She liked us because we were outsiders too

When, many years ago, Harold Wilson was delivering an election speech in the Chatham docks, he explained his support for a strong navy. “And why am I saying all this?” he asked rhetorically. “Because you’re in Chatham,” came a voice from the back of the hall.

Margaret Thatcher was one of the strongest friends of the Jews to inhabit 10 Downing Street. She filled her Cabinet with Jews, and her kitchen Cabinet and her honours lists. Was it just because she was the MP for Finchley?

There is no question that Mrs Thatcher’s personal experiences as a local MP and as a national leader, the people she met, the people who helped her on her way, are all part of what made her a philosemite. She admired and collaborated with people like the Saatchi brothers and the Young brothers. In the constituency, some of the people she came most to rely upon were Jewish. Finchley definitely provided her with a different experience than that of most of her contemporaries, Conservatives with safe seats in the Home Counties.

But the real reason for her identification with Jews and the way she felt comfortable around them came from the nature of her Conservatism. Margaret Thatcher was that most puzzling of things — an anti-establishment Conservative.

The Thatcher view was that Britain’s greatness depends upon the exertions of its people. Government’s job is to support the vigorous virtues of enterprise, thrift, self-sufficiency. She felt that a complacent, weak establishment was suffocating the country and she wanted to shift them out of the way.

To her, Jews stood outside that establishment and were all the better for it. They were, in her eyes, self-made, felt a strong responsibility to support their own community and family, wanted to make their own way in the world, and in the process made others prosperous. All these things she approved of. Her political method was not, as often suggested, to withdraw the state as part of some ideological push. It was to support her friends in the struggle with the establishment which she saw as dragging Britain down. Jews, she thought, were her friends.

Which leads to a final point. She was without prejudice personally. She saw Jews as coming from outside, but she saw herself as coming from outside too and she thought this a good thing.

Last updated: 12:41pm, April 11 2013