FORMER West Dorset MP Sir James Spicer had a long and close relationship with Margaret Thatcher and paid tribute to her as one of the greatest politicians of her time.
He said: “History, quite rightly, looks upon the 80s as ‘the Thatcher years’ and is absolutely true that she became the leader whom everyone wanted to meet.”
He saw Mrs Thatcher on the day she became leader of the Conservative Party in February, 1975.
He said: “I met her in Westminster Hall and said ‘I suppose that this will mean that you won’t be able to come to Conservative Group for Europe drinks party tonight or to Beaminster for the Women’s Rally, in ten days time?’ ‘Of course, I will do both,’ she said and indeed she did.
“My most happy memory was of her visit to Beaminster. What had originally been planned, as a smallish meeting became a frantically over-subscribed mass meeting in Beaminster School.”
He remembers entertaining her at his home and offering her smoked salmon sandwiches and whisky and leaving her with a smoking fire.
“We all chatted awhile, then she asked for 15 minutes to study her speech. We all left her and shut the door. After a little while we returned to see if she was all right. We found her in a haze of smoke – bravely saying ‘these lovely country fires!’”
He also remembers the day Argentina invaded the Falklands and the emergency session in Parliament. He said: “Over the next few days all seemed to be a combination of chaos and confusion, coupled with anger that such humiliation could have been inflicted on us, It was not long before Margaret Thatcher’s indomitable spirit cast all doubts and fears away.”
That same spirit was to the fore after the IRA Brighton bombing, he said.
He said: “We were all subdued and tired as we filed into the conference hall, still hearing of the horrors of the previous night and of the death of some close friends.
“Margaret made the speech of a lifetime, and she imbued us all with the sense of determination never to be cowed by these evil people.”
He was also with Mrs Thatcher when she laid a wreath at the Berlin Wall where many East Germans had been killed trying to escape.
He was back in Berlin when the wall came down and the mayor of the city presented him with a piece of the wall to take to the Prime Minister, saying: “Take this back to Margaret Thatcher, with the thanks and gratitude of millions of people, for whom the destruction of this wall is symbolic of the end of a tyranny, under which they have suffered for so long.”
Sir James also remembers fondly how she always liked to have the last word, including at a meeting with Theo Waigel, successor to Franze Joseph Strauss.
“I expected this to be a tame encounter, not a bit of it. She lectured him on Britain’s role in the world. They debated it ‘hammer and tongs’ for quite a long time.
“As we were getting into the car Margaret stood on the steps of No 10 and called out to him ‘Don’t forget what I have told you’. He responded by saying ‘and don’t forget what I have told you’.
“But as always she had the last word. ‘I won’t, but I’ll still be right’.
“That night at the German embassy Waigel told me how much he had enjoyed their meeting, saying finally, ‘What a woman!’”
West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin added his praises to the Iron Lady. He said: “She was one of the few people who really changed the shape of the 20th century – a figure of incalculable significance, not just here in the UK but across the world.”