CPS Deputy Director Jenny Nicholson writes about attending Lady Thatcher's funeral and her memories of meeting the former Prime Minister.
An old friend reminded me of the first time I had met Lady Thatcher. We were working for a firm of publishers and to supplement our income we washed up at book launches. Lady Thatcher came into the kitchen at one event and insisted that the three of us sat down on the sofa for a chat as we looked run off our feet and needed a break. Caroline was not a natural Conservative but had always remembered Lady Thatcher’s kindness as nobody else at those parties had visited the kitchen let alone the leader of the Opposition.
Shortly after I was working with Michael Fallon (the current Minister for Business and Energy) at Britain in Europe. The leaders of all parties came to visit us and again the only one who actually talked to me was Margaret Thatcher. The others looked bored for some reason and moved on as soon as possible.
And this pattern continued throughout my years at the Centre for Policy Studies. She never changed a date for an event and never interfered in any of the arrangements. She always arrived on time and always had time to talk to the staff on the desk.
Another act of kindness I remember (of a different kind) was at a dinner at Great Cumberland Lodge in Windsor. I was sitting two away from Lady Thatcher listening to a very detailed conversation on social security. Much to my horror she said “what do you think dear” but seeing my dumb struck face she answered for me. I was so grateful as I didn’t have a clue and would have made a complete fool of myself.
It was an enormous privilege for Tim Knox and I to attend Lady Thatcher’s funeral. I had filed past the coffin the previous evening which was in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft at the Palace of Westminster and had the same feelings of awe, peace and a sense of history which I had experienced when the Queen Mother was lying in State in Westminster Hall.
It was a very British funeral, English composers. the coffin draped in a Union Jack, traditional hymns, understated (no flowers) in the most magnificent setting. The Bishop of London Richard Chartres delivered a powerful sermon focusing on her faith and personal kindness. He also successfully showed how when Mrs Thatcher said that “there is no such thing as society”, this was not a cold and heartless denial of any sense of commonality but a call for greater individual responsibility based on a deep-seated belief in personal morality: ‘Her later remark about there being no such thing as 'society' has been misunderstood, and refers to some impersonal entity to which we are tempted to surrender our independence… She was very aware there are prior dispositions which are needed to make market economics and democratic institutions function well: the habits of truth-telling, mutual sympathy, and the capacity to co-operate. These dispositions are incubated and given power by our relationships... In her words, “the basic ties of the family are at the heart of our society and are the very nursery of civic virtue”.’
He also pointed out that Mrs Thatcher herself said that from Christianity "we learn our interdependence, and the great truth that we do not achieve happiness or salvation in isolation from each other but as members of society".
Winston Churchill was the last Prime Minister to have a funeral with full military honours. In 1965 his coffin left the cathedral in silence but yesterday cheering could be heard from the crowds as the coffin came down the steps of St Paul’s.
We are all Thatcherites now said the Prime Minister – I hope she would have been pleased.