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Kent's links to mourned former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher


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Baroness Thatcher on one of her final visits to Kent at the Duke of York’s Royal Military School in May 2008
Baroness Thatcher on one of her final visits to Kent at the Duke of York’s Royal Military School in May 2008

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - who twice stood to be an MP in Dartford before becoming Britain's first female premier - has died today aged 87.

Her spokesman Lord Bell confirmed Baroness Thatcher passed away peacefully this morning following a stroke after a long battle with poor health.

Tributes are today being paid to the Iron Lady - pictured right on one of her final visits to Kent at the Duke of York's Royal Military School in May 2008 - by political and business figures across the county.

She met her beloved husband Denis at a Conservative event in Dartford after missing her last train home before twice bidding to represent the area in Parliament.

Cllr Jeremy Kite, leader of Dartford Council, said: "It is a very, very sad day.

"She met her husband Denis at a Conservative event in Dartford and then in 1951 she stood as a Conservative candidate, which if she had won she would have become the MP for Dartford.

"Her connection with Dartford was a source of pride to us and when she came to a fundraising dinner in the town not long after she had left Downing Street it was obvious that she had some really warm memories of her time here.

"It would be nice to think she might have honed some of her political skills on Dartford doorsteps.

“You have to accept she was a figure that moved people and whether you loved her or loathed her she absolutely changed this country. One of her biggest achievements was that the changes she made are still in place today."

Margaret Thatcher rpening a sheltered housing complex in her name - Thatcher Court in Dartford - in 1984
Margaret Thatcher rpening a sheltered housing complex in her name - Thatcher Court in Dartford - in 1984

Margaret Thatcher rpening a sheltered housing complex in her name - Thatcher Court in Dartford - in 1984

Mr Kite added: "She also brought a whole generation of people into politics and I was one of them and it wasn't just Conservatives.

"The fact they were able to see someone make a difference as a politician inspired people to get into politics.

"I met her a couple of times and she was always very alert, bright and interesting and was a great believer in meritocracy. She wasn't interested in where you came from, but what you said and what you did.

"She came to Dartford on several occasions as Prime Minister. I last met her at the Hilton Hotel some 10 years ago.

"She was one of those people that absolutely filled a room and not just for her status, but her personality as well.

"She was one of those people Britain needed at that time."

Margaret Thatcher visiting Walderslade Secondary School in June 1987
Margaret Thatcher visiting Walderslade Secondary School in June 1987

Margaret Thatcher visiting Walderslade Secondary School in June 1987 and (below) signing the agreement that created the Channel Tunnel in 1986

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher signs the agreement that created the Channel Tunnel in 1986
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher signs the agreement that created the Channel Tunnel in 1986

But it's emerged she put in another bid to become a Kent MP... in Canterbury.

Her bid to find a safe Tory seat was knocked back in the city's 1952 by-election over fears she would fall pregnant.

The only woman on the selection panel – former Lord Mayor of Canterbury Evelyn Hews – is thought to have scuppered the young Lady Thatcher’s bid after predicting she would soon start a family.

Lady Thatcher - dubbed the Iron Lady for a hard line against trade unions - became Britain's first and only female Prime Minister in 1979.

She was the Conservative candidate for the safe Labour seat of Dartford in the 1950 and 1951 general elections, when she attracted media attention as the youngest and the only female candidate.

Then Margaret Roberts, the grocer's daughter moved to Dartford during her campaign where she supported herself by working as a research chemist.

She lost both times to Norman Dodds, but reduced the Labour majority by 6,000 and then a further 1,000.

Margaret Thatcher at her home in Lamberhurst in January, 1971
Margaret Thatcher at her home in Lamberhurst in January, 1971

After election defeat in Dartford, she became MP for Finchley in 1959, then secretary of state for education and science and was elected leader of the Conservative party in 1975.

Lady Thatcher's popularity diminished as Britain entered the recession and unemployment grew.

The Falklands War in 1982 gaining new-found support and a re-election in 1983.

Lady Thatcher and her husband Denis were regular visitors to Kent and in the 1980s as they used a flat in the grounds of Scotney Castle, in Lamberhurst, as a hideaway from the busy life in Westminster (pictured right).

This flat still has the wallpaper Margaret and Denis Thatcher put up in one of the bathrooms and the old iron bath in is still in place. Security recommended the place to be safe for the Prime Minister and her husband, while Denis also enjoyed the Lamberhurst golf course.

Lady Thatcher spent 11 years in Downing Street - the longest run by any 20th century Prime Minister.

In 1986, she signed the agreement that created the Channel Tunnel - one of the most significant events in Kent's history.

And in June 1992, Lady Thatcher started the press at the opening ceremony for a £10.5 million press complex at the KM Group's Larkfield headquarters.

Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher

Maraget Thatcher on a visit to the KM Group and (below) opening the press in Larkfield in June 1992

Baroness Thatcher started the press at the opening ceremony for a £10.5 million press complex at the KM Group's Larkfield headquarters in June 1992
Baroness Thatcher started the press at the opening ceremony for a £10.5 million press complex at the KM Group's Larkfield headquarters in June 1992

Ashford MP Damian Green said: "She was a great Prime Minister. I think that history already shows that she transformed the country after it had declined over a couple of
decades.

"I grew up in the 1970s when the country was clearly becoming worse for many people. She was controversial but the country needed her at that time. Even people who disagreed with her respected her drive and conviction."

He added that her political legacy would be the social changes brought
about by policies such as the sale of council houses and privatisation.

"She created a generation of home-owners among people who never thought
that they could own their own home," he added.

The former Conservative MP for Gillingham said Margaret Thatcher's hard-line image was "greatly exaggerated by the media".

Margaret Thatcher on a visit to Chatham Dockyard in June 1987
Margaret Thatcher on a visit to Chatham Dockyard in June 1987

Margaret Thatcher on a visit to Chatham Dockyard in June 1987 - leaving Kingswear Castle paddle steamer after her trip on the River Medway

Jim Couchman, who served from 1983 to 1997 and whose father Stanley was friends with Denis as they used to play rugby together, said: "My reaction is obviously sadness. She has been declining in recent years, I last saw her in 2008 at the 25th anniversary of the 1983 intake.

"The most vivid memory I have is when my wife Barbara was taken very ill in 1990. The same evening there was a personal note from her to me, expressing concern and wishing her well. That was quite powerful coming from the Prime Minister.

"I think her image was always exaggerated by the media. I encountered a strong and in many respects a sympathetic character and that does run against perhaps her image.

"The enduring achievement of her government was to widen capitalism... I suspect very few people who followed her into Downing Street would have taken on the decisions she did."

Baroness Thatcher admires the statue of Churchill and his wife Clemantine in the grounds of Chartwell, the home of Sir Winston Churchill in 1992
Baroness Thatcher admires the statue of Churchill and his wife Clemantine in the grounds of Chartwell, the home of Sir Winston Churchill in 1992

Baroness Thatcher admires the statue of Churchill and his wife Clemantine in the grounds of Chartwell, the home of Sir Winston Churchill in 1992

Dartford MP Gareth Johnson said: "It was with great sadness that I heard about the death of Lady Thatcher. She took over as Prime Mnister at a time when the country was in a desperate state and had lost confidence in itself. Yet she gave the country back its sense of pride.

"She provided inspiration for many people including some who didn't agree with her views. As the country's first, and so far only, female Prime Minister she ran the government with an iron will and clear political convictions.

"Lady Thatcher stood unsuccessfully as the candidate in Dartford twice and retained a strong affection for the area. I had the honour of meeting her several times and we chatted about her experiences in Dartford. She first got to know Denis when she was the candidate in Dartford and had missed her last train home. He kindly offered her a lift and their relationship grew from there.

"There are many activists in Dartford Conservative Association who actually helped campaign for Margaret Thatcher. You will still now hear them refer to her as Margaret Roberts, as that was her name at the time.

"This is a sad day for Dartford. The town has lost someone who was part of its history yet her legacy will remain for many years to come."

Dartford MP Gareth Johnson with Baroness Thatcher
Dartford MP Gareth Johnson with Baroness Thatcher

Dartford MP Gareth Johnson with Baroness Thatcher

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who lives in Sevenoaks, called Lady Thatcher a "great inspiration".

He added: "Whether you loved her or hated her nobody could deny that she was a great patriot, who believed passionately in this country and her people.

"A towering figure in recent British and political history has passed from the stage. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family."

The Archbishop of Canterbury said: "It was with sadness that I heard the news of the death of Baroness Thatcher and my prayers are with her son and daughter, her grandchildren, family and friends.

"It is right that today we give thanks for a life devoted to public service, acknowledging also the faith that inspired and sustained her."

Margaret Thatcher with John Spence, Bill Ferris and Lord Lane at the Historic Dockyard Chatham in August 2008
Margaret Thatcher with John Spence, Bill Ferris and Lord Lane at the Historic Dockyard Chatham in August 2008

Margaret Thatcher with John Spence, Bill Ferris and Lord Lane at the Historic Dockyard Chatham in August 2008

Lady Thatcher's growing frailty meant she had rarely made public appearances in recent years.

She had increasingly suffered from memory loss after a number of strokes.

Downing Street, which joined Buckingham Palace in flying its flags at half mast, said Lady Thatcher would be given a full ceremonial funeral with honours at St Paul's Cathedral.

Prime Minister David Cameron led tributes from world leaders, calling the former Tory leader "a great prime minister, a great leader, a great Briton".

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