President Richard Nixon on Margaret Thatcher
Lady Thatcher, one of the giants of the 20th century, passed on yesterday at 87. In his most revealing memoir, In the Arena, RN wrote fondly about the Iron Lady:
There is no one I would rather have on my side in a fight than Margaret Thatcher.
She deserves the major share of credit for Britain’s economic recovery. It is easy to forget how far that country had traveled down the socialist road — and how much damage this had caused to the British economy — before she came into office. Nationalized industries, socialized housing and medicine, burdensome government regulations, immensely powerful trade unions, irresponsible monetary policies, and an enormous welfare state had all brought economic progress to a virtual standstill. Layer by layer, she removed the obstacles to economic growth, despite strong opposition even within her own party. While President Reagan rightly receives great credit for slowing down the growth of government in the United States, we should recognize that Margaret Thatcher’s repeal of socialism in Britain represented a true revolution.
RN first met Lady Thatcher in 1978, when she was Leader of the Opposition.
In 1978, Nixon aide Frank Gannon introduced the President to British MP Jonathan Aitken of Thanet in Kent. Aitken arranged for RN to travel to England, and reached out to notable figures in the British government for assistance, including the Speaker of House George Thomas (a prominent member of the Labour party no less). Thomas enthusiastically offered to throw a reception in Nixon’s honor, which was met with fierce opposition by the British Foreign Secretary, rattling both Thomas and Aitken.
As Aitken was walking the corridors of the British House of Commons, he happened to bump into Margaret Thatcher. Aitken had sent her a note inviting her to meet with President Nixon when he arrived. “I just got your letter,” she said as she hurried past. “I would be delighted to meet President Nixon. I shall come to George’s reception for him.”
“What a woman! What courage!” the Speaker exclaimed, and announced that the reception was on.
When they met, the former President and the soon-to-be Prime Minister talked foreign policy over tea. “Wow,” he exclaimed, “you can see how she became a leader, she’s really got it.”
He kept up a busy schedule of speeches and meetings for the remainder of the trip, including with former Prime Minister Harold Wilson. But according to Aitken, RN could not get Margaret Thatcher out of his head. While many were writing her off as a one-term leader, sure to be defeated in the next election, Nixon wasn’t.
Aitken noted, “Nixon by contrast seemed to have a strong intuition about her future, questioning everyone he saw from [former Prime Minister] Alec Dougles-Home to the President of Cambridge Union about Thatcher’s policies.” Most interestingly, RN even began using the term Thatcherism, which surely was not in common use in 1978 and would not become a common colloquialism until her three successive terms as Prime Minister from 1979-1990.
Nixon and Thatcher would keep in contact for the remainder of Nixon’s life. At her invitation, he visited her as Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street in 1982, where the two had an hour long one-on-one discussion.