It seems a cruel twist of fate that, just nine days into Conservatives for Liberty’s existence, the world should lose one of freedom’s greatest champions. Margaret Thatcher has been an inspiration to just about every Conservative I have ever met and did more than any prime minister since Churchill to preserve and expand the liberties of this great island. For this she will never be forgotten.
We all have our own things to be thankful for. Personally I will always remember Margaret Thatcher as the woman who converted a conflicted young socialist to the Conservative party. It was in Thatcher’s People – a book by John Ranelagh published in 1991 – that I first read of her banging Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty on the table before declaring ‘This is what we believe.’
It was that grit and dogged determination, together with a sincere desire to greater spread wealth, opportunity and success throughout this country that overwhelmed that young student. My little ‘know your enemy’ exercise was backfiring as I found myself actually rather admiring these people and the things they achieved and before long I was reading The Constitution of Liberty on my lunch breaks at Starbucks – a bit of a turnaround from the Trotsky I’d been reading not long before.
I’ve moved on a little since then and, as a journalist, have great reason to be thankful to Margaret Thatcher for her 1960 maiden speech. This saw the introduction of the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Bill which, once it became law, enshrined the right of journalists to attend meetings of local government and public bodies. I have with glee cited this Act on a number of occasions in often heated exchanges and believe strongly that, at a time when freedom of the press is being undermined by government, it says something about Margaret Thatcher’s vision that she began her career with this Bill.
I have had the great fortune of meeting Margaret Thatcher, only once, at a Bruges Group reception in January 2010. Held in a large London town house, there were the usual speeches and canapes in an overcrowded, sweltering, upstairs room. Then the guest of honour arrived. I will never forget my astonishment at what came next. Here I was watching an 85-year-old woman spend a good hour making her way around a packed room pressing the flesh, chatting, posing for photos – all without a whiff of complaint.
That was why Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s greatest peacetime leader – why she was able to free this country from the sickness of socialism, millions from the dead hand of communism and the Falklanders from a fascist Argentine dictatorship. She truly was The Iron Lady and her legacy makes me proud, more than anything else, to be a Conservative – and a Conservative for Liberty at that.