The Sunday Times and Croissants : The Death of Baroness Thatcher – the passing of a leader.

The Sunday Times and Croissants 14th April

There is something special about Sunday morning, the Sunday Times, hot croissants with honey and butter, excellent.

Headlines – “Speaker’s wife snubs Thatcher funeral” - makes the headlines. Sally Bercow, the wife of the Commons speaker, has rejected an invitation to the funeral of Baroness Thatcher. Bercow, a prominent labour supporter, believes the Tory Prime Minister ushered in a “very greedy and selfish society”. What nonsense. Oh, how we blame others for the failures within ourselves. It is at best myopic, more probably a misdirection but overall a sad reflection of the failure to confront our own inadequacies.

Clearly, Bercow believes the miners strikes under Joe Gormley and the Winter of discontent action in the 1970s, all pre Thatcher, were driven by the spirit of altruism and self sacrifice, sweeping through the land in the face of rampant 20% plus inflation. What tosh.

Earlier this week, Helmut Kohl blamed Margaret Thatcher for the continued schism between Britain and Europe. Yeah, invading Poland didn’t help but we have to move on Helmut. The Prime Minister was merely grappling with the schisms within the Tory party. Out of office for over twenty years, it is time to confront the inadequacies within the Euroland structure perhaps. Hardly time to blame the Baroness.

Sally Bercow is in dispute with Alistair McAlpine. The Tory peer is suing for damages of up to £50,000 in relation to a misguided tweet. For the record, I am also in dispute with Lord McAlpine. He sold me a dinasour’s egg in the 1980s, for the princely sum of £1000 from his antiquities shop in West London. Well, it was the sort of thing you did in those days, suits from Tommy Nutter, shoes from Saville row, fossils from McAlpine, that sort of thing. No complaints really.

The news of Baroness Thatcher’s death this week, brought a profound personal sadness and provoked many memories. The Manchester Evening News called for comment but non was forthcoming from me. It is true, I was known as one of “Thatcher’s favourite businessmen” but I never really got that feeling, when with the leader. I was lucky enough to meet the Prime Minister many times. Lunch at Downing Street with Lord Hanson and Lord King, a reception at number Ten to meet Gorbachev and his charming wife Raisa. Shaking hands with the ex KGB leader, you couldn’t miss Gorbachev’s piercing eyes and the perception of somehow being connected to the Moscow ring main as part of some interrogation process.

Thatcher had a great “welcome at reception” technique. The Prime Minister would shake hands and drag you past in one smooth action, without too much time to speak. Your place in the hierarchy denoted by your dwell time in the line up. Mine was invariably short and sweet but it was still nice to be there.

Hector Laing, Lord Laing of Dunphail, was head of United Biscuits and became a good friend. He once invited me to lunch with the Prime Minister in Scotland. “The Prime Minister is staying with me for a few days” he said, “I will send my private plane to pick you”. He did, sure enough,  the UB jet picked me up at Manchester for a virtual one on one lunch on his private estate. The Prime Minister talked at length and rarely listened but it was a remarkable encounter nonetheless. I couldn’t help think, how can anyone be so knowledgeable, yet listen so little. The true benefit of a good reading list and four hours sleep per night perhaps.

Not everything the Prime Minister did was great. Towards the end, it was clearly a time for change, just as it was a time for change upon her arrival. The manner of the despatch, appalling, yielding to a closet Social Democrat, shocking. I have not voted since that day.

Many people either forget or are not aware of the state of Britain pre Thatcher. High inflation, interest rates near 20%, strike riven, ungovernable, rumours of a military coup. The lady came to rule the party and the country, dispatching the men in grey suits, the weak whisperers in the shadows, along the way. The Prime Minister delivered a defining agenda and provided direction.

Thanks to the Prime Minister, I was awarded a CBE in the 1990s honours list. It was remarkable, I am told the PM was pushing for a knighthood but that would have been a move too far. As it was, it proved too much for the men in grey suits and the whisperers in the shadows, they came to take it away seven years later.

So I have nothing but the greatest respect for a remarkable individual. Controversial yes, but such is the price for one who does things. Lady Thatcher should have an enormous monument in front of the Houses of Parliament, with men in grey suits cowering behind. A monument, such that her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat*.

Hope all is well, more news next week, oh – as for the tennis it was a 6- 4 win.

John

*Theodore Roosevelt “Citizenship in a Republic,” Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man [or woman] who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

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