Eleanor Laing speaks in Parliamentary debate paying tribute to Baroness Thatcher

10th April 2013

Speaking during the special Parliamentary debate, Eleanor Laing pays tribute to the achievements of Baroness Thatcher.

Eleanor Laing speaks in Parliamentary debate paying tribute to Baroness Thatcher

Mrs Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): Margaret Thatcher changed the world for women—for women across the world, for women in Britain and for women in politics and in Parliament. I cannot stand by and watch commentators say that Margaret Thatcher did nothing for women when I know, as many of my hon. Friends in the House and those around the country know, just how much of a difference her very being has made to women.

In the first place, Margaret Thatcher’s great belief in freedom and the individual and the fact that her Governments brought freedom and choice to people who had never had it before made a huge difference to millions of women throughout Britain during her years as Prime Minister. We have heard different examples today of what happened to people’s individual lives in the 1980s, but overall there is no doubt whatsoever that bringing freedom, choice and opportunity—those were her watchwords—to young women of the 1980s transformed them into the women of the ’90s and of this century who are willing to take on the world.

As for women in politics and Parliament, Margaret Thatcher gave us encouragement and advice. I am fed up of hearing the media channels say that she did not want women around and that there was only one woman in her Cabinet while she was Prime Minister. That was not her fault: there were not enough women on these Benches with the experience and seniority to go into her Cabinet. She encouraged women, so that by the end of her premiership and when John Major became Prime Minister, there were plenty of women to go into the Cabinet. They would not have been there had they not had the encouragement and backing of Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister.

Those of us on the Conservative Benches also know what she has done in latter years. Just over a year ago, when she had supposedly withdrawn from public life but while, as many of us know, she was still extremely active in supporting what we were doing, she came to not one, but two or three events that I can think of. Those events involved not just raising money to help women enter Parliament, but her very presence in a room of aspiring people. After a mere handshake from Margaret Thatcher, a young woman would leave an event saying, “I can do this”, whereas previously she had thought that she could not. Such was the power and personality of this great lady.

I can forgive female colleagues on the Opposition Benches for thinking that Margaret Thatcher did not encourage women because, of course, it goes without saying that she preferred to see Conservatives elected rather than Labour, or Liberal, female Members of Parliament. In her encouragement and advice, however, on a personal level she was much more like a mother than a Prime Minister. She would hold one’s hand and say, “Well my dear, what are you doing about this? What is going to happen about that?” She gave people true encouragement and confidence. Actually, I am wrong to stand here and say that she did that for women—she did it for everyone who had the slightest bit of Conservative blood in their body. She would make the very best of that and help them to realise just how much they could achieve. I do not mean just in politics; she did that for people throughout the country.

People thought that they did not have aspiration and opportunity because before Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister they did not have opportunities and were told that they should not, and could not, aspire. She gave everybody the confidence to make the very best of themselves—she certainly did that for my generation of women in the Conservative party, and she gave me personal advice that I have always valued and tried to live up to, not necessarily with the greatest results for which she might have hoped. She understood the difficulty that women experience in public life because they are trying to balance their duties to their families, their constituency, Parliament and their general duties. She understood that and made allowances for it. Again, the way she dealt with such matters was to give encouragement. It never occurred to her, of course, that women might need special pleading. Of course she did not want women-only shortlists; it simply never occurred to her that her female status was any hindrance at all, and indeed, that is because it was not.

The other great thing about Margaret Thatcher that no one has mentioned is that in everything she did in public life, and the many hours spent at the Dispatch Box, in Downing street and representing our country around the world, she was always, on every occasion, immaculate and elegant. Here was a lady who was tougher than any man, but she never lost her femininity.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. I do not know why Members think the hon. Lady has finished. She has finished that paragraph.

Mrs Laing: I was pausing for effect, Mr Speaker, but I will conclude. As a result of Margaret Thatcher’s brilliance, resolve, determination, courage and example, no woman can ever be told that she cannot rise to any challenge. Margaret Thatcher made the world a better place.

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