DAILY TELEGRAPH - THATCHER HANDBAG



“You can’t have a statue of my Mum without her handbag,” says Carol Thatcher, blowing a raspberry at the Public Memorials Appeals Trust’s £300,000 statue of the Iron Lady. Good lass, I’m on your side.

Statues of Margaret Thatcher have not fared well. One in elegant white marble, with handbag, commissioned for the House of Commons, had its block knocked off in 2002. The 7ft tall bronze monstrosity currently in the Commons lobby, also with handbag, makes her look more like a 1930s Soviet Russian than the scion of a Lincolnshire grocer. She was slim, it has her meaty, and with a wagging, pointing finger. That, she never did. She’d been taught how to use Ciceronian gestures, fingers touching, palm outstretched, to appear less aggressive. And when she started to wear spectacles at Prime Minister’s Question Time, woe betide the questioner as she swept them off for a gimlet-like stare: a harmless aid to presbyobia had become another fearsome weapon.

Her handbag was indubitably part of her armoury. One recently sold at Christie’s for £47,500. Charles Moore her biographer quotes many examples of her digging into it at crucial moments for a piece of paper - at Fontainebleau during the negotiations over the EU rebate; in Cabinet, facing down Michael Heseltine; in Washington with Ronald Reagan over the Intermediate Nuclear Force (INF) deal with Gorbachev. Her close adviser Charles Powell could brief the press all he liked that “a joint statement might be agreed” at the end of the talks, but Margaret would produce the text she wanted from her handbag right at the start. It meant that she had not only read the officials’ briefing, but had thought about the issues deeply, and had worked out the form of words which would satisfy both the UK and its sparring partners. That’s why so often such negotiations ended in triumph.

It meant, of course, that the men were scared of that handbag. It contained secrets, it wielded power. It said, “I am a woman, but I’m a better man than all of you.” That applied as much to poor Geoffrey Howe as to France’s President Mitterand. Unlike the Queen’s, which appears to contain only lipstick and a hanky (no cash), Margaret Thatcher’s handbag yielded the solutions to tricky questions. But not quite always: on one occasion the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, slipped a letter into her handbag at a reception. She didn’t notice. The letter, unopened, was retrieved from the bag ten days later when a secretary found it. What private musings did the worthy Archbishop yearn to share? Would Thatcher’s relationship with the Church have improved, had she read them? Nobody knows.

Handbags are so powerful that men are now getting in on the act, and a good thing too. John Lewis have over 200 on their website, the nicest being an Italian leather job at £89. Nothing is more irritating than a chap jangling the coins in his trouser pocket as he speaks. Nothing upsets tailors more (and I’m a tailor’s daughter) than men distorting the beautiful line of a well-cut suit by wallets, keys and the like. The glorious Marks & Spencer model David Gandy, one feels, would not tolerate bulges in the wrong place. And there’s a practical element: my hubby repeatedly loses lighters and coins down the back of sofas and car seats because he’s shoved too much in his pockets. When I chide, he grumbles, then uses a handbag instead – mine.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has said that he won’t approve the placing of the new statue in Parliament Square unless the Thatcher family are happy. But his writ runs for barely two more weeks. so the new Mayor, who could be Sadiq Khan, might have the deliciously ironic task of blowing the raspberry back at Carol (Mark Thatcher does not seem to be in the least interested). A Labour Mayor might indeed be the man who unveils it, to much fanfare. One hopes Jeremy Corbyn will be in attendance: that would guarantee the wrath of the heavens, or wherever Margaret is now. Either way, it’s the handbag, or lack of it, that will be the hallmark of this statue forever.