Thatcher: the final challenge

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The Independent Online
It's Margaret Thatcher's birthday today. The best birthday present anyone could give her would be the leadership of the Tory party. She always wanted to be still leading the Tory party at the age of 70. In fact, she had already written the speech she would deliver to celebrate the occasion. Here it is, copied from her actual notes, as they are to be found on show in the Margaret Thatcher Foundation Travelling Exhibition:

Man says: "Pray silence for Margaret Thatcher!" I stand up. I quell the conference hall with a glance. I say: "My Lords, ladies and gentlemen ..."

There is a gigantic ovation. I let it run for a minute or two then quell it with another glance. I glance at my notes, and then ostentatiously throw them away. I speak as follows, from another set of notes which have already been left on the lectern for this very purpose ...

"My Lords, ladies and gentlemen, I have now been leader of this great party for 20 years, and more. During that time we have seen it grow from an opposition party to a party in power, of power and with power!" Wait for round of applause here, even though the mellifluous phrase means nothing. Sheep, the lot of them.

"During that time I have built the party into a monument to solidarity, loyalty and cohesion. Whatever we have wanted to do we have done. People said we could not regain the Falkland Islands. We did it! People said we could never tame the trade unions. We succeeded! They said we could never introduce a national lottery. They backed the wrong horse!"

Cheers and laughter here. If enough, maybe venture a joke along the lines of: "They said we could never do without Norman Tebbit. Norman who?" More cheers and laughter.

"During the time I have been at the helm of this great party of ours I have been accused of being anti-European. Nothing could be further from the truth. Why, single-handedly I have often had to keep the Mark afloat by myself ..."

Puzzled silence here.

"I refer of course to my son, Mark." Chorus of delighted laughter.

"But there comes a time when even the most dedicated leader has to ask herself whether she has not fulfilled her task. After 20 years at the top, are there any challenges left? Would I not be happier if I simply left Westminster for a life of bucolic happiness?"

Horrified silence here. NB. Must look up meaning of bucolic.

"The straight answer to that is - No! I would be miserable! I need more challenges, not fewer! Ask any leader of a grand enterprise how he feels when he has got that enterprise up and running, when he has ironed out the bumps and risks, when he is sailing at 70mph down the motorway of life. I will tell you how he feels. Bored!"

Uneasy silence.

"Therefore it is at this time that the leader takes up another challenge. He looks round for some other organisation that needs his or her input. He looks for some other body that is waiting for a kick-start so that he can start once again to fulfil his destiny as a leader."

You could hear a pin drop.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I have been looking round for such a challenge. I believe I have found it."

Slight pause to allow TV cameras to zoom in and refocus.

"Now, if I were ever to leave the Tory party, I know two things would happen. The first would be a spontaneous outbreak of grief conveying the message that I could never be replaced. The second would be a stampede of Tory MPs attempting to replace me."


"But it is true! The Tory party is stuffed full of people who think they will be or still can be the leader. We have nothing but potential leaders in our party. The only reason a Tory MP ever resigns is because he has finally realised he will never be PM. If I were to leave, you would not be short of people who were better qualified than me.

"It is different in the Labour Party. The Labour Party distrusts leaders. It has always distrusted leaders, whether its own leaders or the leaders in the Guardian newspaper." Pause here to let joke sink in.

"In fact, the Labour Party would rather attack its own leader than the Tory leader. And given the calibre of Labour leaders in our lifetime, I am not surprised. And yet ... and yet ..."

An ominous silence.

"It is often said that Labour needs an experienced leader. It is very often said that Labour will win the next election. This is a very great challenge for Labour. It is also a very great challenge for me. Because I have come before you today to inform you that I intend to leave the Conservatives and join the Labour Party!"

Hubbub, uproar and sensation. See daily press for further developments.