Margaret: first woman chancellor?
Lady in waiting
Concluding The Sun's look at the Tories in waiting. The men and women who may form the Government if Mr. Heath wins the next election.
One image which will never attach itself to Mrs Margaret Thatcher is that of a Tory Bernadette Devlin.
She is determined. She can be aggressive. But she also possesses an appearance which can best be described as gracious.
Godfrey Winn, after interviewing her a few years ago, felt irresistibly compelled to compare her to the Queen.
Mention the article to Mrs Thatcher today and she buries her face in her hands at the remembered embarrassment.
It is, perhaps, the only natural reaction for a woman who still likes to describe herself as the daughter of a Grantham retail grocer. “I was an ordinary girl who went to a fairly ordinary grammar school,” she told me. “I would hate people to think I was one of those women who was always worrying about her appearance.”
Margaret Thatcher is the only woman in Mr Heath 's shadow Cabinet Her actual ministerial experience is limited to three years as a junior minister— “dogsbody” is her own description—at the Ministry of Pensions.
In Opposition, however, she has been thrown in at the deep end as front bench spokesman on taxation, transport and, lately, education.
She is still swimming strongly.
Her present job of following the liberal Sir Edward Boyle as shadow Education Minister has put her in the thick of the pre-election punch-up over comprehensive schools.
It seems likely to establish her place in the Tory spectrum as comfortably, but not extremely, to the Right.
She is angry at the Government's Bill to compel reluctant local authorities to draw up plans for comprehensives.
On issues more traditionally close to the hearts of Tory women, she is unhysterically, but firmly, in the law-and-order camp.
She would like to see the death penalty restored for some kinds of murder, but with considerable discretion for the judges and a liberal use of the prerogative of mercy by the Home Secretary.
She once voted for the birching of young offenders on second convictions for violence. Now, however, she considers the idea a political dead horse unworthy of further flogging.
“It is no longer a practical possibility,” she said.
Mrs Thatcher is a classic example of an intelligent girl who carved her own success in a competitive world.
Born Margaret Hilda Roberts 44 years ago, she reached Somerville College, Oxford, by scholarships.
At 23, with an MA and a BSc to her credit, she was working as an analytical chemist with a catering firm.
Chosen as Tory candidate for the unwinnable seat of Dartford, Kent, [end p1] she swiftly learned that politics was still a man's domain.
The local Conservative club did not accept women members. She got in by volunteering to serve behind the bar several nights a week.
She was defeated in both the 1950 and 1951 elections. During her campaigning she met and became engaged to Denis Thatcher, managing director of a paint and chemical firm. They married in 1951 and have sixteen-year-old twins.
I asked her if she wanted her children to go into politics. “I don't mind,” she said, “but I would want them to learn a way of earning a living first. It is a risky trade.”
Despite her involvement in both politics and marriage, she determinedly made time to study law. She was called to the bar in the same year her children were born.
Her big political chance was her adoption as candidate for Finchley in 1958—a seat which sent her to Westminster a year later with a massive 16,260 majority.
One day someone will achieve the unclimbed height of becoming Britain's first woman Chancellor of the Exchequer. It might not be too outrageous for Mrs Thatcher to wonder whether she she could be the one who does it.
[Picture caption] Mrs Margaret Thatcher … “I am right wing on law and order.”