Mulroney remembers Margaret Thatcher: An Iron Lady

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Mulroney remembers Thatcher: An Iron Lady, indeed

Brian Mulroney remembers the 'commanding' force of Margaret Thatche

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Mulroney remembers Thatcher: An Iron Lady, indeed

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney welcomes British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to the Economic Summit at Toronto City Hall in this June 19, 1988 file photo.




In a friendship that extended over 30 years, I argued passionately with Margaret Thatcher, I fought with her, and I won and lost battles with her.

But at the same time, I loved Margaret Thatcher.

If you admired strength and vision, if you respected a political colleague who could endure the most powerful blows and never flinch, if you respected a leader who stood on principle no matter how politically painful was its defence – you had to love Margaret Thatcher.

I remember most vividly the end of her time in office. We were together at a high-level summit in Paris, in November of 1990, on the very weekend of the caucus revolt that removed her from office. I was stunned that after winning three strong majorities she could be turfed out in such a manner – and indeed, so was she. She would not have come to the meeting if she had understood how serious was the conspiracy against her.

Margaret and I had a complicated friendship. I admired her position on most issues, and we supported each other at international meetings on issues as diverse as bringing Mikhail Gorbachev into the circle of the G7, on free trade and on expanding NATO to broaden and deepen the boundaries of democratic Europe. But on one issue we clashed, repeatedly.

Mrs. Thatcher could not see the importance, the inevitability even, of the end of a system as patently cruel as apartheid. We had our most difficult conversations about it for more than five years, including an especially intense one-on-one at Mirabel Airport. The photo of the two of us makes clear how wrenching was our exchange. Margaret left office before the astonishing transformation that was Nelson Mandela's arrival on the world stage, and I avoided renewing our debates on the subject after that. She certainly wasn't for the turning, as she said, but we remained friends. I know she suspected me of being what she would call "a wet" – not sufficiently hardline by her standards.

She came to visit in her retirement years, spending one glorious weekend with my family and me at the prime minister's residence at Harrington Lake. We talked and laughed and shared memories of the grand battles we had fought and won together until well into the evening. We had other fine holidays together in South Hampton in New York and in Palm Beach in her retirement years.

Margaret was careful not to interfere in other countries' domestic politics, sensitive to how difficult such meddling would be for a fellow leader – most of the time. ... However, when she came to Ottawa in the midst of our free-trade debate, to my amusement and the horror of many colleagues, critics and reporters, she used part of her speech to the House of Commons to laud not only the free-trade agreement and but our government for having attempted it. She gave me an "aren't I wicked?" smile as she sat down.

It was only two years later though that she was attempting to maintain the same confident zeal in a tough negotiation. We were together at the then-new Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Margaret drove her security policy views backed by her usual intensely detailed homework. In all my public life, I only met one other leader who prepared so meticulously for important meetings – Peter Lougheed.

During the discussions, she maintained her confident, even jaunty air, but late that night before a formal dinner at Versailles she turned to me and said, "Brian, I need a friend to talk to. As I said in my diary note later, "I was overwhelmed by the sadness in her eyes and by her loneliness..." I shared with her the story of John Diefenbaker and his similarly painful defeat. We chatted about the vagaries of political life. Then Mila and I escorted her into the room.

This was a side of Margaret I had never seen, and that she did not permit the world to see, then or later. Margaret Thatcher was never going to go quietly – and she did not. Setting up a large foundation devoted to her political values, writing a two-volume memoir and offering advice to leaders in private – and sometimes with her typically razor-sharp acuity – in public.

I was pleased to have a chance to share memories with her and then share them with those gathered at the memorial for Ronald Reagan in 2004. Our last time together was over lunch at Claridge's in London. Margaret was almost as sharp in her judgments of people and events as the first time I met her 30 years earlier.

It is always tempting for one generation to regard the leaders of the generations that follow with some condescension. But I believe I am safe in saying that at a crucial chapter in her country's history, without Margaret Thatcher's resolute leadership, the United Kingdom would have suffered far more deeply.

And I am confident in saying that, at an equally crucial moment in global history – the collapse of communism and the reunification of Europe – the world was blessed to have had leaders of the stature of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, the first George Bush and Helmut Kohl, to lead us through that fateful transition. I feel blessed to have known and worked many late nights with each of them – and most blessed of all to have had that privilege with Margaret Thatcher, an Iron Lady indeed.

Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister of Canada from 1984 to1993.

Brian Mulroney remembers the ‘commanding’ force of Margaret Thatcher

Brian Mulroney says his old friend Margaret Thatcher was commanding and fierce in her political battles, but also a dear and thoughtful friend.

Margaret Thatcher leads the way as Ronald Reagan, Brian Mulroney and Helmut Kohl follow her into a courtyard at Hart House in Toronto in June 1988.

