To prepare the ground for our Great Leaders videos on Margaret Thatcher, we are posting blogs that examine her legacy. Having looked at a negative view of Thatcher here, we will now examine David Cameron’s glowing tribute to Thatcher, made in the House of Commons following her death in 2013.
In the long history of this Parliament, Margaret Thatcher was our first – and so far only – woman Prime Minister.
She won 3 elections in a row, serving this country for a longer continuous period than any Prime Minister for more than 150 years.
What she achieved – even before her 3 terms in office – was remarkable.
Those of us who grew up when Margaret Thatcher was already in Downing Street can sometimes fail to appreciate the thickness of the glass ceiling she broke through from a grocer’s shop in Grantham to the highest office in the land.
At a time when it was difficult for a woman to become a Member of Parliament, almost inconceivable that one could lead the Conservative Party and, by her own reckoning, virtually impossible that a woman could become Prime Minister – she did all 3.
It is also right to remember that she spent her whole premiership – and indeed much of her life – under direct, personal threat from the IRA.
She lost 2 of her closest Parliamentary colleagues – Airey Neave and Ian Gow – to terrorism.
And, of course, she herself was only inches away from death in a terrorist attack in 1984 and yet it was the measure of her leadership that she shook off the dust of that attack, and in an outstanding conference speech reminded us all why democracy must never give in to terror.
Margaret Thatcher was a remarkable type of leader.
She said, very clearly: I am not a consensus politician, but a conviction politician.
These convictions – linked profoundly with her upbringing and values – can be summed up in a few short phrases:
Sound money. Strong defence. Liberty under the rule of law.
You shouldn’t spend what you haven’t earned.
Governments don’t create wealth – businesses do.
The clarity of these convictions was applied with great courage to the problems of the age.
And the scale of her achievements is only apparent when you look back to Britain in the 1970s.
Successive governments had failed to deal with what was beginning to be called ‘the British disease’.
Appalling industrial relations. Poor productivity. Persistently high inflation.
Though it seems absurd today, the state had got so big that it owned our airports and airline, the phones in our houses, and trucks on our roads. They even owned a removal company.
The air was thick with defeatism; there was a sense that the role of government was simply to manage decline.
Margaret Thatcher rejected this defeatism.
She had a clear view about what needed to change.
Inflation was to be controlled – not by incomes policies, but by monetary and fiscal discipline.
Industries were to be set free into the private sector.
Trade unions should be handed back to their members.
People should be able to buy their own council homes.
Success in these endeavours was never assured.
Her political story was a perpetual battle.
As Tony Blair rightly said this week, Margaret Thatcher was one of the very few leaders who changed not only the political landscape of their own country, but the rest of the world too.
She was no starry-eyed internationalist, but again, her approach was rooted in simple, clear principles.
Strength abroad begins with strength at home.
Deterrence; not appeasement.
The importance of national sovereignty – which is why she fought so passionately for Britain’s interests in Europe and always believed Britain should retain its own currency.
Above all she believed to the core of her being that Britain stood for something in the world – for democracy, for the rule of law, for right over might.
She loathed Communism and believed in the invincible power of the human spirit to resist and ultimately defeat tyranny.
She never forgot that Warsaw, Prague and Budapest were great European cities, capitals of free nations temporarily trapped behind the Iron Curtain.
Today, in different corners of the world, there are millions of people who know that they owe their freedom, in part, to Margaret Thatcher.
In Kuwait, which she helped free from Saddam’s jackboot.
Across Eastern and Central Europe.
And of course, in the Falklands.
In a week from now, as people gather in London to lay Margaret Thatcher to rest, the sun will be rising over the Falklands.
And because of her courage, and the skill, bravery and sacrifice of our armed forces – it will rise again for freedom.
Mr Speaker, much has been said about the battles Margaret Thatcher fought.
She certainly did not shy from the fight – and that led to arguments, to conflict, yes: even to division.
But what is remarkable, looking back now, is how many of those arguments are no longer arguments at all.
No one wants to return to strikes called without a ballot.
No one believes that large industrial companies should be owned by the state.
The nuclear deterrent, NATO and the Special Relationship are widely accepted as the cornerstones of our security and defence policies.
We argue – sometimes passionately – about tax in this House; but none of us is arguing for a return to tax rates of 98%.
So many of the principles that Lady Thatcher fought for are now part of the accepted political landscape in our country.
As Winston Churchill once put it, there are some politicians who ‘make the weather’ – and Margaret Thatcher was undoubtedly one of them.
Mr Speaker, in the Members Lobby of the House of Commons there are rightly four statues.
Lloyd George – who gave us the welfare state.
Winston Churchill – who gave us victory in war.
Clement Attlee – who gave us the NHS.
And Margaret Thatcher – who rescued our country from post-war decline.
They say that cometh the hour, cometh the man.
Well in 1979 came the hour, and came The Lady.
She made the political weather.
She made history.
And let this be her epitaph: that she made our country great again.