life­long. And Churchill’s words on the reg­u­la­to­ry state in 1950 could have been her own words, 30 years lat­er. When it came to lib­er­ty, nei­ther of them was for turning.

Audio and further reading

“Mar­garet Thatch­er 1923-2013: A Churchillian Remem­brance,” 2020

Scroll to “Eddie’s Shan­non Expe­ri­ence” in Lec­tures at Sea, 2019.

John O’Sullivan, “Mar­garet Thatch­er: A Lega­cy of Free­dom,” Hills­dale Col­lege Imprim­is, 2008.

One thought on “Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher: Two Meetings

  1. Thank you for refer­ring back to my pod­cast in your arti­cle above. As you men­tioned, the source of infor­ma­tion for that episode, “Edmund, Churchill and Thatch­er,” was Bill Mur­ray, son of Edmund Mur­ray, WC’s body­guard for the last 15 years of his life. It was a fas­ci­nat­ing con­ver­sa­tion and talk­ing about Churchill’s meet­ing with Mar­garet Thatch­er was par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing. When I hunt­ed around for more infor­ma­tion on this meet­ing after talk­ing with Bill, I was sur­prised that the only arti­cles I could find relat­ing to the sub­ject sug­gest­ed that Churchill and Thatch­er nev­er met, which you and I know not to be cor­rect. So I was par­tic­u­lar­ly pleased to see that you have writ­ten this excel­lent arti­cle putting the record straight and in doing so, giv­ing my propo­si­tion in the pod­cast some addi­tion­al credibility.

    Thanks, Steve, and com­pli­ments to you for an infor­ma­tive pod­cast. -RML

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