Flirtatious, intimidating and adored

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Indy Politics

'"Iron Lady takes Steel Town" was the headline on the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph when I was elected in 1979 as a 27-year-old Tory MP.

Because Margaret Thatcher delivered me three general election victories in my constituency I adored her even though I was not one of her favourites. I saw more of her privately between 1990 and 1992, after she stepped down as prime minister.

Sitting only a few feet behind her, I had a ringside seat for her twice-weekly jousts with the opposition. This was a privilege that lasted for the decade of her premiership. In private she was, all at the same time flirtatious, intimidating and above all argumentative. She treated me as an errant son – I will never forget the looks she gave me whenever I dared take her on.

When I went to Downing Street for the first time in 1979 she asked about my result. I told her I polled 31,000 votes and achieved a majority of 486. "No Michael," she said. "I got the 31,000 votes and your majority."

The occasions when she came to the No Turning Back group supper meetings were like great economic seminars at which she gave monologues. "What on earth is this Government doing?" she once asked. I was fool enough to reply: "Well I don't know. You tell us – you're the Prime Minister." She could glower at you at such a response and her steely blue eyes could bore into you.

I had this treatment when word got to her that I was going to vote for Michael Heseltine instead of her favourite, John Major, on the second leadership ballot in November 1990. I was invited to lunch at Downing Street – the last she ever held on the day before she resigned – where I was hectored and lectured. Even though the tears were flowing among the grown men, she remained focused on stopping Heseltine.

The last time I spoke to her was at the Tory conference in Blackpool when I was on a "Thatcher watch" with Colin Brown, now The Independent on Sunday's political editor.

"Colin, this is my old boss; Margaret, this is my new boss," I said to both as I reintroduced them. "Well, I hope Michael's as good a journalist as he was an MP," she barked to Colin. I suspect she will still haunt us through the letters pages. But the lady's not returning.

Michael Brown is the former Conservative MP for Brigg and Cleethorpes

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