I don’t like Thatcher, I’ve never liked Thatcher, I’ve never voted Conservative and I never will – but I think she should have a state funeral…

Margaret Thatcher and the debate over her proposed state funeral

As someone who lived through the Thatcher government and disagreed with virtually everything she did. And for that matter had my school milk taken away from me by Margaret Thatcher when I was just 3 years old I am possibly one of the least likely people to support the idea of her having a state funeral.

What she did to nature of British industry by laying waste to the industrial heartlands of the country and the contempt which she gave those people who were thrown on the scrap-heap as a consequence were arrogant and uncaring. Her consistent jingoistic responses to other governments made her a parody of the great leaders of the past, although to be honest I did support the liberation of the Falkland Islands from the dictator Galtieri.

So you might be surprised to hear me say that I think she ought to have a state funeral, I wouldn’t, for example, support one for any of her successors. I was going to stay silent on the subject and let the discussion around it wash over me, but I have recently received so many requests to join ‘causes’ to oppose her state funeral that I thought I ought to explain why I actually support the absolute opposite. Is Margaret Thatcher deserving of a state funeral?

There are, of course, some rather ephemeral reasons to support it, mainly that she was the longest serving Prime Minister of the twentieth century even, some might argue, that she won the last war of empire, though I haven’t really heard this one. But, the main reason, surely, is that she was the first female Prime Minister of this country. In itself people may not think that her sex is sufficient to make her stand out to justify this high accolade, though let’s ignore the fact that generally the people who get state funerals are unelected and achieve the honour through birth rather than achievement. However, it frankly astounds me that people don’t realise the sheer bias in our political system and culture against the rise of women politicians to the summit of our government. It is, with the benefit of hindsight, possible to think that women politicians do OK now, being approximately a quarter of MPs, there are a sprinkling of cabinet ministers and we’ve had a woman Foreign Secretary and now a female Home Secretary, but these appointments occurred 30 or more years after Margaret Thatcher grasped the leadership of the Conservative  Party, against all the vested interests and misogynistic views of the time. When she became a Member of Parliament in 1959 there were only 25 women MPs, in 1975 when she became Conservative leader there were only 27 and when she became Prime Minister there were only 19. (Stats)

She has been criticised for not promoting women within government, but this hardly a credible attack when you consider there were, in fact, only 8 Conservative women MPs elected in 1979 compared to 331 men!

So her achievement, which we now look back on, was enormous. She was not just fighting the other parties, the establishment and prejudice that she wasn’t up to the job, but she was also unique. Those of us on the left of British politics would, no doubt, prefer that Barbara Castle or Shirley Williams would have become the first woman Prime Minister and that that Prime Minister had shown more feminine qualities in government. Well sorry, we can’t. I never voted for her and partly as a consequence of her my politics were cast long ago in the values of the left.

However, she was the first British female Prime Minister and she was part of the process of our country becoming a more modern nation in accepting the equality of women, and we should respect and possibly even celebrate that.

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Tarquin Fintim-Limbim-Whimbim-Lim Bus Stop-F’Tang-F’Tang-Olé-Biscuit-Barrel – 238 votes, but Shirley Williams (SDP/Liberal Alliance) 28,118…

The 'Gang of Four' set out to break the mould of British politics and Shirley Williams was to become the first elected SDP MP, 28 years ago today...

With 28,118 votes Shirley Williams gained the formerly strongly Conservative seat of Crosby. The by-election took place at an almost unprecedented state of division in British politics.  With social unrest and both the Labour and Conservative parties in a state of flux.

The SDP had, at this point, not elected any MPs but did have an ever-growing group of former Labour and Conservative MPs in Parliament, as shown at its launch earlier that year. 

A few months earlier Roy Jenkins had failed to gain my hometown seat in the Warrington By-election despite a massive swing from Labour, and Shirley Williams was promoted as the potential SDP candidate for the Crosby by-election.  Although the seat was one of the wealthiest in the North West of England the party felt that Shirley would be the best candidate for the seat, having links with Liverpool, through her father, and with her being a practising Roman Catholic.

Always an effective and energetic campaigner Shirley ran a high visibility campaign and romped home in an historic win. It effectively delivered the SDP a 50% swing, which would have elected a House of Commons, if replicated across the UK, full of Alliance MPs.

