Much will be written today, and in the coming days, about the period of office that began 30 years ago today. Some from those who worked with Margaret Thatcher, served in her Governments, or in the case of some newspaper commentators from people who were members of the Labour Party or the SDP when Margaret Thatcher began her spell in Number Ten.
I count myself as being very fortunate to know Lady Thatcher well. A few years ago I was sitting next to her at dinner and a fellow guest asked her, "How do you know Conor?" She replied, "Oh, we´ve been friends for years!¨ To know her is an honour.
I thought I might just reflect on two of her qualities that remain as true today as they ever were: her modesty and her authenticity.
One of the things about Margaret Thatcher is that she did not really care much about the trappings of power. Yes she loved Chequers and still becomes animated when talking about her time there. But she is as likely to reflect on the opportunity it gave her to study vast reports and convene seminar groups on long term policy with experts and advisers as she is to talk about the beautiful gardens or the Great Hall. For her, office was a means of doing something not being someone.
She sought office to make change and she used office to do just that. She saw her task as leading a Government that would set the climate for individuals and companies to flourish - though a regime of sound finances, competitive and fair taxation, and light regulation. And for her it was then down to people to take advantage of that climate and framework. In that sense she was modest. Politicians backing ´winners´and ´intervening before breakfast, lunch and dinner´ was simply alien to her world view.
I remember a few years ago being at a function and Lady T´s Private Secretary asking me to stay with her while he want to tell ´the boys´ that she would be ready to leave in about a quarter of an hour. During that time I introduced her to a businessman who I´d been talking to earlier who was desperate to thank her. I said to her, "Margaret this gentleman would just like to thank you." "What on earth for?" she asked him. He replied, "Lady Thatcher I started my business with the Enterprise Scheme which you introduced. Today I employ over 500 people. Without you it....". At this point he was cut off as The Lady jabbed her finger at him cutting him off, "No, no it is me who should be thanking you. All we did was create the framework. It was people like you who took the chance and made it happen. It was all done for people like you and without you it would all have been just be a theory. So thank you!" I thought that captured the sincerity and the modesty of a very great figure.
The second quality that marks her out as being very different is her authenticity. Her belief system was not merely some dry intellectual creed - it was a code to live by. While many politicians constantly talk of being frugal with public money Margaret Thatcher lived it. It is a fact that is too little known or remembered that throughout her time as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did not take the salary she was entitled to as Prime Minister and instead drew the salary of an ordinary cabinet Minister.
Recently I was talking to her about the current debate on Member´s allowances and I asked her why she had not taken her full salary as PM. I knew the answer. "We didn´t need it. DT had done well and our outgoings were not that great. We lived above the shop and worked and worked and worked. And in any case it was taxpayers' hard-earned money." The last four words were given particular force. Perhaps another example of a part of ´Thatcherism´ that could do with copying by today´s politicians?
I know Lady T will enjoy this 30th anniversary with a quite satisfaction but also with characteristic embarrassment. I can see her, as she did when the Daily Telegraph produced DVDs of her period, turning the paper over and saying, "I don´t understand what all this fuss is about."
We do. That is why we salute her today. And that is why if we learn the right lessons we have the chance to save the country from the mess left by a failed Labour Government just as she started to do 30 years ago today.
How tragically right Lady Thatcher was when she declared, "In politics there are no final victories."