It was Margaret Thatcher who inspired me to get involved in politics.
Her vision for a better Britain was one that many of us bought into in the late 1970s, when I was finishing school. Her recipe for the rescue of the British economy, which was dominated by strikes and trade union militancy at the time, was one which many others subsequently followed.
Her belief in the innate enterprising spirit of the British people and her desire to cascade wealth throughout society won her many supporters among many groups of people who would never have thought of voting Conservative previously. She offered council house tenants the right to own their own homes. She made it possible for people of limited means to afford to buy shares in former state-owned companies. But above all she broke the back of the irresponsible trade union movement and gave the unions back to their members.
She also helped win the Cold War by convincing the Russians that she and Ronald Reagan would never bow to the might of the Soviet army. Her instinctive reaction to Mikhail Gorbachev, that he was a man she could do business with, and her ability to influence Ronald Reagan ensured that Western values triumphed over the evils of communism.
No one denies that in eleven and a half years Margaret Thatcher made mistakes. The poll tax may have been a good idea in theory, but theories don’t always translate into successful practice.
Margaret Thatcher was and is a politician it is impossible to have no view on. She’s a marmite politician. But even her enemies would admit that she was a formidable opponent who did many things which were painful but necessary. She was, above all, a true leader.
The night before Margaret Thatcher’s resignation, I remember having rows with two Tory MPs who owed their seats to her, yet intended to switch their votes away from her in the second ballot. I went home to my dingy flat in Walthamstow feeling angry and let down – almost tearful.
The next morning, I was at my desk when I heard the news on the radio.
The world stood still for a moment. I wasn’t surprised that she had stepped down, but it was still a shock. Only a few days before my three year-old niece, Emma, had asked: “Uncle Iain, is it possible for a man to be Prime Minister?”
When Margaret Thatcher resigned, it really was the end of an era. A candle went out that day. The woman, who had inspired my interest in politics, saved the country from trade union control and done so much to win the Cold War, had gone. Forever. Politics for me would never be quite the same.
Forget the policy triumphs, the fantastic speeches, the seemingly never-ending battles. Her real legacy was to show that a woman could indeed do the job of Prime Minister – and do it superbly. No longer could anyone have any doubts about that.
Iain Dale is the editor of Margaret Thatcher: A Tribute in Words & Pictures. He is also the author of a leading blog, Iain Dale’s Diary. He is heavily involved with the Conservative History Group who also maintain a regularly updated blog.
Iain Dale’s post is part of Conservative History Week on the Blue Blog running through to Monday 7th September. There will be posts every day on various aspects of the history of the Party, to coincide with the launch of the new history section.