Tim Farron MP writes: Sorry Dave, but you’re no Mrs. T…

I have yet to watch Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Margaret Thatcher. I’m sure it will be fascinating, but I just fear that it might also be a bit too painful – I find it hard to divorce my views on the politics of that era from my memories of avoidable hardship experienced by the community I grew up in. Then again, perhaps I should try and get over my Thatcherphobia and view her record a bit more dispassionately. Where better to start than Mrs T’s record on Europe?

Sat behind me in Parliament, amongst the ranks of my valued coalition colleagues, is a legion of people who revere Mrs Thatcher and in particular her anti-Europeanism. I hate to shatter their world view, but Mrs Thatcher was in practice a pro-European Prime Minister and in her pomp would have considered the self-professed Euro Sceptics to be dangerous extremists acting against Britain’s interests.

Arguably, the Conservatives won the 1983 election by characterising themselves as international team players acting in the British interest, seeking to remain at the heart of Europe and at the heart of NATO. By contrast, Labour’s Michael Foot was depicted by Mrs T as being a splitter who wanted to leave both Europe and NATO and who allowed ideological concerns to get in the way of acting pragmatically in order to further the British cause. Doesn’t this sound familiar today?

There isn’t a chance that the Iron Lady would have done a Cameron, walking away from last week’s Euro summit with nothing! Above all, she wouldn’t have got herself into such a weak position in the first place. Whilst she would wield her handbag to great effect for domestic consumption, she also knew how to build alliances and to develop loyalties in private and in public. Her ability to achieve results from her relationship with the French Socialist President Francois Mitterand is in stark contrast to our current Prime Minister’s inability to build any kind of relationship with his fellow Conservative Nicolas Sarkozy.

David Cameron ought to sit in the same political group as Sarkozy and Merkel, in which case they would view him as a fellow moderate Conservative and would also spend more time in his company at EPP summits and thus develop mutually beneficial relationships (as Mrs Thatcher did with West Germany’s Helmet Kohl, for instance). However David Cameron’s decision to quit the EPP and join the lunatic fringe of the ECR means that Merkel and Sarkozy do not see him as an ally when they should, they don’t consider him a conservative, sadly they don’t take him seriously, viewing him with suspicion. This is very bad for Britain and especially for jobs and business over here.

I am a passionate European, but I am not a starry-eyed EU fanatic. There is everything right about a rational liberal scepticism about any political institution, but something very wrong and dangerous about an irrational phobia.

I don’t like the phrase ‘repatriation of powers from the EU’, it sounds wrong and rather right wing. But I do believe in devolution – so why shouldn’t I believe in devolving powers from the EU to nation states, to regions and to councils? Why shouldn’t Lib Dems come out and say that the European Working Time Directive has been a straight jacket that has caused untold damage to our hospitals, for example?

While employers look on at Britain’s isolation in Europe with despair, now is the moment to be the rational voice in government calling for international teamwork in the interests of British jobs, against the shrill voices who distort Mrs Thatcher’s legacy and who ironically have ended up sounding more like Michael Foot.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Strange that the Merkozy plan is coming apart as each and every country begins to pick it apart.

  • david thorpe 16th Dec '11 - 2:25pm

    do you really want to compare who the lib dems sit with, with whom the tories are allied?

    that would be a fun game

  • Tickle Duster 16th Dec '11 - 2:50pm

    The Lib Dems are the biggest Euro fanatics after the FT. Do you guys ever call anything right?

  • Dave Smith-Jones 16th Dec '11 - 3:32pm

    Good article from Tim!

  • Antony Hook 16th Dec '11 - 5:20pm

    “LibDems sit with Fianna Fáil, how is that working out for you?”

    Well, I believe. Certainly the FF representatives made very useful contriution to the European Liberal Democrats congress in Palermo last month.

  • Antony Hook 16th Dec '11 - 5:23pm


    Why do you think the EPP are federalist? When has the EPP called for the creation of a federal state? I do not think that is the position of the CDU, the UMP or Forza Italia or another EPP parties that I can think of.

  • Antony Hook 16th Dec '11 - 5:27pm


    Why did the Conservatives / the ECR Group vote against gay rights, in particular recognition of civil partnerships?

    Are you happy that a couple might go on holdiay to another European state, have an accident and their civil partnership not be recognised for next of kin purposes?

    I think the ECR is in favour or legislative gay-bashing.

  • Can Tim tell us how our fellow Europeans manage to overcome the terrible working time directive and run hospitals as well a outperforming us in manufacturing?

  • david thorpe 17th Dec '11 - 2:24pm

    I must confess to not being Tim’s number one fan politically but I enjoyed this article….he makes a number of points with which I agree, however he talks about the working time directive ruining ‘our’ hospitals,,,yet they have the same directive and hospitals in every other country in the EU, which indicates thatt he problem is with how the hopsitals are run, rather than how the working dtime directive impacts…
    Tickle Duster..apart from opposing the iraq war Vince on the financial criss, and the need to split the banks up…the welafer state, and paddy ashdown being a lone voice for intervention in the former yugoslavai I cant think of anything we got right?

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