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HAMILTON, New Zealand – It will be from heaven that Margaret Thatcher, the greatest friend the United States ever had, will observe the now-inescapable disintegration of the dismal European tyranny-by-clerk whose failure she foresaw even as it brought her down.
Margaret was unique: a fierce champion of people against government, taxpayers against bureaucrats, workers against unions, Us against Them, free markets against state control, privatization against nationalization, liberty against socialism, democracy against Communism, prosperity against national bankruptcy, law against international terrorism, independence against global governance; a visionary among pygmies; a doer among dreamers; a statesman among politicians; a destroyer of tyrannies from arrogant Argentina via incursive Iraq to the savage Soviet Union.
It is a measure of the myopia and ingratitude of her parliamentary colleagues that, when she famously said “No, no, no!” at the despatch-box in response to a scheming proposal by the unelected arch-Kommissar of Brussels that the European Parliament of Eunuchs should supplant national parliaments and that the hidden cabal of faceless Kommissars should become Europe’s supreme government and the fumbling European Council its senile senate, they ejected her from office and, in so doing, resumed the sad, comfortable decline of the nation that she had briefly and gloriously made great again.
Never did she forget the special relationship that has long and happily united the Old Country to the New. She shared the noble ambition of your great president, Ronald Reagan, that throughout the world all should have the chance to live the life, enjoy the liberty, and celebrate the happiness that your Founding Fathers had bequeathed to you in their last Will and Testament, the Constitution of the United States. I know that my many friends in your athletic democracy will mourn her with as heartfelt a sense of loss as my own.
The sonorous eulogies and glittering panegyrics will be spoken by others greater than I. But I, who had the honor to serve as one of her six policy advisers at the height of her premiership, will affectionately remember her and her late husband, Denis, not only for all that they did but for all that they were; not only for the great acts of state but for the little human kindnesses to which they devoted no less thought and energy.
When Britain’s greatest postwar prime minister was fighting a losing battle for her political life, I wrote her a letter urging her to fight on against the moaning Minnies who had encircled her. Within the day, though she was struggling to govern her country while parrying her party, she wrote back to me in her own hand, to say how grateful she was that I had written and to promise that if she could carry on she would.
I had neither expected nor deserved a reply: but that master of the unexpected gave me the undeserved. For no small part of her success lay in the unfailing loyalty she inspired in those to whom she was so unfailingly loyal.
Margaret savored her Soviet soubriquet “the Iron Lady,” and always remained conscious that, as Britain’s first woman prime minister, she must be seen to be tough enough to do the job – the only man in the Cabinet.
It was said of her that at a Cabinet dinner the waiter asked her what she would like to eat. She replied, “I’ll have the steak.”
“And the vegetables?”
“They’ll have the steak, too.”
Yet her reputation for never listening was entirely unfounded. When she was given unwelcome advice, she would say in the plainest terms exactly what she thought of it. But then she would always pause. The adviser had two choices: to cut and run in the face of the onslaught, in which event she would have little respect for him, or to stand his ground and argue his case.
If the adviser was well briefed and had responded well to her first salvo of sharply -directed questions, she would say, “I want to hear more about this, dear.” She would tiptoe archly to the bookcase in the study and reach behind a tome for a bottle of indifferent whisky and two cut-glass tumblers.
At my last official meeting with her, scheduled as a ten-minute farewell, I asked if I could give her one last fourpence-worth of advice. She agreed, but bristled when I told her what I had been working on. “Don’t be so silly, dear! You know perfectly well that I can’t possibly agree to that.” Then, as always, she paused. I stood my ground. A salvo of questions. Out came the whisky from behind the bookshelf. I was still there an hour and a half later.
The following year, during her third general election, I told the story in the London Evening Standard. Within an hour of the paper hitting the streets, a message of thanks came from her office. Unfailing loyalty again. She won by a 100-seat majority.
To the last, her political instinct never left her. One afternoon, Sir Ronald Millar, the colorful playwright who wrote her speeches, took her onstage at the Haymarket Theater, which he owned. She gazed up at the rows of seats, turned to Ronnie and said, “What a wonderful place for a political rally!”
During the long speech-writing sessions that preceded every major speech, Ronnie would suggest a phrase and Margaret would rearrange it several times. Every so often, she would dart across to Denis, sitting nearby with a gin and tonic. She would try the line out on him. If he did not like it, he would drawl, ‘No, no – that won’t fly!”
A couple of years ago her “kitchen cabinet” invited her to dinner. For two hours she was her vigorous old self. I sat opposite her. Late in the evening, I saw she was tiring and gave her a thumbs-up. Instantly she revived, smiled radiantly, and returned the gesture – using both thumbs.
It was not hard to see why Margaret and Denis Thatcher were the most popular couple among the old stagers working at 10 Downing Street since the Macmillans. Now they are reunited; and I pray, in the words of St. Thomas More, that they may be merry in heaven. They have both earned it. Let her be given a state funeral. Nothing less will do.