Lord Tebbit and Conor Burns pay moving tribute to Margaret Thatcher
Yesterday's tributes to Margaret Thatcher were moving in many respects. By and large, those in the House of Lords were more interesting and insightful than those in the House of Commons, not least because they were tales told by people who knew her well. The most memorable line of the day came from Lord Tebbit as he recalled the Brighton bomb and its tragic consequences for his wife. He said of Margaret Thatcher's compassion and kindness: "I cannot think of a precedent for a secretary of state remaining in office as Secretary of State although absent from the Cabinet for over three months. She allowed me to run my office from my hospital bed." But he was sorry for one thing: "She, of course, was brought down in the end, not by the electorate but by her colleagues," he said.
"Because of the commitments I made to my wife, I did not feel able either to continue in government in 1987 or to return to government when she asked me too, and I left her, I fear, to the mercy of her friends. That I do regret."
Two of these 'friends' were Geoffrey Howe, who sat silently throughout the tributes, and Michael Heseltine, who stayed away altogether.
In the Commons, it was her friend Conor Burns who mingled just the right amount of personal recollection with her international political accomplishments. He paid moving tribute to The Great Lady from the very seat in Parliament where she made her maiden speech, and the place to which she returned after leaving No10. He ended with her own account of attending Mass at the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw in 1993:
Every nook and cranny was packed, and the choral singing of unfamiliar Polish hymns was all the more uplifting because I could not understand the verses. It forced me to try to imagine what the congregation was asking of God. Foreign though this experience was, it also gave me a comforting feeling that I was but one soul among many, in a fellowship of believers that crossed nations and denominations. When the priest rose to give the sermon, however, I had the sense that I had suddenly become the centre of attention. Heads turned and people smiled at me. As the priest began, someone translated his words. He recalled that during the dark days of Communism, they had been aware of voices from the outside world offering hope of a different and better life. The voices were many, often eloquent, and all were welcome to a people starved so long of truth as well as freedom. But Poles had come to identify with one voice in particular - my own. Even when that voice had been relayed through the distorting loudspeaker of the Soviet propaganda, they had heard through the distortions the message of truth and hope. Well, Communism had fallen, and a new democratic order had replaced it. But they had not fully felt the change, nor truly believed in its reality, until today, when they finally saw me in their own church. The priest finished his sermon, and the service continued. But the kindness of the priest and the parishioners had not been exhausted. At the end of Mass I was invited to stand in front of the altar. When I did so, lines of children presented me with little bouquets while their mothers and fathers applauded.
...Of course, no human mind, nor any conceivable computer, can calculate the sum total of my career in politics in terms of happiness, achievement and virtue. Nor, indeed, of their opposites. It follows, therefore, that the full accounting of how my political work affected the lives of others is something we will only know on Judgment Day. It is an awesome and unsettling thought. But it comforts me, that when I stand up to hear the verdict, I will at least have the people of the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw in court as character witnesses.