Sir George pays tribute to Baroness Thatcher
8 Apr 2013
Margaret Thatcher's Statue in the Members of Lobby, with flowers
Margaret Thatcher's Statue in the Members of Lobby, with flowers
Click for a full size picture
I was very sorry to learn of Margaret Thatcher's death.

It was a privilege to serve in her government from 1979-1986 and see at first hand how she ran the country.

She was exactly the right person to rebuild our fortunes after the 1970's and she will go down in history as one of the great Prime Ministers.

I joined her team in 1976, when the party was in Opposition and Margaret had just been elected Leader. I remember her opening the debate in March 1979, when she moved the Vote of No Confidence in Jim Callaghan's Government - a vote we won by one, and which led to the General Election. The next time she spoke in the House, she spoke as Prime Minister.

Serving in the Opposition Whip's Office in the 1974-79 Parliament, I was struck by the time Margaret spent in the House of Commons and getting to know her colleagues, despite all the pressures on her time. She made a point of meeting our wives, hearing about our children, and writing to colleagues if they had problems. Contrary to some reports, she was a warm and friendly person - as those who worked for her while she was Prime Minister will testify.
I started off as one of her Health Ministers and, after the riots in Brixton and Toxteth, she moved me to work with Michael Heseltine at the Department of the Environment. She backed the ambitious programme of investment in our inner cities -indeed, under her Leadership my Party won more seats in the inner cities than we have won since.

She would come round the Departments on a Prime Ministerial visit, to see how we ran them. She had been a junior Minister at the Department of Health and Social Security, before becoming Secretary of State for Education, and knew how important it was for Ministers to remember that they belonged to a political party, and the need to question on occasion the advice we got from our Civil Servants.

I left her Government in 1986, and she could not have been kinder about my dismissal. I had been a good Minister, she said, but she wanted to give others the opportunity that I had had. She invited me back to the Government in 1990, shortly before she left office. We did not always agree - while on the backbenches, I must have annoyed her with my opposition to the poll tax, but we remained friends after she left the House in 1992.

It is the little things than one remembers, alongside the siginificant achievements. The Government was building the QE 11 Conference Centre opposite Westminster Abbey - a project for which I had Ministerial responsibility. She took a keen interest in the choice of chairs, curtain and carpets. She took the view that she spent more time than anyone else sitting in chairs at conferences, and knew exactly what to look for. And, as a housewife, she knew which carpets and curtains were good value for money. We spent an hour together in a warehouse, selecting the interior furnishings, before she went off to run the country.

It does not need me to say that she was a remarkable lady. When she became leader of the Party, I remember being told the country would never elect a woman Prime Minister. When she won in 1979, we were told she would be thrown out at the next election. She confronted and tamed excessive trade union power; she saved the Falklands from a hostile invasion; she enfranchised millions of citizens through the Right to Buy and the privatisation of our nationalised industries. She led the country for 11 years, and won three elections in a row.

I count myself fortunate to have been a small player on the board which she dominated and will join hundreds of others in St Pauls next week to pay my last respects.
 
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Copyright Sir George Young Bt. 2015