A wry view of life for the world-weary

Book Corner – December 2015 (4)


Margaret Thatcher – Volume Two – Charles Moore

This is the second volume of what is now going to be a three-volume biography of Thatcher. Rather apologetically Lord Snooty (as he was known at college) confesses that he had too much material to fit into his original concept of a two-volume opus. Typical of the Tories – once they get a sniff of power they don’t want to let go!

Sub-titled after an 80’s ditty by Wham! Everything She Wants it could be better called Thatch In Excelsis as the period under consideration, her second administration of 1983 to 1987, saw her at the height of her powers. The problem for Moore is that whilst the formative influences of Thatcher which formed the major part of the first volume were fairly untrodden ground for many of us and therefore had a certain level of interest, the subject matter of the second volume is is fairly familiar ground for even the most casual student of politics. And to make up for this Moore goes into overdrive with his research, producing not only an authoritative account of the time but also providing a fascinating insight into the workings of government.

If there is one abiding impression that the reader takes away it is of the indefatigable energy which Thatcher brought to the premiership. Not for her governing by kitchen cabinet or chillaxing in front of the fire playing Angry Birds. In just one week before Christmas 1984 she had a ground-breaking meeting with Gorbachev at Chequers, then flew to Beijing to sign an agreement on the future of Hong Kong, then went to the colony to explain it to the worried denizens, stopped off at Hawaii and insisted that her sleepy guests took her to Pearl Harbour and then flew on to Camp David to meet Reagan. It is exhausting just reading it all.

Without doubt Thatcher had a major part in engineering a rapprochement between Russia and the States, circumventing Reagan’s obsession with the star wars initiative and recognising that the new Soviet leader was someone the West could do business with. Her relationship with Reagan was not all plain sailing – she felt bitterly betrayed when the former Hollywood actor ordered the invasion of Grenada. She started arguing for Mandela’s release in 1984 by taking P W Botha on.

Conversely, though, her record at home is less glorious. The miners’ strike split the country apart and whilst Scargill and co were somewhat naïve in their determination to pick a fight, Moore cannot gloss over the fact that in the detail of their pre-strike planning the government were not concerned if one came a long and were prepared to see it through to the bitter end.

The book covers the IRA’s unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Thatcher at the Grand Hotel in Brighton and one has to admire her for getting up, brushing herself off and carrying on. But the seeds of her eventual downfall are all too evident in this book. Her disdain of many of her colleagues, her playing fast and loose with the facts  – the account of the Westland helicopter crisis shows that she was somewhat economical with the actualite and that had there been an effective opposition (now where have we heard that before) she could easily have been called to account and possibly made to resign –  and the contempt in which she was regarded in intellectual circles – the thing that hurt her most was the refusal of Oxford University to award her an honorary degree – would eventually bring her down.

But not in this book. Moore’s perspective is from that of the right. There is little left-wing analysis in his account and unless you lived through the period the pure hatred she generated in some quarters would be hard to imagine from his account.

Moore has done a good job in making much more familiar material interesting and it is a better read than you might otherwise expect. Can’t wait for the third volume and her fall!

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