Margaret Thatcher leads the way as Ronald Reagan, Brian Mulroney and Helmut Kohl follow her into a courtyard at Hart House in Toronto in June 1988.


Mon., April 8, 2013

OTTAWA—Former prime minister Brian Mulroney last saw Margaret Thatcher about a year and a half ago, when he took her to lunch at Claridge’s in London.

Though suffering from dementia, she still remembered her old friend and conservative ally from the 1980s, and as always, she called him “Brawn.”

Toward the end of the lunch, Thatcher said: “Brawn, I’m sorry. I’m going to have to leave because I have to go home and make tea for Denis.”

Thatcher had brought Lord Charles Powell, her former foreign adviser, along to the lunch and he gently reminded her that Sir Denis had passed away in 2003.

Mulroney wasn’t sure what to say. “She looked at me, she didn’t say anything, and then, very softly, she said: ‘Yes, of course I remember. But you know Brawn, I still have to go home and make tea.’”

Mulroney took her arm and escorted her out through the opulent lobby at Claridge’s. Instantly recognized by the crowds, resplendent in a maroon suit and diamond jewelry, Thatcher was applauded as she made her exit with her old Canadian friend.

On learning of her death on Monday, Mulroney had a flood of recollections about his dealings with Thatcher, whom he said will be remembered as a “commanding figure in history.”

There were many times when they stood shoulder to shoulder with U.S. president Ronald Reagan — the three of them known as a powerful, conservative triumvirate on the world stage in the 1980s. Mulroney credits Thatcher for blazing the conservative trail with her election in 1979 — proving that it was possible, indeed necessary, to repudiate the social-welfare-state policies of the 1970s.

“I would say that her agenda had a very significant influence, not only on Canada and the United States, but elsewhere,” Mulroney said, citing his own record in reversing the legacy of Liberal rule under Pierre Trudeau, and how Thatcher’s example had emboldened him to do so.

Even so, he said, Thatcher always saw him as a little soft when it came to conservatism. “Margaret thought I was too progressive and not conservative enough,” he laughed.

And then there were the battles, too — in particular, a large blowup between Mulroney and Thatcher in 1986 over the issue of sanctions against apartheid in South Africa. Mulroney was for them, Thatcher was adamantly opposed.

“That was not a polite skirmish,” Mulroney said. That was the only fundamental disagreement on policy that we had.”

At one point, during a tense meeting at Mirabel airport near Montreal, Mulroney said he had to shout at her: “Margaret. I am not a member of your government. I am the prime minister of a sovereign nation . . . . If you want somebody to follow you, go get someone from your own government.”

There were no lingering hard feelings over that row, though, Mulroney said, and the two went on to build a deep and enduring friendship that lasted well beyond Thatcher’s 1990 ouster as prime minister. Mulroney was actually with her at a global conference in Paris as the Conservative forces in London were massing to unseat her. Mulroney wrote extensively in his memoirs of her sad but stoic demeanour in the face of the caucus uprising that was brewing back at home. Indeed, when she returned, Thatcher was removed as leader.

Mulroney continued to see her throughout the years, sometimes on long-weekend vacations he and his wife Mila took with Nancy Reagan and the Thatchers.

“In private, she was a gentle, kind, thoughtful, polite, hugely enjoyable person,” he said. “She was a truly wonderful human being.”

Brian Mulroney on Thatcher: ‘The world has lost one of its giants’

U.S. President Ronald Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney chat at a G7 leaders' summit on June 20, 1988. HANS DERYK

The world today has lost one of its giants. Margaret Thatcher was the most transformative leader of her country since Churchill. She played a crucial role in the successful navigation of the end of the Cold War and the launch of a new era.

Mila and I share with her family and friends around the world deep sadness at her passing. Margaret was an inspiration to a generation of leaders around the world, with her courage, her conviction and her ability to stand up to dictatorship and to lead her country in war. The Britain she took charge of in 1979 was a country burdened with illness, social and economic. By the time of her departure more than a decade later Britain was a confident winner again.

I was privileged to work with Margaret, with Ronald Reagan and with Helmut Kohl, François Mitterrand as we attempted to persuade first European colleagues and then the world that the death of the Soviet Union meant an entirely new set of relationships in the world. Those leaders found the path to a new future for Germany, for Europe and for the world. It was an achievement in which Margaret was a driving force.

Like every great leader, with strong convictions and a bold vision, she made enemies. Some Canadians were unconvinced by her approach. But in a series of visits to Canada she won many friends here. By her final visit in 1988 she was recognized as the founder of modern Conservatism, a leader who had dragged her country from the brink of economic and social crisis, and a beacon of strong principled leadership to the world.

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