South Downs MP pays tribute to Margaret Thatcher

Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert has described his memories of Margaret Thatcher in his weekly column for the West Sussex County Times.

Tuesday, 9th April 2013, 10:36 am
10 mar 1989 Purley rail crash, commuter train derailed killing local horsham workers on way to London PM Margaret Thatcher visits injured SC

I was in my first job as a young researcher for the Conservative Party when, the day after our vote collapsed in two by-elections, the Prime Minister came to Conservative Central Office to steady the ship.

The year was 1986 and Mrs Thatcher, at the height of her powers, had already won two general elections. But the Government was behind in the polls and many convinced themselves that we could lose to Labour.

Mrs Thatcher was having none of it. Addressing the entire Party staff, she announced that we would not only win the next election (we did, in 1987) but the one after that, too (we did, in 1992, if without her).

Our goal, she said, must be to ensure that when the opposition party finally did win an election, they were fit to govern, sharing our fundamental beliefs, in the same way as the Democrats and the Republicans did in the US.

Her mission, she concluded, was to destroy socialism. (She did, and New Labour was born.) It was electrifying.

Years later, after Mrs Thatcher was deposed as Prime Minister, I joined a house party for a weekend where she was the principal guest.

Two of us got into a fierce debate with her. She destroyed us. I knew we had lost when I heard my friend say, unwisely, “But Lady Thatcher, the focus groups are telling us....”

He never completed the sentence. “Focus groups”, she thundered, “focus groups? Do you think I got anywhere by consulting focus groups? You weakling!”

I remember being shocked in the mid-1970s when I heard my grandfather, a prominent industrialist, despairing that Britain was finished.

He later came to believe, as I do, that Margaret Thatcher saved our country.

If you would like to get in touch with Nick Herbert, write to him at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA, or e-mail [email protected]