Tribute to Margaret Thatcher in Parliament

5.11 pm

Mr Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West) (Con): Thank you for your advice, Mr Speaker. We have had some warm and dignified tributes from both sides of the House, led admirably by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. I hope that we can now return to tributes in that spirit.

Briefly, I want to pay tribute in three different ways. As chairman of the 1922 committee, I want to pay tribute on behalf of Conservative Back Benchers present and past, although I note from the number of colleagues who are standing to make their own contributions that they may well speak for themselves in due course. Like many others, I want to pay a personal tribute. I also want to pay tribute especially as a northern Conservative MP, who now represents the constituency in which I grew up in the 1980s, perhaps answering and responding to the points that were made by the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher).

On behalf of the 1922 committee, I pay tribute to a leader and Prime Minister who achieved so much—three stunning election victories; turning around a moribund economy; ending decades of decline. She restored our national pride—from being the sick man of Europe, only good at making jokes about ourselves, which I remember as a boy,

I pay tribute to Margaret Thatcher for the inspirational leadership that she gave to the Conservative party; for inspiring Conservative supporters around the country; and most of all, for inspiring millions of people who had never before realised that they were Conservatives. Lady Thatcher’s strength, conviction, patriotism and clarity won her the respect of friends and fair-minded critics alike. Perhaps most remarkable was her popularity not only in this country but overseas, and the lasting legacy of freedom, democracy and prosperity, which we have heard about from many colleagues, that she leaves as a leader who helped to win the cold war and who inspired the people of eastern Europe to fight for their own freedom. Her legacy in this country and beyond will always be remembered with pride by our party.

As with so many hon. Members of my age, my tribute is also intensely personal. Growing up under Margaret Thatcher’s governance, it was impossible to be agnostic about politics. Her message was one of opportunity. Whatever your background, you could progress by merit and hard work. Had I not taken that message to heart, I, like so many other Conservative Members—and perhaps, from a different perspective, like quite a few Opposition Members—would not be here in Parliament today.

The last part of my brief tribute to Lady Thatcher is that of a northern Member of Parliament, and it is to address a myth that is in danger of taking hold. My

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hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) addressed some other myths that have been spread recently. It is true that the restructuring of our economy in the early 1980s hit parts of the north hard, because a concentration of heavy industry and mining had become uncompetitive and uneconomic, but many metropolitan journalists fall into peddling an easy fallacy, suggesting that the north was uniformly hostile to the message of Lady Thatcher—we were not. Many Labour Members will recall that the seats they now represent returned Conservative Members who supported Margaret Thatcher’s strong defence, modernisation of the economy, determination to extend opportunity, and spreading of wealth and home ownership to their constituents. Many of those seats across the north returned Labour Members only after Tony Blair embraced the free market, low-tax message of Margaret Thatcher.

We are here to remember a truly remarkable lady, who influenced all our lives, transformed our country and helped to bring freedom to others, and who most of all was unwavering in doing what she believed to be right. We should honour her memory.