01/14/2012 11:31 EST | Updated 03/11/2012 05:12 EDT

The Lady was a Champ

There are those who think -- and I am one of them -- that Maggie Thatcher rates as Britain's greatest PM of the past century. Perhaps the greatest ever. Conventional wisdom would side with Churchill in that role, but he was a wartime leader who saved his country from Hitler.

One of my fading memories is having a brief chat with Margaret Thatcher when, as leader of Britain's Conservative Opposition, she attended a reception in Toronto thrown by the late Eddie Goodman.

Goodman had supported Flora MacDonald in the 1976 federal Progressive Conservative leadership contest. Joe Clark won that contest, and when he became PM for a few minutes in 1979, he appointed Flora as External Affairs Minister.

At the reception, people were suggesting that Flora was a Canadian version of Mrs. Thatcher -- both being the first women to challenge for their party's leadership. Even then, I was an ardent believer in Mrs. Thatcher's policies, style, and outlook. I quipped that comparing Flora to her was as ludicrous as comparing Harpo Marx to Karl Marx.

A silly remark, but you get the idea. I remember Mrs. Thatcher raising a quizzical eyebrow at such a comparison, but good manners prevailed and she smiled dismissively.

Now a movie is out --The Iron Lady -- with Meryl Streep playing Mrs. Thatcher. The role is certain to get Streep her 17th Academy Award nomination and, if there's any justice, her third Oscar.

It also reminds how astonishing and effective Mrs. Thatcher was as a leader.

There are those who think -- and I am one of them -- that Maggie Thatcher rates as Britain's greatest PM of the past century. Perhaps the greatest ever. Conventional wisdom would side with Churchill in that role, but he was a wartime leader who saved his country from Hitler.

Churchill had no choice but to be great. It was lead or perish. Being great in peacetime is a greater challenge, and Mrs. Thatcher rescued Britain from the octopus tentacles of rampant socialism, broke the malignant power of unions, increased the wealth of everyone, privatized the country, and restored pride and greatness to Britain.

What's interesting about her -- and British Conservatism -- is that she formed three successive governments and never, since being elected to the Commons in 1959, did she ever lose an election.

She was eventually done-in by the party she rescued from Edward Heath (who never forgave her). She resigned as PM in 1990 and as an MP in 1992, vigorously opposed to Britain adopting the euro as currency.

It's tempting to suppose a divinity was watching over the West when the Soviet Union was in full throttle and threatening the world because of its fear that Ronald Reagan was plotting war. By allying herself with President Reagan, Mrs. Thatcher added brains to his courage and convictions. The pair were a perfect tag-team--and because Mikhail Gorbachev was sane, reasonable and realistic, it meant the world was safe.

George Bush too, when he became president, was fortunate after 9/11 that Tony Blair was Britain's PM, and became an invaluable and articulate ally against international terrorism, despite it costing him support within the Labour Party.

As Lord Howe of Aberavon, Geoffrey Howe, formerly Mrs. Thatcher's deputy Prime Minister, said of his former leader: "Her real triumph was to have transformed not just one party but two, so that when Labour did eventually return, the great bulk of Thatcherism was accepted as irreversible."

There's some criticism of the Thatcher movie from Conservative factions in Britain -- not of its content, but of its timing. Mrs. Thatcher, at 86, is in the throes of dementia, and there's a feeling that it's cruel and unnecessary to depict this decline in the movie when, during her career, she was such a towering force of relentless conviction.

Maybe such criticism is valid. But Thatcher's greatness is enhanced by Meryl Streep who is arguably the greatest movie actor who ever lived. Only Helen Mirren approaches her talent. But Streep has a perfect pitch ear for accents and nuance. She is adept in every role she attempts and, if asked, could probably be convincing depicting Kim Jong-il -- witness her diverse personalities of Thatcher, Julia Childs, and Miranda Priestly.

Looking back, some of Thatcher's memorable quotes include:

. I don't mind how much my Ministers talk, so long as they do what I say.

. If they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.

. Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy.

. Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.

. If my critics saw me walking over the Thames they would say it was because I couldn't swim.

. It pays to know the enemy -- not least because at some time you may have the opportunity to turn him into a friend.

. Platitudes are there because they are true.

. There are still people in my party who believe in consensus politics. I regard them as Quislings, as traitors.

. There can be no liberty unless there is economic liberty.

. To cure the British disease with socialism was like trying to cure leukaemia with leeches.

. You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.

. The men in the Soviet Politburo do not have to worry about the ebb and flow of public opinion. They put guns before butter, while we put just about everything before guns.

. You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning!

. We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level, with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.

. The (EU) is "fundamentally unreformable . . . a classic utopian project, a monument to the vanity of intellectuals, a program whose inevitable destiny is failure.

. I would never be prepared to give up our own currency.

. If you have a single currency you give up your independence. You give up your sovereignty. That we must never do.

. Socialists cry, "Power to the people" and raise the clenched fist as they say it. We all know what they really mean -- power over people, power to the State.

. For every idealistic peacemaker willing to renounce his self-defence in favour of a weapons-free world, there is at least one war-maker anxious to exploit the other's good intentions.

. It is not the creation of wealth that is wrong, but the love of money for its own sake.

. I owe nothing to Women's Lib.