It was probably, at that point, the most significant post-war by-election. Although there were important Liberal gains like Orpington, there was for a very short time a genuine belief that the SDP, with their Liberal allies, could ‘Break the Mould’ in British politics, and Shirley’s win 28 years ago today was a major moment in that.

Tarquin Fintim-Limbim-Whimbim-Lim Bus Stop-F’Tang-F’Tang-Olé-Biscuit-Barrel contested the election as Cambridge University Raving Loony Society polling 238 votes. Those of you who are Monty Python fans will recognise the gentleman concerned as being the winner of Luton in the 1970 ‘Election Night’, for the Silly Party. He later joined forces with Screaming Lord Sutch of the larger Official Monster Raving Loony Party.

Leaflets and the full results from the by-election can be seen here.

Agent’s Training 10 – ‘Seeing Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams lose made me drink lots at the party – it improved my performance the next day!’

Seeing Roy Jenkins losing Glasgow Hillhead and Shirley Williams failing to win Cambridge turned me to drink, with interesting consequences...

The 1987 General Election was unquestionably a very poor one for the SDP/Liberal Alliance.  The ‘Two Davids’ appeared to be not singing from the same song sheet and the parties did poorly.

SDP luminaries Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins both went down to defeat in Cambridge and Glasgow Hillhead and moves began to merge the two parties in preparation for fighting the election afterwards.

But, before any of this could happen the local Alliance members in my constituency had a party that evening to see the election results come in. 

Being only 16 I was not used to drinking lots but as the results came in with Shirley Williams failing to gain Cambridge and Roy Jenkins losing to George Galloway in Glasgow I sank into the malaise that only Lib Dems can feel following an election – ‘another false dawn’.

So, when I was taken home at an unearthly time in the morning I was fully aware that the Alliance had been crushed, as were my hopes, but only slightly aware of my French literature mock ‘A’ Level later that morning.

Going to bed drunk at 5am, followed by an exam at 9am, and really being drunk until the following afternoon was no preparation for a 3 hour exam in a foreign language, as to be honest, I was struggling quite hard with English, let alone French.

Nonetheless I dutifully took the exam, in French, and left the exam room in only a slightly better state than when I went in.  I could not really discuss the questions with my school colleagues because I literally had no memory of anything that went on.

A few weeks later our French teacher, Mrs Percy, announced, ‘who thinks they have done badly in this exam?’ Unsurprisingly I raised my hand as to be fair I would have been surprised if I had even hit the paper with my writing. She looked at me rather severely and said, ‘No John, this is your best piece of work ever!’

I am sure there is a moral to this tale, but over the past 20 years I have still not been able to work it out!

Edward Woodward – Cornish memories of a star who signed my nomination papers…

Edward Woodward

Edward Woodward was kind enough to sign my nomination papers and join the Liberal Democrats at the same time...

Edward Woodward, actor, star and gentleman has died aged 79. Most people, of my generation, know him from ‘The Equalizer’, but I remember the day he nominated me to stand for the Calstock Division of Cornwall County Council in 1997.

Arriving at his beautiful house, near Calstock in Cornwall, he had one of those beautiful drives that my little car looked slightly out of place on, but nonetheless a beaming Edward came to the door, and myself and Yuan Potts were beckoned into his house for the best cup of coffee I have ever had in the most elegant kitchen I had seen.

The meeting was mainly about his coming out as a Liberal Democrat, in the press, that morning to support Colin Breed in the general election campaign of 1997.

In 1997, the County Council elections were on the same day, so I wisely took my nomination papers for Edward, and his wife, Michele Dotrice, to sign, as we both lived in the same ward.  They were more than glad to. 

On time, Paul Tyler, MP for North Cornwall, Robin Teverson MEP and Colin arrived for the photo call for the local press and media, and as this was very recent to his starring in ‘The Equalizer’ the Western Morning News ran with the story – Woodward Equalizes Campaign for the Lib Dems.

As well as walking away with my nominations and his membership subscription to the Liberal Democrats he also agreed to chair the party rally, to be held in Liskeard, on the eve of the general election, to be addressed by Shirley Williams and David Steel.

It was a great event and Edward chaired it with panache and style, in a way that only real stars can.

I met him just a few times, but he was genuine and decent man who made you feel welcome and special.  A real star who kept his feet on the ground and was a genuine encouragement to a young agent!

I achieved a 46% swing in the election but still came second – work that one out!

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