Margaret Thatcher dead: The obsessively British Prime Minister
Obsessively British, Mrs Thatcher batted patriotically for her country wherever she went, priding herself on wearing home-grown clothes and upbraiding those who did not follow her example.
She once famously even turned up her nose at Perrier Water, using the rejoinder “What’s wrong with British water?”
Given a degree of nationalism which critics might say bordered on the jingoistic, Mrs Thatcher was surprisingly popular in many other countries of the world.
On the streets of Moscow, Warsaw, Budapest, Peking, Nairobi, Lagos, Kuala Lumpur, Bombay, Jakarta and New York – in fact wherever she went – crowds poured out to greet her, stretching out to touch her, kissing her hand and her face.
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The adulation worldwide was remarkable. In more than one country, Poland, and the former Czechoslovakia to name but two, serious journalists asked her at news conferences whether she would take over their ramshackle governments.
And this was the kind of irresistible – but not bogus– flattery _ which she revelled in.
Mrs Thatcher had first come into prominence in the international arena during the crisis in Rhodesia.
Tackling the situation in Rhodesia, which had been lingering unresolved since the mid-60s, gave the new Prime Minister a good deal of kudos.
Lord Soames was sent out to Rhodesia to negotiate and within months it was ironically a Conservative government in Britain which helped install a Marxist administration under Robert Mugabe in the newly renamed Zimbabwe.
Even though Mugabe was not the favoured choice and the victory would produce a different, but no less savage crisis for Zimbabwe’s white population, Mrs Thatcher had brought a 13 year old problem to a resolution.
In October 1998, Mrs Thatcher called for the immediate release of ex-President Pinochet of Chile, who was being held to face an extradition request by Spain for alleged murder.
Baroness Thatcher said he had saved many British lives during the Falklands conflict, that Chile was ‘a good friend to this country’ and that Pinochet must be allowed to return to his own country immediately.
She caused a stir by visiting the former Chilean leader while he was effectively under house arrest near London, and having lunch with him. But her appeals to the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, were ignored.
When President Ronald Reagan arrived on the scene there was an instant warmth and an abiding friendship which was to continue long after he left office and continued until his death. Baroness Thatcher remained friendly with his widow, Nancy, and the two met from time to time.
The warmth between Reagan and Thatcher was remarkable and during that period the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the United States was very special indeed.
However, there was one serious disagreement between them.
In October 1983, US forces invaded the Caribbean island of Grenada to overthrow the ultra-leftists who had just seized power.
Mrs Thatcher was incandescent that this invasion had taken place on a Commonwealth country, whose nominal head of state was the Queen, without any consultation.
It was to be the only blot on an otherwise unflawed political relationship.
In June 2004, Lady Thatcher attended the funeral service in Washington of her ‘dear friend’ Ronald Reagan. In a moving, pre-recorded tribute, she said “We have lost a great president, a great American and a great man. And I have lost a dear friend.”
Mrs Thatcher’s rapport with the Soviet leader Mr Gorbachev was, in a different way, as warm as that with President Reagan and both enjoyed each other’s style of debating.
“I can do business with him,” she once famously declared.
On one occasion, in the Kremlin, they talked for nine hours on end – to such an extent that Mrs Thatcher did not even have time to get changed for a state banquet that night.
Mrs Thatcher did not ameliorate her criticisms of the Soviet system, making use of new opportunities to broadcast to TV audiences in the east to put the case against Communism.
Nevertheless she played a constructive part in the diplomacy that had smoothed the break-up of the Soviet Empire and the Soviet Union itself in the years 1989-91.
THE END OF THE COLD WAR
Mrs Thatcher played her part in the last phase of the Cold War, both in strengthening the Western alliance against the Soviets in the early 1980s and in the successful unwinding of the conflict later in the decade.
The Soviets had dubbed her ‘The Iron Lady’ – a tag she relished – for the tough line she had taken against them in speeches shortly after becoming Conservative leader in 1975.
In 1976 she had indicated her foreign policy leanings when she criticised the Soviet Union for its failure to engage in ‘genuine detente’. She said that Soviet intervention in Angola was proof of Soviet desire for world domination and she urged NATO to remain strong.
During the 1980s she offered strong support to the defence policies of the Reagan administration.
When the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was unified, those who had long opposed her proclaimed the end of the Thatcher era, much as Churchill’s detractors had when Labour defeated him at the end of World War II.
Historical commentators say that her style of politics flourished – as did Reagan’s – during the Cold War, but once it came to an end, one of her most significant raisons d’etre was lost.