Meeting Margaret Thatcher…

A snippet from My Political Race

The Locarno Suite is a very plush room in the Foreign Office. It’s the room the great and the good retire to after the wreaths have been laid on Remembrance Sunday. Baroness Cathy Ashton, at that time Labour’s Leader of the House of Lords came over to Rupi and me to check we were OK, and all had gone well. As we were talking, Rupi pointed out Baroness Thatcher at the other end of the room. “Look its Maggie,” she said. Before I could I could shush her Cathy asked us if we’d like to be introduced.

“Nope.” I said.

But then the two them ganged up on me. “Oh go on! Get over yourself! What harm can it do?” And all that kind of stuff. Truth be told, I was a little curious, and was confident that I wouldn’t do anything silly. The Duke of Edinburgh incident was years ago. And I hadn’t laid a glove on her in 2002 at the Queen Mother’s Service.

So there we were. Slaloming through the dignitaries with Baroness Ashton, off to meet the Iron Lady. Then Cathy whispered in her ear, as Rupi and I stood alongside her. Cathy let her know there was someone she’d like her to meet.

Mrs Thatcher looked at me. I didn’t turn to stone. I wasn’t even scared. She looked ever so slightly bemused by me. I leaned down to talk to her. “Hello Baroness Thatcher.” I said it slowly and clearly. And she looked back at me. It wasn’t much of a chat-up but I followed up with my name, the fact I was the Member of Parliament for Gloucester. Which I knew was a bit of a spinout for many a Tory younger than Mrs T, so to put her at her ease I said: “Sally Oppenheim. Sally was the MP for Gloucester when you were Prime Minister. She was one of your ministers Mrs Thatcher.”

At that point I thought we’d connected. She looked around the room for a moment, no doubt recalling Oppenheim, and the many ministers junior and senior she held in her charge in the Downing Street days. And here I was. Like one of the establishment, in the Locarno room talking to the most famous Prime Minister of my lifetime.

Her eyes returned to me. And she spoke to me. “Which country are you from?” she said.

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