"I left her, I fear, at the mercy of her friends." Lord Tebbit
3.41 pmLord Tebbit: My Lords, I take my mind back to before I was elected to the House of Commons, when I spent a great deal of time abroad. Like so many of us at that time, I was constantly embarrassed at the sympathy that was offered to me by foreigners for the state into which Great Britain had descended. A few years later, I again spent a lot of time abroad, as the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The change could not have been greater in the admiration that was expressed for what had been done in this country. It was sometimes, I thought, slightly over the top. I could never quite get my mind around the remark made to me in Italy: "Oh, if only we had a Thatcher here!". Can one imagine the concept of an Italian Margaret Thatcher?
Noble Lords: Ha!
Lord Tebbit: The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, would indeed have had some problems then, I fancy.
We should also come to some kind of consensus here today that there were two quite remarkable Prime Ministers of post-war Great Britain: two Prime Ministers who actually changed the country and did so in the way they wanted to change it. They did not sit as change happened round about them. They were Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher. We have accommodated ourselves to many of the things which Clement Attlee did, although many of us would have opposed them at the time. Even some of those in his party, of course, opposed his policy on British membership of NATO and possession of nuclear weapons, for example; and we, on our side, for much of what he did in the social services area.
We should also recollect that Lady Thatcher came into office in 1979 somewhat against the odds that would have been offered a year or so earlier, because of the winter of discontent. The trades union generals had brought down Ted Heath's Government. They brought down Jim Callaghan's Government. They brought into office the Government of Lady Thatcher. They expected, particularly Master Scargill, to bring down her Government, too. What would have become of our democracy had they succeeded?
How many Prime Ministers could have defeated them and preserved our democracy? How many of those who saw her in her early days as Prime Minister would have dreamt that in partnership with Ronald Reagan she would have precipitated the end of the Cold War and the bringing down of the Berlin Wall? It was she, of course, who observed that Prague was not in eastern Europe but at the centre of Europe. That is a geographical fact. One of my regrets is that her successors did not sufficiently exploit what she had done, and that we have left those other Europeans-the Russians-still rather outside the European family and compact. There is still much to be done.
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It is often said of her, and we have heard it again today, that she was divisive. However, there were two great influences in her life. One was her scientific training-and I am particularly glad that the noble Lord, Lord May, mentioned that aspect of her life. The other, of course, was her religious belief. If I may observe to right reverend Prelates, there is a precedent for being divisive: there are sheep and there are goats. The noble Baroness was aware from both her scientific training and her religious beliefs that there are things that are right and things that are wrong, technically, scientifically and morally. She pursued that which she believed to be right. I must say that as her party chairman I found that my life was made much easier by my understanding of the certainties of her beliefs. She never asked me to commission a focus group. Had I been asked I would have resisted manfully, I hope. What is more, if I woke in the morning, turned on the radio and heard the BBC's version of the news of the day I would know what her reaction would be to the news because of the certainty of the construct of her beliefs. It made life very much easier for me.
I should also like to say how grateful I will always be for the fact that she gave me the opportunity to serve in high office the country that she, I, and I believe all of us here, love. I am also grateful to her for that other side of her character, for the support that she gave to my wife and me after we were injured. No doubt somebody in this House will correct me, but I cannot think of a precedent for a Secretary of State remaining in office as Secretary of State although absent from the Cabinet for over three months. She allowed me to run my office from my hospital bed. Admittedly, I had the support of two splendid civil servants in particular who ran my private office, both of whom have appeared again in other roles: Mr Callum McCarthy, and another fellow who I believe has achieved high office somewhere more recently; he was the Secretary of State for Health not long ago. They were quality people, but it was she who backed me and allowed me to continue.
I did not always agree with her, because I have some rather strong convictions and views, too. I recollect one occasion when I left her office at No. 10, walked back to Victoria Street, got into my office and asked my Private Secretary if there had been any calls from No. 10. "No, Secretary of State", he said, so I knew then that I was still the Secretary of State while I was walking back.
Of course, she was brought down in the end not by the electorate but by her colleagues. Not only is it quite remarkable that she won three elections running-someone else has done that since-what was remarkable was that she polled slightly more votes on the occasion of her third victory, when she had been in office for eight years, than on her first. I regard that as a triumph for her.
My regrets? Because of the commitments that I made to my own wife, I did not feel able either to continue in government after 1987 or to return to government when she later asked me to do so. I left her, I fear, at the mercy of her friends. That I do regret.
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