Baroness Thatcher at 80: Maggie and me

As Baroness Thatcher turns 80, six people whose lives she changed tell us what she means to them
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Indy Politics

BBC's former chief political correspondent and author of 'Maggie: Her Fatal Legacy'

Political journalists are naturally attracted to characters who effortlessly light up a stage. On that basis, Margaret Thatcher can hardly be faulted. Though she often appeared arrogant, personally she could be remarkably thoughtful. She was responsible for some disastrous mistakes, most notably the poll tax and the decision that Britain should join the exchange-rate mechanism. She also neglected investment in vital services. Some of her virtues in office, particularly her unwavering self-belief, soon became vices after she had been pushed out of Downing Street; and the Conservative Party is still suffering the consequences. But she was undoubtedly a great Prime Minister. She shifted power away from the trade unions and the Government towards the marketplace. Most of her key reforms have stood the test of time. She changed the way we live and the way we look at the world.

Tam Dalyell

Former MP who retired as Father of the House this year

She told lies and untruths to the House of Commons on two occasions. The first related to her knowledge of the Peruvian peace proposals at the time she agreed to the Belgrano being sunk. She said she didn't know about them. And it was then that I was ejected from the House of Commons for calling her a liar. Three years ago I was invited to a dinner party by the Colombian ambassador. South Americans are very formal in their dinner parties: a man takes each lady in to dinner. And, guess what? I was allocated to take in a little old lady from two doors down: Margaret Thatcher. I hadn't spoken to her for 17 years. So I said to myself, "You behave yourself, Tam." I didn't start on the Belgrano or Westland, but I did say, "I was very sorry to hear that your head had been damaged", meaning the sculpture. Her Cabinet had the fear of God put into them. Nobody can say other than that she was a very remarkable lady.

Dave Wakeling

Lead singer, the Beat

Our song "Stand Down, Margaret" meant "Humble yourself, get off your pedestal", as much as "Resign, resign" - although that would have been fine, too. How heartbreaking to see someone selling the politics of hate right at the dawning of the age of Aquarius. Fear ruled; people stopped talking at bus stops. The Queen's popularity went up when we learnt she hated the Iron Lady, too. Her grip of steel only increased and the kingdom was thrown into icy darkness for many years. Any leader who finds themselves at odds with the population would be wise to sing this song as a reminder. I'd sing "Stand Down, Tony", but he'd need to stand up first.

Steve Nallon

Thatcher impersonator on 'Spitting Image'

In the 1980s my life was dominated by her. There wasn't a week when I wasn't dressing up as her. She's such a great comic character, very Dickensian. She had Denis, who was pissed all the time, and a son who got lost in the desert. She flirted with Cecil Parkinson. She was slightly odd and she knew it. Men were terrified of her. Most of them had been brought up by nannies and she tapped into that. Some women find it difficult to get low enough but her voice is in my range. There is a power thing there, putting you in your place. Impressionism is not about doing voices, it's about creating the attitude. I did a show in Edinburgh that was just audience questions. People were terrified of answering her back. The last time I was recognised was in Sainsbury's. A woman said, "Didn't you used to be Margaret Thatcher?" I wonder if she gets the same thing.

Ian Lavery

Miner in the 1980s, now chairman of the NUM

There will be no celebrations for Margaret Thatcher's birthday in mining communities the length and breadth of Britain. She smashed people's lives, and they will never forget her role in the destruction of those communities. They were once buzzing places with thriving economies, and they are still devastated as a result of her policies. I was 20, a young miner in Northumberland. I wasn't interested in politics in any shape or form but, because of the way she treated my family, I learnt to stand up for my rights. I got to the position I'm in now because of Thatcher. It wouldn't be too strong to say that people despise the woman with a great passion. She called miners the enemy within, when they were the backbone of Great Britain! They were the fuel of the industrial revolution. There will be celebrations on the day she passes into another world.

Baroness (Brenda) Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde

General secretary of the print union Sogat, 1985-91

When this woman came on the scene we thought it was a very good thing. It was a big let-down. There were no women in the Cabinet and she ignored the Women's National Commission. She stopped the central register for cervical cancer screening and, of course, the number of women suffering from cervical cancer started to creep back up. She said the unions were anti-Britain and destructive. The Iron Lady title was deserved. I admired the way she emerged as leader against all the old public school boys. She outmanoeuvred them. If you cut under the skin of everything, she was a middle-class grocer's daughter becoming prime minister, and you can't take that away from her. But a lot of very talented women were crushed by her.

Interviews by Katy Guest

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