OUT OF THE SHADOWS
Diana Pulson talking to Mrs Margaret Thatcher, Shadow Minister for the Environment and tipped for the highest office.
You remember Margaret Thatcher, of course?
She was the controversial Education Minister who among other things stopped school milk—and she is currently the person whose name is rustling along the corridors of power as someone who could supplant Ted Heath as Tory Party leader.
You don't believe me? Neither does Mrs Thatcher—so she says, closing her cool, cornflower blue eyes and adding with all the weariness of the complete professional politician: “It will be years before a woman either leads the party or becomes Prime Minister. I certainly do not expect to see it happening in my time.”
That Margaret Thatcher would accept either, or both positions, if it came to the crunch and she got the chance, appears perfectly obvious.
It seems ridiculous to waste time asking what to such a purely political animal as Mrs. T. can only be a superfluous question. She openly admits she loves the power of politics, that she is ruthless both in decision and enforcing what she believes and though her genteel lady-of-the manor appearance might belie the fact, she is as tough a customer as any Prime Minister ever recruited to his cabinet.
There are, one hears, those who rate Margaret Thatcher among the most coldly competent women in the whole of British politics and certainly the initial off-the-cuff impression one gets is that she is neither as emotional as Shirley Williams or as frankly female as Barbara Castle—opposite her in the House.
In a word therefore though she looks as pink and sugary as a cream bun, Margaret Thatcher is in-fact blessed with an attitude to political life which can only be called masculine.
In every way it transpires as the conversation continues she is terrifyingly efficient—with a killer instinct for every-thing—from getting up at 6.30 each morning to cook bacon and eggs for her 21-years-old twin son and daughter and her businessman husband, to doing her own decorating and cleaning the brasses.
“You have,” she says with a mock shudder, “chosen a bad time to mention the domestic side of a woman politician's life. My daily has been taken ill and is not allowed to return to work, so I'm doing everything myself at the moment.
“Mind you, this is the sort of situation any working wife may have to face—a woman with a career has two jobs. No doubt about that. Women's Lib or not, she still has to run the home as well as her career. This is the only reason why there are so few women in politics at national level.
“Unless one is lucky enough to get a London constituency like myself (Finchley) how can you expect a wife and mother to leave home on a Monday morning and know she is not going to get back to her family until the following Friday night.
“I came into politics when the twins were six—fifteen years ago. I have no regrets—Denis Thatchermy husband has always encouraged me in my career. We have never had a quarrel about it. In fact we have never had a real row in the twenty-three years we have been married.”
Impossible at this point, of course, not to ponder on the Thatcher image which rightly or wrongly, is established as the typical product of Somerville College, Oxford (Law) neatly but unobtrusively dressed with two strands of cultured pearls around her throat.
“Well as you see,” says Margaret Thatcher with a slight smile at her young secretary Alison who is sitting in on the interview—ever so politely— “I do wear pearls. Denis (that's Mr. Thatcher) gave them to me when the twins were born and I've worn them almost as a uniform ever since. After being burgled recently they are about the only jewellery I have left.
“Really though I don't think about my image at all. I'm just me. I love Westminster and hope it will be many years before I leave the place. I cannot really help it if people think of me as a certain sort of person.
“I'm a woman MP which is marvellous but has its own particular problems like finding time to get your hair done. I go at half past eight in the morning—incidentally Alison, I see Barbara Castle 's had her hair done to-day.”
A slight frown and a quickly restrained pout from Alison and we're off again on Mrs Thatcher's favourite subject—politics.
“The thing I resent most about being in Opposition—apart from not being able to take decisions—is that one has no staff. If you want to look up a reference to something, you have to go to the library and do it yourself. Terribly time-consuming.
“I also get annoyed at the way the Labour Government are carrying on as if they have an enormous majority. Perhaps you're right though and the Opposition is allowing them to govern. After all one takes the chance of getting back to power when the situation is as advantageous to you as possible.
“Looking back on the election, of course it was a terrible shock when we lost. The whole thing seemed unreal—particularly when we were summoned to Downing Street the following afternoon. That however is water under the bridge. I personally miss [end p1] office very much—from running a large department like Education to the official car laid on.
“But I cannot say much about a woman leading the party—ever. The election of a leader is an emotional business, involving a person being in the right position at the right time.
“No, I couldn't say that when we are returned to office I would wish to go back to Education. I'm now involved with Environment and anyway I'm not a goer back and never have been.”
Onward and upward then, Mrs. Thatcher?