Margaret Thatcher's death: the political world responds

How Barack Obama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ed Miliband and others have responded to the former prime minister's death.

Margaret Thatcher's spokesman Lord Bell announced this morning that the former prime minister had died following stroke.

David Cameron, who was in a meeting with Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy when the news broke, was due to head to Paris but is now flying back to the UK. Downing Street has announced that Thatcher will receive a ceremonial funeral with military honours at St Paul's Cathedral.

We'll update this blog throughout the day as reactions from the political world come in. 

David Cameron

Today is a truly sad day for our country. We’ve lost a great prime minister, a great leader, a great Briton. As our first woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher succeeded against all the odds. And the real thing about Margaret Thatcher is she did not just lead our country, she saved our country. And I believe she will go down as the greatest British peacetime prime minister. Today is obviously a day we should most of all think of her family. We’ve lost someone great in public life, but they’ve lost a much-loved mother and grandmother and we should think of them today.

Ed Miliband

I send my deep condolences to Lady Thatcher's family, in particular Mark and Carol Thatcher.

She will be remembered as a unique figure. She reshaped the politics of a whole generation. She was Britain's first woman Prime Minister. She moved the centre ground of British politics and was a huge figure on the world stage.

The Labour Party disagreed with much of what she did and she will always remain a controversial figure. But we can disagree and also greatly respect her political achievements and her personal strength.

She also defined the politics of the 1980s. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and I all grew up in a politics shaped by Lady Thatcher. We took different paths but with her as the crucial figure of that era.

She coped with her final, difficult years with dignity and courage. Critics and supporters will remember her in her prime.

Nick Clegg

Margaret Thatcher was one of the defining figures in modern British politics.

Whatever side of the political debate you stand on, no one can deny that as Prime Minister she left a unique and lasting imprint on the country she served.

She may have divided opinion during her time in politics but everyone will be united today in acknowledging the strength of her personality and the radicalism of her politics.

My thoughts are with her family and friends.

Barack Obama

With the passing of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend.  As a grocer’s daughter who rose to become Britain’s first female prime minister, she stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered.  As prime minister, she helped restore the confidence and pride that has always been the hallmark of Britain at its best.  And as an unapologetic supporter of our transatlantic alliance, she knew that with strength and resolve we could win the Cold War and extend freedom’s promise.

Here in America, many of us will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply carried along by the currents of history—we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will.   Michelle and I send our thoughts to the Thatcher family and all the British people as we carry on the work to which she dedicated her life—free peoples standing together, determined to write our own destiny.

Mikhail Gorbachev

The news about the death of Margaret Thatcher is a sad tiding. I knew that she was seriously ill; the last time we saw each other was several years ago. My sincere condolences go to her family and friends.

Thatcher was a politician whose word carried great weight. Our first meeting in 1984 set in train relations that were sometimes complicated, not always smooth, but which were serious and responsible on both sides. Human relations also gradually took shape, becoming more and more friendly. In the end we managed to achieve a mutual understanding, and that contributed to a change in the atmosphere between our country [the Soviet Union] and the West and the end of the Cold War.

Margaret Thatcher was a heavyweight politician and a striking person. She will remain in our memories, and in history.

George W. Bush

Laura and I are saddened by the death of Baroness Margaret Thatcher. She was an inspirational leader who stood on principle and guided her nation with confidence and clarity. Prime Minister Thatcher is a great example of strength and character, and a great ally who strengthened the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States. Laura and I join the people of Great Britain in remembering the life and leadership of this strong woman and friend.

Tony Blair

Margaret Thatcher was a towering political figure. Very few leaders get to change not only the political landscape of their country but of the world. Margaret was such a leader. Her global impact was vast. And some of the changes she made in Britain were, in certain respects at least, retained by the 1997 Labour Government, and came to be implemented by governments around the world. 

As a person she was kind and generous spirited and was always immensely supportive to me as Prime Minister although we came from opposite sides of politics. 

Even if you disagreed with her as I did on certain issues and occasionally strongly, you could not disrespect her character or her contribution to Britain's national life. She will be sadly missed.

Gordon Brown

Sarah and I have sent messages to Lady Thatcher's son Mark and daughter Carol, offering our condolences to them and to the Thatcher family and commemorating Lady Thatcher's many decades of service to our country.

She will be remembered not only for being Britain's first female Prime Minister and holding the office for 11 years, but also for the determination and resilience with which she carried out all her duties throughout her public life. Even those who disagreed with her never doubted the strength of her convictions and her unwavering belief in Britain's destiny in the world.

During our time in Number 10, Sarah and I invited Lady Thatcher to revisit Downing Street and Chequers - something which we know she enjoyed very much. But it was sad for her and her family that she lost her devoted husband Denis almost 10 years ago and that she was unable to enjoy good health in the later years of her retirement.

John Major

In government, the UK was turned around under – and in large measure because of – her leadership. Her reforms of the economy, trades union law, and her recovery of the Falkland Islands elevated her above normal politics, and may not have been achieved under any other leader. Her outstanding characteristics will always be remembered by those who worked closely with her: courage and determination in politics, and humanity and generosity of spirit in private.

Boris Johnson

She ended the defeatism and pessimism of the post-war period and unleashed a spirit of enterprise. She fought against the clubby, cosy, male-dominated consensus of both main parties – and she won. Her beliefs – in thrift, hard work, and proper reward for merit – were not always popular. But her legacy is colossal. This country is deeply in her debt. Her memory will live long after the world has forgotten the grey suits of today’s politics.

Iain Duncan Smith

Even if you disagreed with her as I did on certain issues and occasionally strongly, you could not disrespect her character or her contribution to Britain's national life. She will be sadly missed.

Michael Heseltine

I am sorry to learn of Lady Thatcher’s death. The illness of her last years has been cruel and very difficult. I send my deepest condolences to Mark and Carol.

Neil Kinnock

I recognise and admire the great distinction of Baroness Thatcher as the first woman to become leader of a major UK political party and prime minister. I am sorry to hear of her death and offer my sympathy to her family.

Ed Balls

Harriet Harman 

Douglas Alexander

Tom Watson

Stewart Wood (chief strategist to Ed Miliband)

Charles Kennedy

In extending sincere sympathy to the Thatcher family we remember today a landmark political figure, both at home and abroad. She was one of those politicians who made the weather.

As a politically divisive figure - not least where Scotland was concerned - her legacy will always be controversial.

And she continues to cast a considerable shadow across today's Conservative party.

But her impact - positive and negative - remains near immeasurable.

Gerry Adams

Margaret Thatcher did great hurt to the Irish and British people during her time as British prime minister. Working class communities were devastated in Britain because of her policies. Her role in international affairs was equally belligerent whether in support of the Chilean dictator Pinochet, her opposition to sanctions against Apartheid South Africa; and her support for the Khmer Rouge.

Here in Ireland her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering. Her failed efforts to criminalise the republican struggle and the political prisoners is part of her legacy. It should be noted that in complete contradiction of her public posturing, she authorised a back channel of communications with the Sinn Fein leadership but failed to act on the logic of this. Unfortunately she was faced with weak Irish governments who failed to oppose her securocrat agenda or to enlist international support in defence of citizens in the north.

Margaret Thatcher will be especially remembered for her shameful role during the epic hunger strikes of 1980 and 81. Her Irish policy failed miserably.

Margaret Thatcher listens during her meeting with David Cameron inside 10 Downing Street in London June 8, 2010. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle