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Margaret Thatcher was my political opponent, but it would be disingenuous to ignore her achievements

Unlike today’s posturing MPs, The Iron Lady was a conviction politician

By on Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Flowers laid outside the home of Baroness Thatcher in Belgravia (Photo: PA)

Flowers laid outside the home of Baroness Thatcher in Belgravia (Photo: PA)

My first encounter with Margaret Thatcher was just a few days before she won the 1979 vote of no confidence – the vote which brought down Jim Callaghan’s government and precipitated the 1979 General Election.

She was in Liverpool, campaigning in the Edge Hill by-election. As I turned into Prescot Road I almost collided with her, the Conservative candidate, and Ken Dodd who was brandishing his hallmark bright blue tickling stick.

The Conservatives lost their deposit but won the vote of confidence and then the General Election. I served in the House of Commons throughout her time as Prime Minister and in recent years we have both been members of the House of Lords.

She was a staunch believer in the accountability of elected representatives to the House of Commons; and she was a consummate politician and parliamentarian. Unfailingly, twice a week she came to the Commons and positively relished the jousting of Prime Minister’s Question Time. Unlike some other holders of that high office she passionately believed in the paramountcy of Parliament and was unfailingly courteous in dealing with Members of the House of Commons.

In the early days I voted for her laws to outlaw secondary picketing and to introduce the secret ballot and entirely agreed with her that new labour laws to curb industrial anarchy were long overdue.

I also supported her brave decision to go to war when a military junta seized the Falkland Islands; and her intelligent and strong approach in dealing with the Soviet bloc – and which helped usher in the changes in Eastern Europe. My differences with her were over the failure to see the consequences of mass de-industrialisation.

Phenomenal unemployment in cities like Liverpool paved the way for civil unrest, for today’s benefits culture and decimated the coal field communities. A failure to cushion the blow and to provide transitional work led to social unrest and division. The poll tax was equally divisive and ill judged.

After the Toxteth Riots the bishop and Archbishop of Liverpool urged her to take a more compassionate approach. Archbishop Derek Worlock told me at the time that her husband, Denis, had turned to him and David Sheppard and said “that isn’t really one of Margaret’s words.”

Out of office, with Labour’s Peter Shore, I backed her call for a referendum on Maastricht. I favoured much of the Treaty but believed, as she did, that the public were entitled to vote on something so significant. Like her, I opposed the subsequent Lisbon Treaty, and have opposed Britain being increasingly pushed towards the elitist agenda of a United States of Europe.

I once arranged a private meeting between Margaret Thatcher and Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was visiting London; two formidable women. Mother Teresa told me afterwards that when she had challenged the Prime Minister about the number of people sleeping rough on the streets and the number of unborn children aborted each day in the UK.

In response, Margaret Thatcher gave her a short speech on Britain’s welfare provisions and social security. Mother Teresa simply responded by asking, “but do you have love?”. Notwithstanding this, the two women clearly liked and understood one another very well.

Although Margaret Thatcher and I disagreed about the need to reform the Abortion laws – and she refused to give time to allow my Private Member’s Bill which sought to reduce the upper time limit to complete its parliamentary stages – I was particularly pleased when she came to the House to vote on my Motion opposing the further destruction of human embryos and the creation of animal human hybrid embryos. She told me she saw no scientific reasons for such experiments.

Although many will concentrate on the things about which they disagreed with Margaret Thatcher, it would be churlish and disingenuous of them not to acknowledge her remarkable achievements. She always described herself as a conviction politician and no-one was ever in any doubt about what she believed and why.

It is worth contrasting this with the political ambiguities and political posturing which seems to characterise so much of today’s politics, too often seeking the main chance and the appeasement of special interest groups. May she rest in peace.

David Alton sits as a crossbench independent peer as Lord Alton of Liverpool and before standing down from the House of Commons was a Liberal MP www.davidalton.net

  • $362439

    “Archbishop Derek Worlock told me at the time that her husband, Denis, had turned to him and David Sheppard and said “that isn’t really one of Margaret’s words.”
    Neither is it a word Daleks like very much.

  • Scyptical Chymist

    A very generous appraisal by an excellent former Liverpool MP. Would that the present day Liberal Democratic Party boasted such a man in its ranks. I think it unlikely with its present make-up. This generosity shown by a political opponent is shared by one or two other people such as David Owen and stands in sharp contrast to the vile behaviour of some others. I join in wishing that she may rest in peace and that God may forgive for any errors she made in her life. While she made some mistakes as all humans do, she stands head and shoulders above today’s politicians, as you note, and I guess that she will be ranked in history as a Prime Minister who saved our country from the mediocrity which again threatens us.

