I feel compelled to not let Baroness Thatcher’s passing go unremarked.
So I’ll sum up my feelings by recounting a little tale about my dear old Mum.
Before I was born, in the late ‘50s my Mum was a social worker in the North West. She had a big patch and drove her Ford Popular to get to her appointments. (A bit like ‘Call the Midwife’ on four wheels) Back then, social work wasn’t tarnished with the brush of scandal and incompetence that rightly or wrongly it has been in recent years. All the same, it was about tackling poverty and deprivation and trying to improve the conditions for society’s most vulnerable.
After stopping work to have the family and a hip-replacement operation, she retrained to be a Primary School teacher, first in Greater Manchester and later in the poorest area of Whitehaven, in the shadow of Haigh pit and the Marchon chemical works.
She hated Thatcherism and its uncaring, hectoring style. I knew that from the way she would answer back to the news on radio and TV. But she never discussed her own politics. To this day I don’t know how she voted.
Anyway, the year is 1982 or thereabouts, in the run up to local elections. Mid morning one day there was rat-tat at our front door. I was upstairs and heard my Mum go to answer it.
‘Good Morning, Madam. Lovely day’
There seemed to be two visitors on the doorstep. I listened on.
‘I wonder whether we might be able to count on your vote in the forthcoming election?’
‘And you are ..?’
Well, it was the Tory candiate, long-forgotten; while the other introduced himself as one Piers Merchant, a young Tory smoothie and unsuccessful candidate for Newcastle Central in 1979. Presumably Central Office were allowing him to hone his campaigning skills ready for the next general election campaign.
‘May we ask what line of work you or your husband are in then we can give you an idea of some of the ways the Conservative Party are going to be able to transform your lives?’
‘As it happens we are both in Education’
‘Ah! Schools’ said Merchant ‘A subject close to Mrs. Thatcher’s heart and one that I think you will find the Conservative Party …’
‘What does she know about schools?’
Talk about ‘lighting the blue touchpaper!’ For a good fifteen minutes, my Mum laid into them, wiped the floor with them in fact, on every aspect of Tory policy Education, Health, Energy, Tax, The Falklands. I listened on in glee, getting prouder and prouder of my Mum as they got more and more uncomfortable. Eventually to resounding cheers from upstairs, she slammed the door on them and they scuttled off, tails between their legs.
Piers Rolf Garfield Merchant got his wish and was elected to parliament representing Newcastle Central in the 1983 election. He lost his seat in1987. He returned to parliament as MP for Beckenham in 1992. His resignation was precipitated by the ‘Sleeze Merchant’ Affair in which the married MP was photographed and filmed in what are generally referred to in these cases as ‘compromising situations’ with a 17 year old Soho based ‘Hostess’. In 2005, he was the UKIP candidate for the Torrington Rural ward in the Devon County Council election, but finished fourth of the four candidates.
The point being of course that the Iron Lady image was a myth perpetrated by the likes of spineless lackeys like Merchant. In overcoming adversity, battling a lifetime of ill health (not that often you would know it) my Mum was an Iron Lady, so was her Mum, and My Best Mate Aky’s Mum. And Jackie and Jane and Caroline …