The news of Lady Thatcher’s death is terribly sad. She was, without question, Britain's greatest post-war Prime Minister and was always very kind to me.
She made a huge difference to my Chelsea and Fulham constituents, as she did to the entire country. Her loss will be felt particularly hard in the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, with its Margaret Thatcher Infirmary and Chapel, where she often prayed.
In Fulham, her legacy lives on as well, as the Council has been a trailblazer in re-launching and extending one of her flagship policies, the Right to Buy.
On the thirtieth anniversary of her becoming Leader of the Conservative Party, I was enormously privileged to be asked by Conservative Way Forward to give an address in Lady Thatcher’s presence.
The text of that 2005 speech seems all the more appropriate now and is reproduced below:
Greg Hands MP's Speech to the Conservative Way Forward Pearl Dinner
In the presence of The Rt Hon Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven LG OM FRS
Lady Thatcher, My Lords, Ladies & Gentlemen, fellow Executive Members,
This is our first CWF dinner since the tragic death of Ronald Reagan last June, and I wanted first to pay tribute to that other great leader of the 1980s.
I have here one of my favourite books, out of print for 30 years, and not even available on E-Bay - "Ronald Reagan's Call to Action"
The reason I have this book tonight is this - it is also written in 1975. It includes everything one needs to know as a baseline philosophy, with a response to the issues of the day, all for a dollar 75 cents.
One of the key things in this little book is that most of the contents are timeless, little of it is about personalities - either friend or foe - and all of it is about a philosophy of government and practical approaches towards achieving it. Most of all it is a book full of hope for the future.
The contents pages cover all the major issues, health, education, work, environment, welfare and so on, with a coherent & consistent philosophy underpinning it.
It even warns us against apeing the Left - then led in the U.S. by that well-known success story Jimmy Carter.
"We in the Republican Party have two problems. First, we haven't been able to shake the image the liberals created for us 40 years ago, the "fat-cat" image, with dollar signs on our vests. Second, some Republicans have looked at the success of the Democratic Party - presidents in 28 and congressional control in 41 of the past 43 years - and decided that we should be more like them. As a result, many people refuse to associate or work with either party, since they can't see a difference ..... The object lesson for Republicans is to stop whimpering 'me-too' after every statement by the Democrats, even to stop trying to sell Republicanism, and concentrate on stating their beliefs simply and clearly."
These words from Reagan in 1975 - "concentrate on stating beliefs simply and clearly" and the end of the "me too" political culture parallels almost exactly the successes of our Party in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher.
We don't want to bury our past - we need to be shouting proudly about our achievements in the 1980s.
We cannot both celebrate & apologise for the 1980s.
We must stop New Labour from re-writing the history of the 1980s.
But this evening is not just about looking back to 1975, and to the 1980s, it is also about looking forward to 2009 and winning the next General Election in Britain. We are on 33%, and we need to get above 40% of the vote - but some seem determined to try to get the extra 7% by first losing the 33% we already have!
We have a need for a coherent philosophy - none better than the 9 principles of CWF. These 9 principles have been signed off by Lady Thatcher as a faithful definition of her own beliefs. We were founded to defend, build on and take forward the beliefs and principles of Margaret Thatcher.
This leads me to my conclusion, and I wanted to return to this book.
One of Reagan's most startling conclusions in 1975 was this:
"We're following England down the road to intellectual and financial destruction."
Reagan's words in 1975 - "It's tragic to look at England today and compare it to the England that fought the Battle of Britain 35 years ago. To think what they withstood and what they accomplished: the nobility of that entire people. I doubt it could happen today" (in 1975).
Well, my Lords, ladies and gentlemen - for once, Ronald Reagan was proven wrong - the intellectual and financial destruction that he saw in England in 1975 was turned around, and Britain did stand tall again only a few years later - and the person responsible is our guest of honour tonight; Baroness Thatcher.