Here is my speech in the debate on Tributes to the late Margaret Thatcher
You can watch it here
my contribution begins at 4hrs 41 minutes into the debate
Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op):
Thinking about what to say today, I looked at my bookcase, and I came across three publications from the 1980s: “Thatcher’s Britain: A Guide to the Ruins,” to which I contributed in 1983, “Breaking the Nation,” published in 1985, and the Fabian Society’s pamphlet “ABC of Thatcherism,” published in 1989. I do not have time, in four minutes, to quote any of them, but they are well worth reading, although they may be out of print.
I was the parliamentary candidate in 1983 in Ilford North. We had huge, enthusiastic meetings for the Labour party during that campaign, but because of the split in our party, the SDP, the divisions, we had a terrible defeat. The lessons for Oppositions to draw from that period are that it is essential to preserve party unity, and essential to recognise that enthusiasm for one’s party and hatred for the other side is not necessarily a guarantee of a victory.
In February 1990, the opinion polls in this country put the Labour party at 56%, under Neil Kinnock, and the Conservatives at 23% under Margaret Thatcher. We know what the Conservative party did in its ruthless manner, which has been mentioned by previous contributors to the debate, but there is a lesson there for all of us in opposition: you cannot count your chickens about what the position might be in two years’ time.
In the brief time remaining, I want to say a few words about foreign policy. Mrs Thatcher was absolutely right to sign the Single European Act. She was absolutely right to be in favour of enlargement of the European Union. The consequences of those policies have influenced the politics of this country ever since. That is why we have free movement of people in the European Union. That is why we have the current debate about immigration policy. A lot of that is to do with economic decisions taken at that time. It is well worth our thinking through the consequences for the future.
On other foreign policy issues Mrs Thatcher was wrong. We have heard about South Africa and her attitude to Nelson Mandela, and I am very pleased that Nelson Mandela is still with us today, in this world, and I hope he carries on living for a decent period of time, so that he is able to understand more about the changes that have taken place in this country since the days of Margaret Thatcher, because one thing she did was to cut the overseas development budget. It went down to 0.26% of GDP, yet this coalition—I praise them for it—have kept to Labour’s pledge of funding at 0.7% of GDP, which shows that what is being done in the world today is very different from what she did in government.
One other thing that Mrs Thatcher got wrong was her attitude to the unification of Germany. She was vehemently against it, but as a result of that unification, and at great cost to the Germans in the west, we have seen the peaceful transformation of central and eastern Europe, as well as the enlargement of the European Union and the end of communism in our continent. Those fantastic achievements could not have been achieved without the support of Margaret Thatcher but, above all, the man responsible was Mikhail Gorbachev, whom she recognised as a man she could do business with. As we heard, she should be praised for that, because she convinced Reagan, although she sometimes tried to rein Reagan back when she was wrong to do so, as at the Reykjavik negotiation, where he was ahead of his time and ahead of the world today in aspiring to a world without nuclear weapons.
Several hon. Members