Margaret Thatcher —Indomitable Spirit
Always Determined, Rarely In Doubt
The author greeting Lady Margaret Thatcher (Astrid Forbes center) onboard the Forbes Highlander yacht
“George, now is not the time to go wobbly on us.”
— Lady Margaret Thatcher to President Bush
Maggie looked smashing in a sharply tailored blue tweed suit. It recalled her clan tartan that unintentionally matched the dark blue ocean and, intentionally, her striking blue eyes. I stepped forward to introduce myself. As I did, lady Margaret Hilda Thatcher gave me a look that suggested keen intelligence without a speck of pretense, and in the cool, alluring manner of a British Prime Minister, asked:
“So Jeffrey, how do you spend your time when you’re not yachting?”
To the grocer’s daughter who went to Oxford and majored in chemistry, time was a big deal. It was the most precious commodity in the world, a gift with an expiration date that limited what people could accomplish in life, or for some, how to fall short in achieving their goals. Her job was to make sure government didn’t encourage the latter.
As Thatcher recognized, making time matter is one of the five Guiding Principles of extraordinary people. Thatcher knew that if she were “to be all she can be,” as Thomas Carlyle suggested, the deliberate passage of time would be a top priority.
A simple math exercise proves the point. Achievement is defined as dreams divided by the number of days we get.
Roger Bannister, the British running great who shattered the four-minute mile, was told by the chattering classes and media “know-nothings” no way it could be done. They meant not enough time. Thatcher heard the same thing. How can she turn around the number four country in a two-country race? Again, not enough time.
Although no one would admit it, the problem wasn’t just time but that she was a woman. Epithets were hurled like cricket balls, “too brazen and too bossy,” but what they meant in parentheses was “for a woman.” When she kept on winning, they tried ‘too unfeeling.’
She knew this. She knew her greatest limitation was not ambition but the time people would give her to achieve it. When she bulled her way, it was because trying to keep everyone happy would only delay the process.
Vision and Execution
Although the great American-English poet T.S. Eliot assured us, “Indeed there will be time for a hundred visions and revisions, Before the taking of a toast and tea,” he was a poet, after all, and she was a change maker. So the harder Thatcher pushed, the pudgier her tormentors looked. She cut them down to size with sharply drawn debates and parried with a vision that relied on swift execution. In Thatcher’s unrelenting worldview, it meant if you don’t share the vision, prepare to be swiftly executed.
We have the Soviets to thank for her fitting nickname, “The Iron Lady.” It took an iron lady to push the world towards moral legitimacy, an end to the Cold War, and in the process, changed the way we view women, which turned out to be the key to moral legitimacy. It is no surprise that Hillary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice adopted her tone and wardrobe.
On the day we met, Thatcher jumped into things as if she was at a cabinet meeting dealing with the miner’s strike. That was one of her greatest victories and set Britain on the road to stardom from serfdom. She broke the trade unions’ hammerlock on the British worker. She lowered the top tax rate that helped ignite the “Big Bang” that made London a world capital of finance. It meant more jobs, more building, and more money to do great things. The world was in for a makeover as her friendship with Mikhail Gorbachev hastened the Soviet diktat to an early grave. The Russians were right. She was made of iron.
If you solve the problem of making time matter, you get the Nobel Prize. Since Thatcher’s reign, the Nobel Prize was awarded to the U.K. 60 times out of 134 since its first in 1902. Miscalculate the value of time, and the epitaph would read, “she tried.”
Thatcher was not here to try.
Being Prime Minister is a lonely job. In a sense, it ought to be: you cannot lead from the crowd. But with Denis there I was never alone. What a man. What a husband. What a friend. — Lady Margaret Thatcher
Thatcher called herself a “conviction politician” and said the polls be damned. It was only natural that self -described “fashion politicians” became bitter enemies. Her hat trick was to lead far, far out front, which provided an enviable list of political wins, but it led to the second-lowest average approval rating (40%) for a post-war prime minister.
In her final at-bat, Thatcher won the first ballot but fell four votes short of a majority. Ouch. It led to a rebellion that turned her out of office. Britain had all they needed of the Iron Lady, and she left number 10 Downing Street in tears, echoing the verdict of her hero Winston Churchill, a betrayal.
In later years, she was the first living British Prime Minister to be awarded a bronze statue in Parliament, which stands opposite Sir Winston. Her comment, “I might have preferred iron — but bronze will do … It won’t rust,” was a warning she would keep an eye on shenanigans. The month before, she was named “the most competent prime minister of the past 30 years.”
It brings to mind the old saw ‘if you are going to make omelets, you are sure to break eggs.” Thatcher would have added Prime Minister Anthony Eden’s rejoinder, “if you break eggs, you may as well make omelets.”
Baroness Thatcher died on 8 April 2013, at the age of 87, after suffering a stroke and from complications of dementia. The Queen attended her funeral, the second time in history after Churchill’s. The reaction to her death was extreme. From public adulation to a smattering of hate invective, in 2020, Time magazine listed Thatcher among the Top 100 Women.
Do Not Go Wobbly
As we chatted on that brilliant day on the Atlantic, Thatcher regaled us with stories. After Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi detonated a bomb aboard Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 230 people on board instantly, Thatcher had had enough of Middle East tyrants. Sadam Hussein just invaded Kuwait on 2 August 1990, which began a seven-month-long siege. Thatcher encouraged President Bush to deploy troops, but he demurred and said he was not sure. Thatcher raised her voice as if speaking to her privy council and said:
“George, now is not the time to go wobbly on us.”
As always, she did not have time to waste.