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By Joseph Willits
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Joe Murphy of the Evening Standard has described "an astonishing new story" told by John Whittingdale about Margaret Thatcher, who delivered the Speaker's Lecture on Great Parliamentarians last night.
Whittingdale, who was once Thatcher's political secretary, said that because she "always said she had never been defeated by the people", Thatcher "briefly" considered carrying on as Prime Minister.
Thatcher, he said, deliberated "whether or not she could continue as Prime Minister without being leader of the Conservative Party". Although he said it "was not an entirely practical idea", her deep sense of "disloyalty and betrayal", and the impropriety with which she felt forced from office, spurred a longing to carry on serving the country.
Murphy writes that Whittingdale, elaborating on his comments, "pointed out that Lady T was at that time playing a kew role in the build up to Gulf War I and fighting for the hard-won freedom of eastern Europeans. For that reason, she felt her departure would let down literally millions of people who were relying on her".
With renewed attention being placed on Thatcher with the release of "The Iron Lady", commentators and politicans are recollecting their relationships with Thatcher in Government, offering insights into her character. In the Telegraph today, Norman Tebbit states that in his experience, Thatcher was never "the half-hysterical, over-emotional, over-acting woman portrayed by Meryl Streep." Thatcher, he said, "could be angry" but "contrary to some accounts of her negotiating tactics, I never felt that she was playing “the feminine card”. Tebbit said: "It was all about reality, not emotion, and she was no stranger to the game of hard ball."
Matthew Parris, who was formerly a correspondence secretary for Margaret Thatcher, said that Streep's success was in replicating "the declamatory nature of much of Thatcher's speech. The former prime minister couldn't ask for a Welsh rarebit without appearing to make a pronouncement. She had, just occasionally, a faintly flustered look, quickly covered up."
In his Speaker's Lecture on Thatcher last night, Whittingdale made a light-hearted reference to Thatcher's grasp of jokes: “She knew jokes were not her strong point but knew they were important.”
Whittingdale, who assisted Thatcher in speechwriting, recalled showing the Prime Minister Monty Python's dead parrot scene, to be used to mock the Liberal Democrat bird of freedom logo. He recalls:
“We were all rolling around with laughter – except Margaret who was impassive." They finally persuaded her that, despite her inability to see the joke, it really was the funniest sketch in British comedy and she kept it. (You can watch her perfomance, complete with John Cleese nuances on YouTube – and, yes, it brought the house down)."
Thatcher then asked Whittingdale, "Monty Python, are you sure he is one of us?"