The leader who defined her age

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MARGARET Thatcher would have relished the cut and thrust of yesterday’s Parliamentary debates which paid tribute to “a Prime Minister who defined her age” – the carefully crafted words of Labour leader Ed Miliband, whose eloquence contrasted with the lack of respect shown by the dozens of backbenchers from his party who failed to show any generosity of spirit by shunning Westminster.

She was, after all, a great Parliamentarian who never shied away from challenging her detractors, most notably when the Commons staged a historic Saturday sitting during the Falklands crisis and also on the day of her resignation in November 1990, when she so memorably declared “I’m enjoying this” as she saw off her Labour detractors in a political tour de force.

Compare this with Tony Blair’s treatment of Parliament as an inconvenience, with no attempt to conceal his disdain when he resigned. The same was true of Gordon Brown, while David Cameron continues to show some contempt towards the Commons by frequently failing to respect his opponents at PMQs.

Both Mr Cameron and the Leader of the Opposition had difficult balancing acts, albeit for differing reasons, in assessing Baroness Thatcher’s legacy while also placating their colleagues.

First the Prime Minister. His was a workmanlike speech devoid of the magnetism so characteristic of his party’s heroine. It will also not have satisfied those on the Tory right who want Mr Cameron to abandon coalition consensus in favour of a more Thatcherite approach to the economy.

In contrast, Mr Miliband acknowledged Mrs Thatcher’s neglect of the North before shaming his absent colleagues with this heartfelt passage: “Nothing became her so much as the manner of her final years. The loss of her beloved husband, Denis, and her struggle with illness. She bore both with the utmost dignity and courage. The same courage she showed decades earlier after the atrocity of the Brighton bombing.”

Mr Miliband may have disagreed with many of Lady Thatcher’s policies but he still respected “what her death means to the many, many people who admired her”. As such, it can only be hoped that the poignancy of these words is observed before Britain’s first female prime minister is laid to rest.