With all the World and his Uncle currently commenting on the late Margaret Thatcher, Insider editor Charles Christian has decided to add his own perspective on her motivations and rise to power…
Back when I was a baby barrister, I did my second six months’ pupilage at a Chancery set in Lincoln’s Inn. This was still a time of gracious living for the Bar – never mind every barrister having his own desk, in this set every barrister had his own room! And, once a day – every day, except Fridays, we would assemble in the head of chambers room at about 4:15pm (after court – the chambers were only two minutes walk from the Royal Courts of Justice – but before the 5:00pm conference meetings with solicitors and clients) for afternoon tea. It was always Earl Grey, served with a choice of Jaffa Cakes and HobNobs.
Normally the conversation was very formal, by comparison the Japanese Tea Ritual is a bundle of laughs, but it suited us pupils fine as we could concentrate on scoffing as many free biscuits as we decently could. Remember, this was in the days when pupils still had to pay over a £500 per six-months fee to their pupil-master (plus 10% to the clerk) and somehow fund their living expenses in London out of their own pockets, as distinct from today when the Bar Council requires pupils to be paid/earn a minimum of £1000 a month.
However one day the head of chambers mentioned Margaret Thatcher, this was shortly after she’d defenestrated Ted Heath from the leadership of the Tory Party and become the Leader of the Opposition. By then, Mrs T was already starting to set out her political stall, which not only included disempowering the trade unions but also the professions. Most of the reforms – or deskilling – we have seen in medicine, law, teaching and banking since the 1980s can all be traced back to Mrs T’s agenda.
But back to my head of chambers. “It’s all my fault,” he said. “Years before Thatcher applied for a place in these chambers and I turned her down. If only we’d accepted her, she might have settled down to practice law and only dabbled in politics. Instead, she’s on course to become our next Prime Minister and she’s going to have her revenge on everyone and anyone who ever crossed her.”
The rest is history although I no longer eat Jaffa Cakes. Incidentally, I never met Margaret Thatcher but I did meet Ted Heath once – and despite external appearances, he really did have a kind heart.