  • Kevin

    “The poll tax was equally divisive and ill judged.”

    Council tax being better in what way?

    A fair appraisal of violence during the Thatcher years would have to consider the possibility that some or all of it was criminal.

    If you read an objective account of Thatcher’s efforts to save British Leyland the accusation that she deindustrialised the country scarcely seems plausible. The Boulting Brothers may not have been professional historians but they were satirising the state of British industry twenty years before Thatcher’s election, and tracing decline back to VE Day.

    Thatcher’s biggest error seems to have been her attitude to abortion (although reducing the upper time limit appears only to condone it in principle). Her failure to defend the innocent unborn allowed the unscrupulous Labour leadership to crusade on behalf of liberalism with no opposition representative of Christian morality. And now Cameron is part of the three-party liberal consensus.

    This has created a far more perilous situation for Christians at home and abroad than the ecclesiastical law on celibacy.

  • bluesuede

    Nicely written. RIP

  • Laurence England

    At least she didn’t write to the Pope in order to try and change a discipline of the Church concerning celibacy.

  • M Carroll

    Lord Alton,

    I was going to write to you anyway, but now that you have written an article here I wish to point out that with regard to you letter to the pope concerning celibacy, you do not speak in my name.

    You add your name to this letter as if your views portrayed the views of many Catholics in this country.

    Beyond this your views are sorely misguided. We have priest to teach the laity that they need to engage in ascesis and mortification which will lead to sanctification and sainthood. How can priests have moral authority and tell their congregations the basic truths of the church if they are ‘not practicing what they preach’?

  • Laurence England

    Amen, I should also like to add that this letter signed by Lord Alton is not signed in my name either.

  • waltersandson

    I, too, should like to add NOT IN MY NAME!

  • Paul

    Do you think your views ARE shared by everyone else then?

  • M Carroll

    They should do if they have a basic understanding of genuine Catholic theology. The problem is that the language and the theology of the real Catholic Church has been dumbed down so much in the past 50 years that many Catholics state ‘best guess theology’ without actually knowing the verbatim teachings of the Catholic Church. Beyond this, the MP’s letter constitutes a usurping i.e. side stepping of the Holy Spirit for man-made gain. That is how the heresy of liberal Catholicism works.

  • whytheworldisending

    Human glory means nothing to me…….. How can you believe, since you look to each other for glory and are not concerned with the glory that comes from the one God? [John 5:41,44]

  • Pope Zicola

    Wow! A well-aimed crack-shot worthy of an Olympic gold medal!
    I’m still applauding… the palms of my hands are red-raw!

  • Pope Zicola

    Nor. Mine!

  • Christopher

    An interesting article. It’s a shame that Lord Alton seems to support writing to our Pope in order to try and change a discipline of the Church concerning celibacy.. Not in my name.

  • Thomas Gallagher

    What are you suggesting? That political ambition is glory-seeking? That Mrs. Thatcher was a glory-seeker? There’s plenty of evidence that she was a conviction-seeker, if that’s what you’re driving at. Political ambition, in general, is morally neutral. Its morality depends upon the use that you intend to make of it. Political life is morally good, in general, and political conviction is good if the goals or aims of one’s convictions are right and noble and good. To the degree that Mrs. Thatcher contributed to the abortion culture–bad conviction. To the degree that she supported freedom –behind the Iron Curtain, in the Falklands, in her successful programme to turn hundreds of thousands of council-flat dwellers into independent, responsible home-owners — she acted out of morally right conviction. Perhaps her support for human liberty was one of the forces which motivated Archbishop Nichols to offer prayers for the repose of her soul. So should we all pray, if we want to respond to her death as Christians. The vitriol against her seems not merely unkind but unChristian as well.

  • whytheworldisending

    What vitriol? You cannot serve God and money. As to what good and what bad you think she had a hand in, a funeral is not an occasion for judging someone. That is for God not us. Human opinions are of no account now. Pomp and circumstance are irrelevant to Mrs Thatcher. And yes, St Paul said that where there is ambition we find every other vice.

  • rightactions

    “But do you have love?”

    Trust me, you don’t want a Ministry of Love.