Leaderene

Margaret Thatcher is dead.

I observed Margaret Thatcher first in 1976, cool, energetic, shaking hands, a good memory for names, a hard worker.

Leaders have to be stronger than most of us,  stay awake in the afternoon, write till two, walk away from a bombing.

“I don’t believe anyone has a really glamorous life”, she said, to an early biographer.

I picture Alderman Roberts, her father, in the low-ceilinged grocery, with his well-kept books, a thorough man, principled, a prominent figure in the small town.

“She’s the one, Denis,” said one of his friends at the trade association dinner-dance. Denis took his advice.

Denis’s money put an end to her career as a chemist, testing cakes at J. Lyons in London, in the big plant which once stood where North End Road and Hammersmith Road meet.

Passing whatever straggling suburban vista, watching from the back seat of a black official car, I think she would always note a well-kept shop and think of neat ledgers and owners who want their children to do well.

Those were her people.

She had a woman’s patience: show your loyalty and worth, and wait for your opportunity.

Britain was sad place in 1979.

In 1978 I saw cranes along the Clyde, standing like sentries, watching out for ships.

“I’m not here to manage decline”, she said.

It was a kind of war. The armoured bus is jostled and pummelled as it pushes through pickets on Pennington Street.

I saw her again when she presented her cabinet to foreign correspondents in 1987. “You’re late,” she said to Nigel Lawson, Chancellor of the Exchequer. “And you haven’t brushed your hair this morning.”

She was playing up to us, acting out the bossy matron. We all loved it.

For those of us watching from overseas, she was the woman who had saved Britain from decline and helped to end the Cold War. She spoke with a kind of knife-edged clarity we hadn’t heard before.

I┬áthink she wanted to shape a new political vernacular. “You don’t strengthen the weak by weakening the strong,” she liked to quote. And “Socialists alway run out of other people’s money”.

It didn’t catch on and she unnerved her own party in the end.

“Our country doesn’t seems to know what it wants or where it is going any more”, said Maureen, after watching the news

I agreed with her.

“So what are we going to do now?” she said.

“Good question,” I said.

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