St Stephen’s club in Westminster was re-opened in 1988 by the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Twenty two years later and a crowded St Stephen’s eagerly awaited the lady’s return.
Thatcher has been out of Downing Street for two decades but she continues to enjoy a remarkable Indian summer. We are all Thatcher’s children and it’s almost protocol for new Prime Ministers to invite her for tea. She has a bronze statue in the House of Commons and a room named after herself in Downing Street, honors usually bequeathed posthumously. She is one of few PMs to lend her name to an ‘ism’, and is recognised as one of the most influential statesmen of the 20th Century.
The Queensborough Room was like a who’s who of the Tory right. One time Chairman of the party Lord Parkinson charmed the crowd, the founder of the Freedom Association Major John Gouriet regailed us with stories of his war against the ‘enemy within’, and a rosey faced Dan Hannan mingled in the garden. Others included Thatcher’s former private secretary John Whittingdale, former Director of the Centre for Policy Studies Ruth Lea, and David Cameron’s leadership rival David Davis.
Who should be holding a book launch in the room next door but the Adam Smith Institute, part of the intellectual vanguard that swept Thatcher into Downing Street all those years ago. The institute’s long-serving leadership Madsen Pirie and Eamonn Butler were mingling with their increasingly youthful and dynamic membership.
Back in the Queensborough room excitement mounted as news that Thatcher had arrived rippled through the crowd. A gangway to the centre of the room was hastily formed and there was a lot of jostling for position. As the unmistakable figure of the former Prime Minister came into view applause spread. The frail but determined Baroness steadily made her way round the guests as they vied to shake her hand.
It was uncomfortably warm by this point and the former PM’s minders were looking nervous. She sat down overlooking the garden and one by one her young followers knelt reverently by her side for photographs. She looked amused by the attention and characteristically jabbed the air with her finger to underscore what she was saying. To a chorus of “Hip Hip Hooray” she gently bowed her head and progressed into another room.
It made for a cheering scene. For as long as I’ve been interested in politics Margaret Thatcher hasn’t been far from my thoughts. Looking upon her I felt a sense of familiarity, a good deal of awe, and a responsibility to ensure her values survive.