This article is from the May issue of Total Politics
11 February 1975 was a remarkable day in British political history. A woman was elected to lead a major Western political party for the first time. And I was there.
In those days there were no permanent barriers or security – apart from a lone policeman – outside Parliament. I’d managed to get to the front of the temporary barriers holding back the gathered crowd from St Stephen’s entrance. A great cheer went up as the Conservative’s new leader stepped out to greet the public for the first time.
The picture of Mrs Thatcher shaking my hand was captured by a Daily Mail photographer. It appeared the next day, taking up half of page three with the caption: “Mrs Thatcher greeted by an admirer outside the House of Commons last night.”
There was only one snag. I wasn’t supposed to be in London. Aged 17, I’d taken off from boarding school to attend an interview at Nottingham University, which I used to justify two days out of school.
My family didn’t read the Mail, so I had no idea the picture had been published. I went up to Nottingham the next day and returned to school, unaware that my deviation via London had been discovered.
We forget how slowly news travelled in pre-internet days, so I was taken by surprise when friends and teachers mentioned the article. Gradually it sunk in, and I had to explain my absence to the authorities. I can’t remember what excuse I cobbled together, but such was the excitement about this momentous development in politics that no action was taken.
My inspirational politics A-level teacher, Clive Thomas, probably put a word in for me. Mrs Thatcher’s courage and audacity in standing for the leadership were widely admired across the political spectrum.
Margot James is the Conservative MP for Stourbridge