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Thatcher, Alan Clark and Finchley

    Margaret Thatcher's former parliamentary private secretary has recalled how commitment to her Jewish constituents in Finchley led to the collapse of a plan to discourage the use of animal fur.

    Speaking during a Westminster session in memory of the late prime minister, Lord Hamilton recalled how Alan Clark, the politician and diarist who was then the trade minister, went to see Baroness Thatcher to discuss the issue.

    "His pitch to the Prime Minister was that he considered it a very good idea if labels were to be put on furs saying, "The fur being sold here has been caught in an extremely inhumane trap"," said Lord Hamilton, who assisted her from 1987 to 1988. "Rather like having a health warning on cigarettes."

    But according to the peer, Baroness Thatcher was "absolutely appalled" by the suggestion.

    "Needless to say, the pleas got nowhere because the calculation that Alan Clark had not made was that because the Prime Minister was MP for Finchley, many of her Jewish constituents were furriers and the last thing she was going to do was ruin their business."

    Today, attitudes toward the use of animal fur have changed, including among the Jewish community. But furrier was a common occupation for immigrant Jews around the turn of the century, both in the East End and in Manchester, which continued to be the case for decades afterward.

    Parliamentary tributes were also offered by Conservative MP Michael Ellis, and one of her successors as MP for Finchley, Mike Freer.

    "She recognised the tremendous force for good and for international democracy that the United States is in the world and the leadership that it still gives to the oppressed around the world," said Mr Ellis. "It should not be forgotten that she was also a true friend to the Jewish people and to Israel."

    Mr Freer spoke of "the woman who represented Finchley for 33 years" and said that the constituency was her touchstone.

    An unlikely tribute came from Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, who is a staunch critic of Israel in parliament. He said of Baroness Thatcher: "She was also much more far-sighted than most United Kingdom prime ministers about rightward trends in Israel and in the M iddle E ast."

    He also told of how as shadow foreign secretary, he had visited Morocco. "I was told by the United Kingdom ambassador there that she had given him a direct instruction to approach the leaders of the then substantial Moroccan Jewish community and urge them to exhort the sizeable number of Moroccan Jewish immigrants in Israel to vote Labour-Shimon Peres-in a forthcoming election."

    The Chief Rabbi is considering attending Baroness Thatcher's funeral next week, while Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu is also likely to be present.

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