Fondly Recalling Thatcher's Handbag of IPE Doom

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 7/01/2011 12:03:00 AM
It is one of the most notable incidences in European integration history: Although the exact wording is still being debated to this day, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously went before her European Community colleagues in 1984 demanding that the UK not pay so much into the infamous Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of agricultural subsidies since Britain believed it paid far more than it received in this scheme.

Demanding a rebate, she slammed her handbag into the conference table and exclaimed something to the effect of "I want my money back!" While the CAP's share in the EU budget has gone down from being over three-quarters at its height to less than half today, it remains a big sticking point in WTO negotiations over agricultural market access of LDCs to developed countries, but that's another story for a different post. Here is a brief backgrounder on the UK rebate which exists to this day:
The UK won the rebate in 1984, after the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher threatened to halt payments to the EU budget. "We are not asking the Community or anyone else for money," she said at a summit in Fontainebleau. "We are simply asking to have our own money back".

The UK was then the third poorest member of the Community but was on course to become the biggest net contributor to the EU budget. This was mainly because the UK had relatively few farms, so it got a relatively small share of farm subsidies, which at the time made up 70% of Community expenditure.

The formula for determining how much a country paid into the Community budget was also unfavourable to the UK. It was in effect penalised for raising more revenue from VAT than most other member states and importing more goods from countries outside the Community.
So we now have this splendid story of a charity auction of some famous people's possessions. A finals match ball from England captain Lawrence Dellaglio's 2003 Rugby World Cup winning side went for £13,500. One of "Slowhand" Eric Clapton's Fender Telecasters commanded £16,000. And, apropos for today's story, Mrs Thatcher's now-famous handbag--swung around for emphatic effect in various national and international political arenas in her heyday--highlighted the auction and sold for £25,000:
A handbag belonging to Margaret Thatcher fetched £25,000 when it went under the hammer on Monday, auctioned by Lord Archer. The black glossy leather bag, owned by the former prime minister for more than 30 years, was pictured in a photograph taken as she walked alongside then US president Ronald Reagan during her visit to the United States in 1985.

The lot donated by Lady Thatcher was among a number of highly prized items sold by amateur auctioneer and author Lord Archer for charitable causes. It was bought by an unnamed Cypriot who is understood to have been a student in Britain during Lady Thatcher's tenure as prime minister. The Cypriot, a private buyer, is said to be a "great admirer" of the former Conservative leader.
It literally carries considerable British history, and surpassing prissy stuff like mace, pepper spray and stun guns, made "handbagging" a true weapon worthy of IPE Mortal Kombat:
As the auction at Christie's headquarters in central London concluded, Lord Archer said: "The handbag makes you automatically think of Margaret Thatcher. Someone has captured this and will have, frankly, a historic document for the rest of their lives."

Lady Thatcher's daughter Carol, who joined bidders in the packed sale room, said her mother was "longing to know" how much the bag had raised for her "carefully chosen" charities. "I hope that the highest bidder knows that if he's into handbagging, he's got a weapon with quite a track record. After all, my mother invented the verb 'to handbag'," she said.
Talk about girl power before that hackneyed term was developed:
Edwina Currie, a former minister in Baroness Thatcher's government, said: "It wasn't a shield, it was a weapon. "It said, 'I am Margaret Thatcher, I'm the boss, I'm in charge. I have all this power and I have control'. "That was why the handbag was always so neat and tidy and black and shiny and dominant. It would go on the Cabinet table.
Make no mistake: the Iron Lady had bigger balls than nearly everyone else while maintaining a distinctly feminine touch. WHOMP! Former US Secretary of State George Schultz is said to have enrolled her into the Grand Order of the Handbag:
In 1988 Mrs Thatcher received a handbag as a gift from George Shultz, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state. He told her it was ‘to mark your ability to produce from within the right form of words to end a tedious discussion. You are the first and only recipient of the Grand Order of the Handbag’.
Those were some days.