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Baroness Thatcher, an appreciation

Baroness Thatcher, an appreciation


by Sir James Mitchell Fri Apr 12, 2013

I thought I should place on record, on behalf of our people in St Vincent and the Grenadines, an appreciation of the life and times of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, who contributed in no small measure to our quality of life.{{more}}

In spite of her abiding advocacy of free trade, she put aside that view to support unstintingly the preferences for our banana market in England, with the beneficial prices we enjoyed in the nineteen-eighties and carried through with the Conservative government into the nineties. I refer to an income of $100 million in a single year, which we have not seen since. An income that ensured the quality of our new houses built then and our standard of living. These were the glory days of our farmers and the business community.

I met Mrs Thatcher, as she then was, at the Commonwealth summit in the Bahamas in 1985. At Independence and up to 1984, when the NDP formed government, we were Associate Members of the Commonwealth, and not prepared to pay the price of full membership. My position simply was: I was not going to be a second-class member. If we could not dine at the head table I was not going to eat in the kitchen. So we paid up our full dues and became entitled to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference.

At that conference, the hot issue was apartheid in South Africa and the continued jailing of Nelson Mandela. The issue exploded in the first morning session. Mrs Thatcher delivered a strident speech in support of the South African regime, labelling the ANC as a “terrorist organisation”. The financial success of South Africa was important for her. The conference adjourned for the coffee break. We moved into a large room with several tables. Mrs Thatcher sat alone, and I requested to join her. She agreed.

I told her that I was the new boy on the block, and how much I admired her policies on privatization, helping people in the UK with ownership of council houses, privatizing industry and creating opportunity for citizens to purchase shares in business. I told her too how I had started privatizing in my own country with shipping and hotels (the Grenadines ferries, Cobblestone Inn), that I admired her policies for the private sector, and that I too was aiming to change estate workers into self-employed farmers, buying old plantations and dividing them up, and planned to create a property-owning democracy. She smiled when I used the term.

I then brought up the South African question. Would she like the conference to end up with two different conclusions? It certainly would not be good for our Commonwealth presided over by the Queen. She said she wanted a single solution. I thanked her and said we had some work to do. When the closed session resumed, I chose to sit between Rajiv Ghandi, prime minister of India, and Kenneth Kaunda, president of Zambia (who later paid us a state visit), and told them that ‘The Lady’ had expressed the view that we should have a single conclusion on South Africa and that we needed a formula.

So it was that we set up the Eminent Persons Group, to be comprised of Commonwealth senior statesmen, to visit South Africa, assess the situation, visit Nelson Mandela and hold discussions with representatives of the country’s institutions. Lady Thatcher named her representative. Thus it was that Dame Nita Barrow became a member of the group, met Nelson Mandela in prison and received such memorable greetings from him at the opening of the parliament of a free South Africa.

Before the conference, I had had meetings with British aid people from Barbados, trying to get funding for roads in the Carib Country and the Orange Hill subdivision into farms. They told us they needed to do a traffic study. We had neither roads nor cars. I remember saying that I needed the experts who did the feasibility study on the Falklands airstrip. My officials were amazed at the changed British response to funding the Orange Hill roads (my property-owning democracy) after my conference contact with Mrs Thatcher. She subsequently invited me on an official visit to London and received me at 10 Downing Street. She was changing around the cabinet, and that evening John Major held a banquet for me, where I had the opportunity to go over the banana issues with him.

One other memorable meeting with Mrs Thatcher was at the Vancouver Commonwealth summit in 1987, when, as a lead speaker, I thanked the taxpayers of the developed world for their aid. She told me she enjoyed my reference to the taxpayers.

But one area in which I got no help from Mrs Thatcher – I asked her about the legalization of marijuana, as it was too expensive to control. “No way!” was her reply, “It would ruin too many lives”.

When Baroness Thatcher was on your side, you knew you had a dependable friend. I thank her for what she did for us. Our flag is at half mast at the Frangipani.

Requiescat in pace.