Thatcher and the decade of genuine revolution I saw

Margaret Thatcher talks to reporters after arriving at Downing Street as prime minister for the first time. Photo: PA

For a flight home, I cherish my iPod. Joni Mitchell's 'Blue' captures the thrill of transatlantic flight and Pink Floyd's 'The Final Cut', the early zenith of the Thatcher years, albeit from a classically critical Roger Waters stance.

I found myself away when Margaret Thatcher died - her passing was announced in London, via the inevitable Lord (Tim) Bell, on April 8th, shortly after 1pm as I recall; it was shortly after 8am where I was.

I grabbed the phone and called ITN to offer my services. Many chats, huge help from friends at BA and the brilliant Jonathan Greig on our travel desk, but it came to nought. It was impossible to get back in time and, anyway, I couldn't get there for day one - the defining 24 hours of the story.

I was mortified to miss this chapter of what we call in the trade the 'first draft of history'. So I watched from afar as this polarising icon, this post-war giant, again caused a schism in British society - a notion of which the very existence she herself had been seen to doubt.

From the endless hagiography of Tory zealots, many barely born when she held sway, to the bitter acrimony of the George Galloways of this world - he borrowed a line from Elvis Costello to encourage folk, metaphorically I trust, to 'Tramp the Dirt Down' - presumably of her grave and surely of her memory.

It wasn't a proud time.

Margaret Thatcher learns of her outright victory in the second ballot for the Conservative Party leadership in 1975. Credit: PA

I was Deputy President of NUS when she became Leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, and suitably antagonistic; I was a Southern ITV reporter when she was first elected PM in 1979, awe-struck by her shattering of a glass-ceiling, first breached by Sri Lanka's Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike - Thatcher was only the third ever woman in the world to do it; I was an ITN Industrial Correspondent when she took on first the steel workers and then pivotally the miners in the 1980s; I was in Bermuda when she and Ronald Reagan did the deal on short-range tactical nuclear weapons which led to years of disquiet at Greenham common; and I was ITN's Washington Correspondent when she was ousted in 1990 after three successive General Election victories.

In 1979 I had covered the count in Reading North when the Tory Tony Durant took five re-counts to win.

By the end I was interviewing her in London, in Washington and in Houston, Texas, at the G7/8 Summit. The stand-out tribute for me was from her implausible successor Sir John Major. The gap had been created by Michael Heseltine following a Cabinet spat over Westland Helicopters which had more to do with Anglo-European relations than whirly-birds.

Michael, who wielded of the knife, predictably failed to win the prize. But she was doomed from then on in and it was John who shimmied through the gap.

John Major and his wife Norma wave to photographers shortly after he became pmime minister in 1990.

I recall being phoned by the mighty CNN in Washington DC to do a 'who he' interview about a dignified, modest and under-rated man who became a friend.

John said on April 8th that Thatcher had brought 'conviction' back into politics. No longer the dirty deals done in smoke-filled rooms; no longer the bail-outs of doomed businesses; no longer, as Hugo Young brilliantly demonstrates in the stand-out book 'One of Us', the unbridled power of vested interests and cabals.

For her, there was a belief in an economic-political policy that was hatched in the mid-1970s by Keith Joseph, Alfred Sherman, John Hoskyns and others to restore the power in our democracy to the voters - the citizens, the tax-payers, the people.

She was their spearhead, their mouth-piece: as unlikely a leadership victor as her successor John Major.

Many eschewed it but not enough at the ballot box to stop her.

Privatisations, monetarism, union reform, council house sales - the tools were plentiful and polarising. But, for more than a decade, she held fast to it.

Europe was her undoing but that is for another essay.

In the end, those closest to her got cold feet - or saw her imploding under the weight of presumed omniscience and emerging autocracy.

"All political careers end in failure," as Enoch Powell observed.

But what I observed and reported on in the steel battle-fields of South Wales and Sheffield, in the coalfields on the 'Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire', as miners' leader Arthur Scargill called it, on council estates and outside strike-bound car-plants in Birmingham and Cowley, was a genuine revolution.

Arthur Scargill addresses a rally in Barnsley in 1984. Credit: PA

She transformed the Labour Britain of the 'Winter of Discontent' as much as she transformed the lazy Tory corporatism of Ted Heath and Harold MacMillan.

Tony Blair, her 'greatest achievement', as she liked to say, had the grace and perception to admit as much; even Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband nodded to it.

She was a 'game-changer'.

Others, wiser and freer to opine than I, will cast judgement upon her lasting legacy.

Without her writ, however, even a professionally objective observer like me can say we would be in 'Another Country'.

For better or worse? That is for others to say.

But for me it was the most electric, stimulating and intellectually satisfying decade of my life.

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