Chapter 19 - The Iron Lady
I will never be a serious ‘big P’ political animal although I do enjoy being an objective spectator to the stories of what’s goings-on in Parliament and about politicians, whatever party they represent. I vote Conservative out of family tradition but I find politics amusingly entertaining and would have responded positively if any other of the party HQs had called me in 1973 to do some pro bono work for them.
In fact the call came to me from the Tory Central Office and the task was to join a small group of PR professionals to act as a ‘sounding board’ for the controversial Secretary of State for Education who had quickly been given the title of ‘the most unpopular women in Britain’.
She was Margaret Thatcher whose most controversial decision was to scrap the entitlement of primary school children to free milk, and her nickname was changed to ‘Thatcher, Milk Snatcher’.
The first get together of the PR group and our ‘client’ really set the pattern for our future relationship and also sent out strong signals of what Britain and the rest of the world was to discover when Mrs. Thatcher became party leader the following year and the country’s first women prime minister in 1979.
Her way to get things done was to listen to advice, make up her own mind, and then challenge other people to change it by sound and simply presented argument.
We played her game over many real and hypothetical issues which produced some very full and frank discussions but not once did I detect a glimmer of hope that we had changed her view whatsoever.
I remember on one occasion she turned to one PR adviser and said: “Can you hand on heart say that you believe in what you have just advised me to do?”. The adviser mumbled that wasn’t the point to which she retorted: “It’s my point and I can put my hand on my heart and say that my plan is exactly what the country needs today….”
As Prime Minister her ‘Iron Lady’ style was hugely successful in changing global economic policies, taking on and defeating the trade unions and putting the ‘Great’ back into ‘Great Britain’s” international reputation with her victory in the Falklands War.
At the same time it created open war fare with members of her Cabinet that ended in resignations of key allies that were eventually to mortally wound her reign. She was forced to resign in 1990, making her the longest continually serving prime minister in 150 years.
When my career had moved me into management I always remembered what Margaret Thatcher forgot – survivors should never lock themselves into a box and throw away the key.