Thatcher drove me into politics, to fight for the opposition

On subjects from schools to the Falklands, I disagreed with the Iron Lady.

Share

I came across Lady Thatcher only twice, but that was enough to get me to take up politics in opposition to her. 

The first time was soon after she became leader of the opposition, in 1975.  I was an RAF Commander-in-Chief, and had become a member of the Council of the British Institute of Management.  

Our Chairman, a Conservative MEP for Cambridge, had invited her to be the speaker at our annual dinner at a hotel on Park Lane.  When my wife and I got there, the room was crowded with TV cameras.  All went normally until, half way through the main course, our chairman knocked on the table and announced that our speaker needed to return to Parliament to take part in a vote, so she would give us her talk immediately.  She did so and then left, after saying goodbye to our chairman and to her husband.  We resumed our somewhat cold meals. 

I heard later that there was no need for that, as it would have been normal procedure to make a pair with a government-supporting MP.  However, apparently she wanted to get her talk onto the nine o’clock TV news.  I and others were somewhat taken aback by her rudeness.  

The second occasion was six years later, in 1981.  I had left the RAF, joined a firm of consultants, and been sent to Kuwait on project management work. There I had got to know our Ambassador well.  He was making preparations for a visit by our Prime Minister (as she had by then become), and he had sent back to her a long ‘brief’ on Kuwait and its interests for us, with a note at the end asking her to let him know if she had any particular needs when out there..  She replied that she would like to have an English hairdresser to attend her twice each day. Unfortunately, our Ambassador was a bachelor, and did not know any, but my wife booked one for her. 

He had arranged that, during her visit, she would have a meeting with British business men in Kuwait, of whom I was one, for an hour and a half for an exchange of views.  She arrived 15 minutes late, quite normal there, and gave us an hour’s talk on labour mobility. The Ambassador then asked if there were any questions. Having been very well trained at three service staff colleges, I got up at once to ask mine. I said that we in the audience were probably the most mobile in our country, having come out by air (not bicycle) and now earning the dollars very much needed by our country just then. However, ever since the last war, governments of every political back ground had made mobility difficult.

If we needed to sell our house and to purchase another one, we were taxed on them.  If we changed firms, we lost out on our pensions, and if we moved our children round the country, their education was seriously upset.  I said that she could greatly improve on that. If there were a government fund into which we paid our pension contributions, our pensions would not be effected, but those funds would be available to the government.  The funds should, however, be inflation-proofed.  Also, if there were a core syllabus for all schools, our children would not be so badly handicapped by changes of school.

She replied by saying that my ideas for pensions was a load of socialist rubbish; and that she had been minister for education and there was nothing wrong with the schools.   

As a senior manager, I knew that that was no way to dismiss what were meant to be helpful suggestions.  Anyhow, that change to the schools’ syllabus was made only a few years later on.

As soon as I got back to the UK in 1982, I joined the newly formed Social Democrats and sought a constituency in which to oppose her. It was clear to me that we could well do without a Prime Minister like her. 

At the same time, the Argentine invaded the Falklands.  To reduce the UK’s spending on Defence, the Prime Minister had insisted that the Falklands ’Guard Ship’ be decommissioned.  Not unnaturally, the Argentine government assumed that it meant that we were no longer interested in guarding the islands; which they then invaded. 

To go back to 1967, I had been appointed as the Ministry of Supply Project Director for the last two years of the development of the Harrier aircraft.  As a part of my briefing, I was told that I was to assume that the aircraft would not be required to go to sea with the Navy.  However, whilst I had been in Singapore (1964 to 1966), I had come into contact with the Royal Navy Captain of the aircraft carrier which had carried out the sea trials of the Kestrel aircraft, the predecessor of the Harrier. (We both sailed Fireball dinghies).  He told me how very successful those trials had been.  It was clear to me that it would be very foolish to do anything that might prejudice the ability of that aircraft to be used at sea.   I therefore discussed the matter with John Fozard, the aircraft’s designer.  We agreed that no magnesium components should be included in the aircraft’s structure (magnesium reacts unfavourably with sea water), except for the wheels, which could relatively easily be replaced. 

I then helped to get the aircraft into service on time and within budget. I also used a sum which my predecessor as project director had earmarked to improve both its reliability and maintainability so as to optimise both those factors, especially if the aircraft was to operate well away from good support facilities.  Those changes seemed to have been particularly helpful during the aircraft’s life, both to maximise its availability for use and to minimise its maintenance costs.  They also helped to make it particularly suitable for selling to the U S Marine Corps. 

The Thatcher government was very fortunate that the Harrier was available to offset the ill-judged cancellation of the Falklands guard ship.

Air Marshal Sir Reginal E W Harland is a former senior Royal Air Force commander.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
More From
Reginald E W Harland
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Technicians - Prestige Brand

£22000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading...

Recruitment Genius: Head Chef

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A passionate and experienced Head Chef i...

Recruitment Genius: Class 2 Drivers

£31700 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist wholesaler owned and man...

Recruitment Genius: Laser and Router Operative

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Laser and Router Operative is...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: immigration past and present, in Europe and in America

John Rentoul
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones