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Iain Dale

Iain Dale: Amidst the silence of St Mary's Undercroft, I touched Margaret Thatcher's coffin - and said thank you

Follow Iain on Twitter. Iain also blogs at www.iaindale.com

Iain Dale GraphicOne of the great pleasures in life is people watching. There’s nothing I like better than to sit in Central Lobby in Parliament and just watch the world go by. Just seeing who is meeting whom can be very educational. And so it was at St Paul’s Cathedral on Wednesday. Who should I see Lord Ashcroft having a quiet word with? None other than the Labour leader Ed Miliband. I’ve been speculating on what they might have been talking about. “Hello Michael, might you replace Unite as our biggest donor?” Perhaps not. “Ed, I want to relaunch Labour Home, how about it?” Possible. Or perhaps “Michael, about your advice on Ed Balls, can I ask you…?” Got it in one, I’d say.

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Talking of the good Lord, the venerable proprietor of this website has taken to Twitter. Yes, really. You can ‘follow’ him at @Lord Ashcroft. At the time of writing he has a rather paltry 999 followers, so come on chaps and chapesses, do your duty. Lord A certainly won’t be satisfied until he overtakes my 39,000 odd followers. And some of them are even quite normal. I was chatting to Michael (as I like to call him) at St Paul’s and trying to explain the concept of Follow Friday on Twitter. It was when I used the acronym ‘#ff’ that I realised I had gone too far. It was a bit of a Julian Clary moment… Anyway, I look forward to seeing who he #ff’s today. Blame it on me. Or the sunshine. Or the boogie.

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Carol Thatcher has displeased Paul Dacre. Another thing in her favour then. It seems the Mail had paid her a large sum of money for an article post funeral. Sadly, she has refused to write it. The Mail is understandably somewhat piqued, given the number of articles it has paid her for in the past when she was on her financial uppers. Rumour is that M’Learnd Friend is being consulted.

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On Tuesday night after I finished by LBC show I tootled off down to the House of Commons to pay my respects to Lady T at the chapel of St Mary’s Undercroft. I arrived at about 8.30, long after most MPs had been to pay their respects. It is a perfect place for silent contemplation. I spied Conor Burns sitting alone in the front row. My instinct was to say ‘hello’ and give him a bear hug. But just in time I stopped myself. There are some moments when people just want to be alone with their thoughts. So I sat there for 15 minutes or so thinking about how Lady Thatcher had affected the course of my life. I thought about all my Norfolk Tory friends who had asked me to say a prayer for them. So I did. Finally I go up to leave. I approached the coffin, said a silent thank you and then touched the coffin. And then choked up.  I don’t think I was alone.

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I always cry at funerals. But I didn’t on Wednesday. It was a wonderful service in so many ways, but strangely unemotional. Unless your name is George Osborne, of course. More of him in a moment. The only time my eyes moistened was when I heard the ‘three cheers’ and clapping as the coffin emerged from the cathedral. Otherwise, there was nothing in the service to really make the waterworks gush. I have every sympathy with George Osborne as I do have a tendency for the waterworks to commence at very inconvenient moments – usually when I am on the radio. Politicians are human too and I suspect something triggered off a painful memory for the chancellor. The disgusting reaction on Twitter had to be seen to be believed. My own lachrymose moment came later in the day. At the beginning of my LBC show we played a 6 minute ‘highlights of the day’ montage (It’s on my blog. Have a Kleenex at the ready, and by the end of it I was feeling very emotional. I then had to give a 4 minute monologue telling the listeners about my day. My voice was quivering with emotion, but the show had to go on, and so it did!

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Talking again of ‘people watching’, I met a lot of old friends in the cathedral. The man sitting next to me turned out to be Simon Murray of Hutchison Whampoa, a man I did some PR work for when his company took over the Port of Felixstowe back in 1991. I hadn’t seen him for 22 years. On my other side was former IEA director general John Blundell and his wife. As I sat there Dame Shirley Bassey and June Whitfield walked past. My one jarring moment came when I said hello to Simon Weston and realised I was sat at least 30 rows in front of him. I’ve edited four books on Margaret Thatcher, while he fought for her. I was a bit embarrassed, to be honest.

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In last week’s column I made a sniffy remark about books which are being published to cash in on Lady Thatcher’s memory. So you might think it odd  - not to say hypocritical - that I’m about to bring out a book called MEMORIES OF MARGARET THATCHER: A PORTRAIT BY THOSE WHO KNEW HER BEST. It’s a heavily updated version of a book I published 13 years ago. I had so many emails and texts asking to do it, I thought why not? However to avoid any charge of cashing in, all royalties are being donated to the Margaret Thatcher Foundation. Apart from royalties, it’s unlikely to make anything because of its length. I’ve included many of the parliamentary tributes and solicited lots of new material. The Prime Minister has written a foreword. In the original edition, there were 80 essays. This one has more than double. It will be out in early May.

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A final word on the funeral. A friend of mine, Deborah Slattery, who was a Tory agent in Norwich in the late 1980s, caught the 4am bus from Norwich so she could get to St Paul’s for 7am and book her place in the crowd. I recruited Deborah and her husband  Mike into the Party in the 1987 election. They were stalwart party workers but got so disillusioned by John Major they drifted away from actively helping the party. They are two examples of people totally motivated by Margaret Thatcher but appalled by today’s political leadership – or lack of it. When David Cameron can attract the Slatterys back into active politics I’ll think he’s really making progress. I’m not holding my breath.

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