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Friday, 22 August 2014

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Jonathan Aitken gives unique Thatcher insight

What would it be like to have Margaret Thatcher as your mother-in-law? Jonathan Aitken can offer an idea. He was boyfriend to Carol Thatcher for three years while her mother led the Conservative opposition.

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Fascinating insight: Jonathan Aitken

He went on to become a Cabinet minister when Mrs Thatcher became PM. He recalls his experiences and gives insight into the personality behind the stern hairstyle and handbag when he appears at the Words by the Water festival next weekend. They form the basis for his revealing and acclaimed biography: Margaret Thatcher Power and Personality.

He saw first hand how the Iron Lady was not so tough and could dissolve into tears.

“I was dating Carol and went back to the house and Margaret was sitting in the drawing room. She had been leader of the Opposition for six months, she had been crying and I asked why. She mentioned the name of some dull ordinary backbencher who had shouted at her ‘you are wrecking the party, you are wrecking the party’.

“I told her not to worry but she said: ‘I hurt too you know’. The Iron Lady was also a person.

“Carol and I went out for three years. I mishandled the break-up. Mrs Thatcher would have been a formidable mother-in-law.”

To write the book he drew on his extensive diaries and a number of interviews with leading politicians on a national and global level.

While Mrs T is at the centre of the book, the supporting cast isn’t bad, including former Russia premier Mikhail Gorbachev and a host of ex-Cabinet ministers. The 71-year-old says: “Gorbachev was most difficult to get, I pulled some exotic strings in Russia and Kazakhstan to get to him. I went to Moscow specially to see him.”

One of his most interesting interviewees was Lord Peter Carrington, defence minister under Mrs Thatcher. He opened up about his rows with her, which were epic.”

Mr Aitken says her early career was driven by her insecurity over her humble background and financial worries, but she came to power at the right time for the country.

“There was a realisation that Britain was in such chaos with industrial relations and such despair economically that a new broom was needed and she fitted the bill very well,” he explains. There was a feeling you had to break with the old concensus. She was a difficult lady, but difficult in the cause of Britain. They were amazing times when you look back on it.”

After the scandals of cash for questions, the fiddled expenses and the points-swapping of Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce, it’s not surprising that voting and interest in politics is at an all-time low.

Politicians have never been held in high regard. Former Conservative cabinet minister Mr Aitken knows that more than most.

His political career ended in 1999 when he was convicted of perjury and received an 18-month prison sentence, of which he served seven months.

Mr Aitken was unable to cover the legal costs of his libel trial and was declared bankrupt.

He says of today’s politics: “I think the importance of Parliament has diminished and the respect for Parliament has diminished.

“I think it is much more monochrome now. When I got to Parliament in 1974, there were a lot of people who had done things before they had got to Parliament – now the main qualification is to work as a researcher or special adviser to a minister. It is not surprising that you get duller people and they think the worst thing that could happen to them is to lose their seat.”

And he warns today’s politicians: “If you decide to go into public life you must expect, as I found, that if you contravene the law, the world comes down on you like a ton of bricks.

“You should not complain about that. That is fair enough. Parliament is full of people who reflect the failings of the public.”

n Jonathan Aitken appears at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, on March 14 at 12.45pm. Tickets £9 from www.theatrebythelake.com or call 017687 74411.

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