Thatcher’s Child JohnnyFox April 17, 2014 Other Writing It’s the day of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral and in the past week since she died the press has been almost equally full of eulogy and inchoate rage, more or less divided between those who lived through her era, and those whose were too young to remember the 70s and whose caricatured impressions of her have been processed through the distorted filter of stand-up comedy. I’ll save my story of meeting her for the end of this post, but it occurs to me I’m almost as much a child of Thatcher as I am of my own parents and certainly her actions have patterned my life. My parents even met through politics, they were both members of the ‘Junior Imperial League’, a forerunner of the Young Conservatives, just before the Second World War. My mother, more or less her contemporary, was also a bright, industrious girl but had to leave school at fourteen and without a college education knew instead the values of hard work and self-improvement and instilled in me as best she could the same ethic. Or at least she belted me round the head often enough when I was slacking at school which amounts to the same thing. Encouraged by educational competition I won a scholarship to public school, saving fees my parents probably couldn’t have afforded, and through that became the first child in my family to go to University, again without tuition costs. I bought my first home, on my 25thbirthday. It was at the time Tory legislation was being passed to sell off the local authority housing stock and I had to rent it for £6 a week for eighteen months whilst it was sorted out, during which time the mortgage rate rose from 8 to 13.75% and the repayments when they started took my breath away, and I lived on beans for two years. When I moved to London I sold it for twice what I’d paid, and then bought and renovated another and … well, any prosperity I might now enjoy stems from that initial lucky purchase, tax relief on mortgage payments which was only rescinded by Gordon Brown in 2000, and the housing boom of the 80s which followed Mrs T’s economic changes. When I first went to work in Southampton, I hadn’t been able to find a flat to rent because the law made it all but impossible for private landlords to rent out empty properties without risking losing them to tenants who could claim they needed them more. Once Thatcher had abolished the notorious Rent Act, renting became easier for both landlord and tenant and having been both, I appreciated it. Through a ‘lonely hearts’ advert in the back of Gay News, then a sort of ‘parish magazine’ for the community, I met a young chap who was a Conservative candidate for the local council elections and he persuaded me also to apply on the grounds that the decision-making ladies of the Bargate ward would ‘love me’ – which they did. So I was, for three years, the youngest elected member of Southampton City Council and only lost my seat in the higher Labour turnout of the 1979 election, which was also the day Mrs Thatcher came to power. I’m ashamed to say I had adopted my parents’ political views fairly unquestioningly – it took me till my thirties to develop and act on my natural liberal tendencies – and was a regional vice chair of the Federation of Conservative Students, where my happy little gang included Andrew Neil, David Davis, Tony Baldry and Neil Hamilton. That I didn’t follow them into parliament I still regard as my lucky escape. We had a lot of residential courses heavily subsidised by the party, and I fondly remember the glorious converted castle at Swinton in North Yorkshire which was the Conservative College and where I learned to drink gin. Some lectures were recorded but there were occasions when microphones were banned and we heard, for example, the outrageous Rhodes Boyson expound his immigration policy ideas of “give them a thousand pounds and tell them to bugger off”. At the Blackpool party conference of 1977, a squeaky schoolboy called William Hague made his debut and I sat next to Enoch Powell who squirmed a bit during the Leader’s speech, and stomped off when she finished. I went dancing in the Tower Ballroom.On my last visit to review a show at Leicester’s very modern Curve Theatre, I took an hour to revisit its very ancient Grand Hotel where we had our annual conference every November, and sit in the dusty ballroom where I’d heard not just Mrs Thatcher, but a tentative and self-deprecating Ken Clarke make one of his first speeches as an MP. But it was my first meeting with Mrs Thatcher that is so firmly etched in my memory: 19 February 1973, the day I lost my virginity. The aforementioned Federation of Conservative Students had been asked to do a survey on student finances, because some Central Office think tank had come up with the idea that grants could be replaced with loans. We’d touted the forms round Lancaster University without much take-up and when asked to submit the summaries, I’d simply multiplied all the numbers by five to make it look as though we’d got far more responses than we did. A working party was asked to report to Mrs Thatcher as Secretary of State for Education, and they invited those who had, apparently, collated the most forms. It was a rare visit to London for me, I’d only been twice before, and I slept on the floor of a friend at UCL. He had lectures during the day and so I had to amuse myself, and though I’d try to find ‘gay life’ in the city. I had no idea where to look – for some reason I’d confused hanging around Piccadilly Circus to pick up men with Marble Arch and spent a desultory hour at quite the wrong tube station although a few Edgware Road Arabic types did give me the eye. We had some end-of-term ball coming up and the fashion those days was for velvet suits, so I went shopping along Oxford Street and was trying on the trousers in the fitting room of C&A when the assistant suddenly became extra helpful in smoothing the nap of the velvet, particularly in the crotch area. Paul Attard, it said on his badge. One thing led to another and I hope he managed to get the stains out before returning it to stock, but the other issue was that I was wearing paper disposable underpants – another 1973 fashion faux pas– and had to chuck them in a bin. So I went to my meeting with Margaret Thatcher, in her office at the House of Commons, without pants and smelling of sex. Still waiting for the blue plaque… We had a post-mortem in a pub in the Euston Road where I lent David Davis, later shadow Home Secretary, 10p for the condom machine in the gents. He’s never paid me back. Some good came of it: although she was fiercely well-prepared and questioned us rigorously she did come round to the idea of maintaining student grants, a policy not reversed till Tony Blair brought in tuition fees in 1998.