On November 28th 1990 the world watched in disbelief as Margaret Thatcher, a woman whos grip on power seemed so unshakable, left Downing Street with tears in her eyes. The Iron Lady had been toppled in the most unceremonious of fashions and she left behind a party at war with itself, a war with which we are only just coming to terms. As Ken Clarke, one of her bitterest opponents at the time said many years later ‘If I was doing an academic thesis I would say that the problems the Conservative party have faced in the last decade come from the fall of Margaret Thatcher and the circumstances’. Clarke and many of those who pushed her from power now, in hindsight, recognise it was a disastorous mistake which would result in a decade of opposition and infighting. Her fall left a bitterness and poison within the party that we have still failed to come to terms with.
But ultimately today is Thatchers day and a time to look back and reflect on the end of a remarkable premiership. And nothing became Margaret Thatcher’s prime ministership more than her leaving of it. The last big performance of her premiership, delivered on the 23rd November, was a commanding one; a dying aria that played to a packed and enchanted House. Few have commanded the same intrigue, the same love and indeed the same hatred as Margaret Thatcher. Yet few have left office with such innumerable accomplishments to their name.
The first woman leader of the opposition, the first woman Prime Minister, the longest serving Prime Minister since Salisbury, 3 general election victories including 2 landslides, record lows of inflation, record share and property ownership, a revolutionary figure who transformed Britain’s stagnant economy, tamed the unions, fought for the people of the Falklands, contributed to ending the Cold War and re-established Britain as a world power again. These are but a few of Margaret Thatchers accomplishments and they like her failings are part of her life and record. You can love or loathe Margaret Thatcher but you cannot be indifferent to her. Today marks a momentous day in Britains political history. 18 years to the day after she left office she is regarded by many millions of people as Britains greatest ever peacetime Prime Minister and her name still looms large over British political debate. But ultimately, despite the ravings of her dilluded detractors, Thatchers legacy is clear: She saved the nation and redefined the paradigms of political debate.
I and many others within the party and indeed the country were, are and will ever remain utterly devoted to her for the courage and conviction she showed during some of the darkest and most trying times in our history. Her message and her reforms were tough and sadly greatness and controversy will always go hand in hand. Abaraham Lincoln paid for doing what was right for his country with his life, Thatcher has paid for it with her reputation in some parts of the country but history has proven her right. That is enough. Today we mark the passing of an extraordinary chapter in British political history determined to remember and respect a most remarkable woman.