Sharon Williams

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Sharon Williams

Sharon Williams Blog

We still use Margaret Thatcher's encounter with George Negus in PR training

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A personal experience of Margaret Thatcher and her message to me growing up in London - to take responsibility - was a great lesson.

I still consider myself lucky to have had Margaret Thatcher as a role model when I was growing up. I was fourteen years old living in London when she came to power in 1979 and she was my Prime Minister for twelve formative years. She resigned the year I was married in 1990 when I watched her own party turning against her after winning an election with a reduced minority. We had watched her move up the ranks to Leader of the Opposition as the first woman to lead a western political party and then at the last moment descend into party turmoil.

My peers and I learned leadership through her example – her performances in Parliament were a joy and staggering to watch. With a career in PR and strategic marketing and personal brand now, Thatchers example was exemplary. We still use her sharp witted retorts in our media training.

As Thatchers brand of leadership played out in my most impactful and influential years she was without doubt an inspiration – one of the world’s great International leaders. There was never a thought that she was a woman or a complaint that she didn’t have the same opportunities as men - she was a conviction Politician and Brit foremost. Her example shaped me and my peers on a multiple range of topics - the power of sheer guts and hard work, communication skills, freedom to build business, the power of personal conviction, international relations, mediation, leadership and what is possible through taking personal responsibility, tenacity and determination. She was successful in an era where Parliament was dominated by many of those who were partly there through right of birth – male Lords, a closed old boys club, toffs and the upper classes. I remember watching her performances, sometimes as the only woman on the Parliament floor in awe.

My peers and I experienced teenage lives peppered with strikes and British "tools down" against fellow Brits. After unparalleled national pride and a fascinating history, the country seemed to be in a state of self-destruction and self loathing. My closest friend is Irish and we watched as the IRA demanded, the hunger strikes played out and she and I travelled in London to our first jobs amid bomb blasts and bomb threats. We watched the European Union movement evolve and the privatisation of our major companies. We saw a negotiated triangle of negotiation between Gorbachev in Russia and the end of the Cold War and the coming down of the Berlin Wall and a deeper friendship emerge with the US with Thatcher’s genuine friend Ronald Reagan. We lived through recession, the '80s and the re-emergence of Britain as a more credible financial and cultural centre once again. Former glory almost re-instated. In 1981 we began eight years of consistent economic growth in spite of setbacks. Thatcher experienced a direct attack on her life in the conservative conference in my grandparents' hometown of Eastbourne in 1984. I saw the debris.

We later moved into the John Major, bland and gentler years but then who could be anything other than bland after watching and experiencing the reality of Margaret Thatcher?

Thatcher managed to look professional in her appearance without being overly girly, fussy or flirtatious. She parented her children, remained married and dealt with detractors in a no nonsense, sometimes arrogant way that was ultimately her downfall.

My favourite retort was in her interview with our own Aussie George Negus when he asked her, "Why are people in the street were telling us that Margaret Thatcher isn’t just inflexible, not just single minded, sometimes just plain pig headed and won’t be told by anybody". Thatcher retorted with, "Who precisely is stopping you in the street George, give me their names". We still use it in our media training as the ultimate PR bridging example.

I lived my teens to mid-20s with a Queen and a woman Prime Minister attending a school that my Grandmother and Great Aunt as my deputy head and my headmistress respectfully founded 50 years before, Thatcher very much inspired a confidence and "do or die" attitude of anything is possible. No question. There was no reason to doubt as young Brits, we couldn’t do anything we set our mind too.

Interestingly, there was no feminism or womens lib – she just "did" – it was about being the best person for the job - we learned by her example. And while her inflexibility to take counsel eventually forced her out of office - I watched her crush the National Miners Union amidst threats and violent skirmishes and reform union procedures to allow the democratic method of secret ballots while lessening the possibility of coercion. I watched her come together with Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II to engineer the downfall of Soviet communism, working with Gorbachev who she described as a, "Man I could do business with". Who at the time, (just check into the Bond movies as to who was the enemy!) was a plausible threat. Back at home families were able to buy their council homes. Many Britons became shareholders for the first time after Thatcher privatized industries by selling shares to the public, long before other countries followed suit.

Thatchers legacy provokes two different schools of thought and like every great leader – not all her decisions were popular and many had personal and long standing repurcussions for families. My mining Grandfather was suitably affronted by the closing of the mines, but the principles of "Brit standing against Brit" in strikes was eventually too uncompromising even for him having fought through two World Wars. Thatcher dealt with a British parliament dominated by men and an old boys club in a "little big" country very much divided by North and South and an entrenched class system.’

While she had her detractors, and they are evident at the moment in vociferous forms, there is much that my generation living in London had to thank her for. An indomitable spirit and unfailing belief and attitude that to work hard, and stick to your principles (whoever you were and even when they were not always popular) was a good way to live. May she long be revered as the amazing leader and world historical figure that I was lucky enough to experience first hand in London for 11 years.

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