To mark the tenth anniversary on 13 January of the unveiling of a portrait of Lady Thatcher, here again is my piece from then about that fine event. It was posted over at the late lamented PunditWire site that has vanished from the Internet
* * * * *
Several years back I had the great pleasure of taking part in a small private dinner at which Baroness Thatcher was the guest of honour.
By then she was frail, but still well able to capture the table with some steely wit and insight. I was struck by how often she cited her Christian beliefs, mustering a heartening consensus that Jesus had been more than ‘sound’ in his stout conservative principles.
As the dinner concluded she wistfully said that she was so grateful to have such friends who appreciated her work:
No-one ever says thank you to politicians
She had a point there. In the way democracy works, a leader who appeals to roughly half the population is likely to annoy the other half. Hapless politicians trying to maneuver between these two camps (and actually get something done) incur resentment from their opponents for doing the wrong things, and from their supporters for cutting corners. Gratitude? Not on anyone’s ToDo list.
Not long after this dinner I was invited to an event hosted at the Carlton Club in London by the Conservative Friends of Poland for the unveiling of a splendid new portrait of Lady Thatcher by the UK/Polish artist Barbara Kaczmarowska Hamilton. This one, I think.
My friend Teresa Potocka as CFoP Chair had to introduce the evening. I suggested to her that she work in to her short speech an explicit message of thanks to Lady Thatcher for her staunch support for the cause of freedom in Poland. (In case readers have forgotten how Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher championed the Solidarity movement against the then decaying communist regime, see this short video clip of her famous 1988 visit to Gdansk.)
Teresa’s words on the night in Lady Thatcher’s presence won a warm ovation from the large crowd of distinguished guests:
The end of the Second World War led to long decades of communist oppression in Poland and elsewhere in central and eastern Europe.
Lady Thatcher, in those dark years of martial law you were a symbol of hope and freedom for the Polish people. I grew up in the eighties and remember when you visited Poland on November 3rd, 1988 and became the first British Prime Minister to make an official visit to Poland. A momentous event.
Working closely with Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan and Lech Walesa, you helped bring freedom back to Poland – and bring down the Iron Curtain once and for all. A towering achievement in the history of Conservative politics.
As you said in your speech to the Polish Senate on October 3rd 1991:
For both of us the idea we have of our country is inseparable from our mission to defend and extend the reign of freedom
The defiant words emblazoned on the banners of Poland’s freedom fighters in the nineteenth century would find an echo in any British heart: “For Your Freedom, and Ours”
People rarely say Thank you to politicians. Let me say it today on behalf of CFoP.
Thank you for what you did for this country, and for Poland.
This gracious incorporation of the personal touch was just right for the occasion. Everyone there – not least Lady Thatcher herself – was moved.
By contrast part of the statement of President Obama on Lady Thatcher’s death struck a rather odd note, to my British ear at least:
As a grocer’s daughter who rose to become Britain’s first female prime minister, she stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered. As prime minister, she helped restore the confidence and pride that has (sic) always been the hallmark of Britain at its best.
Imagine saying about a just deceased Barack Obama something like “As an African-American who rose to be the first black American president, he stands as an example to all people of color that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered”. Does it not somehow subtly qualify a lifetime of achievement by defining it in terms of a diversity target cliché?
The whole point of Margaret Thatcher’s life was that she just did not think like that, and had little time for people who do.
But this was strong and generous and appropriate:
Here in America, many of us will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply carried along by the currents of history – we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will.
American readers wanting a definitive look at Margaret Thatcher’s philosophy can do no better than this transcript of a major TV interview before the 1987 election. The very words she uses sound now like something from a different universe:
You have stamped your image on Conservative party like no previous leader. We never heard of Macmillanism; Heathism; Churchillism. We hear of Thatcherism. What does it mean?
Let me tell you what it stands for. It stands for sound finance and Government running the affairs of the nation in a sound financial way
It stands for honest money – not inflation
It stands for living within your means
It stands for incentives because we know full well that the growth, the economic strength of the nation comes from the efforts of its people. Its people need incentives to work as hard as they possibly can. All that has produced economic growth
It stands for something else. It stands for the wider and wider spread of ownership of property, of houses, of shares, of savings. It stands for being strong in defence – a reliable ally and a trusted friend
People call those things Thatcherism; they are, in fact, fundamental common sense and having faith in the enterprise and abilities of the people
It was my task to try to release those. They were always there; they have always been there in the British people, but they couldn’t flourish under Socialism
They have now been released. That’s all that Thatcherism is
Dare one hope that Brexit might bring back a nice slice of that?