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Marcus Gee on Thatcher: ‘The handbag never stops swinging’

Marcus Gee logo, photographed at The Globe and Mail in Toronto on October 11, 2012.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Margaret Thatcher had a "stinking cold" when I spoke with her in a suite at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto on Nov. 7, 1993. Three years out of office, she was 68 years old and had already done more than 100 interviews on a three-week tour to promote her memoir The Downing Street Years. But none of that had softened the lady's iron.

As I put it at the time, she was "precise and intense in person. She speaks, as ever, in italics. And the handbag never stops swinging."

Of attempts by the Commonwealth to clamp sanctions on the apartheid regime of South Africa, she said: "I found it utterly repugnant that you could have 50 or 60 heads of government sitting in a five-star hotel, saying they're going to put sanctions on others and make them starve. So I didn't allow it. Thank goodness."

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Of Edward Heath, who preceded her as Tory leader: "Ted had a pretty good Conservative manifesto. Then the going got rough and he did a U-turn. I came in and the going got very rough – and we drove the policies through."

But she saved her best for the cabinet colleagues who ganged up to oust her as leader after eleven and a half years in power.

"It was quite extraordinary," she said, when I asked about the day in November, 1990, when she learned she had come up short in a party leadership review. "It was only a question of getting a couple more votes – perfectly simple. But I was away and they just lost their nerve. That was it."

What was most striking about her in person was her absolute certainty. If she had a particle of doubt about anything, even her failure to see the coming Tory rebellion brought about, in part, by her own highhandedness, she was not letting on. Three years after the fact, she still seemed astonished that these little men had been able to topple her.

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About the Author
Toronto columnist

Marcus Gee is Toronto columnist for the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper.Born in Toronto, he graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1979 with a degree in modern European history, then worked as a reporter for The Province, Vancouver's morning newspaper. More

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