9 Apr 2013

NZ contemporaries remember 'Iron Lady' of politics

10:29 pm on 9 April 2013

New Zealand political contemporaries of Margaret Thatcher are remembering her as a tough politician with clear convictions.

Baroness Thatcher, the former British prime minister and first woman to lead the country, died in London on Monday after suffering a stroke.

The 87-year-old known as the 'Iron Lady' radically rolled back the state during her 11 years in power from 1979 and led the Conservatives to win three successive general elections.

Ruth Richardson, finance minister in Jim Bolger's National Government, supported Lady Thatcher's strict monetarist policies and attended a meeting where she spoke in 1976.

Ms Richardson says she made astute observations about New Zealand being locked into a protectionist economy.

"And she said so very forcefully in 1976 and there was almost a deathly silence.

"She railed against the Soviet Union and the very, I think, soft New Zealand audience at the time that had become accustomed to this kind of intervention and decline were too lily-livered to really cheer her. I was probably the only one that was really clapping."

A former prime minister, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, met Lady Thatcher at a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malaysia in 1989.

Wanting to avoid a boycott of the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Auckland, Sir Geoffrey said he was intent on getting on well with the Baroness, who opposed sanctions against South Africa's apartheid government.

"I found her very cordial and very straightforward. She was a person with very clear convictions. But she had a regard for New Zealand and we certainly came out of that meeting having achieved all of our objectives. We didn't get a boycott."

But not everyone was impressed with her.

Ken Douglas was the president of the Council of Trade Unions at the time Margaret Thatcher was battling Britain's coal miners in the 1980s.

Mr Douglas says her economic policies influenced an anti-unionism sentiment in New Zealand legislation.

Lady Thatcher's funeral service at St Paul's Cathedral in London will be held on 17 April.