Tuesday, July 23, 2013
The first volume of Charles Moore's authorized biography of Margaret Thatcher, covering her life up to Britain's victory in the Falklands, is out, just weeks after her death. It takes its place among the finest political biographies of all time.
Thatcher gave Moore full access to her papers and to all her friends and relatives, on condition that she never see the book. It was a wise precaution.
Moore is a conservative, more traditionalist than Mrs. Thatcher (as he always calls her) and broadly sympathetic to her causes. But he was able to get frank responses from relatives, friends and colleagues that might never have been forthcoming had they thought the book would be published in her lifetime.
Moore catches her in some lies and omissions. She had four boyfriends, a cache of letters to her sister showed, before she married the rich businessman Denis Thatcher. She always wanted to wear fetching clothes and have her hair done.
The most important single fact about her, he says, is not that she was a conservative but that she was a woman, ready to use her charms as well as her intellect in dealing with men.
That's not quite in sync with the common understanding of her in this country, particularly among conservatives, who saw Thatcher as the Iron Lady, fearlessly putting her ideas into effect, eschewing compromise and never flinching from principle.
Such an approach, Moore indicates, would have been doomed to failure and was usually not her way. Her ideas developed slowly and changed over time. She waited to fight for many of her great victories -- over the coal miners and in privatizing government entities, subjects for volume two -- until she had laid the groundwork and was fully prepared. Hers was a strategy of conviction tempered by prudence, compromise in pursuit of later success.
Consider her early parliamentary career, unfamiliar to American admirers. As education secretary, she acquiesced in the phasing out of the grammar schools, which provided upward mobility to brainy lower-class children.
She didn't like the policy, but support was too strong. She ended up being cheered by the teachers union.
Nor was she was an early opponent of the European Union (then called the Common Market). Like most centrist politicians of both major parties, she supported British entry.
As a tourist I watched debate on the issue in the House of Commons in October 1971. West Country gentlemen with plummy pronunciation and Scots and North of England Laborites in incomprehensible regional accents spoke out against the Common Market. Thatcher may well have been in the hall, but I have no recollection of her speaking.
Four years later, after Edward Heath led the party to defeat, Thatcher was elected Conservative Party leader. Most senior party leaders voted against her.
In four years as leader of the opposition, Thatcher was a strong debater but not always a propagator of new ideas. Then Prime Minister James Callaghan made the miscalculation to delay the election until May 1979.
The 1979 Winter of Discontent -- strikes by coal miners, public employees, garbage men, even gravediggers -- turned voters away from Labor. The Conservatives ran a negative campaign, with the slogan "Labor isn't working," and won a solid majority.
As prime minister, Thatcher did not always spur her colleagues to go as far as she liked. She acquiesced in tax increases until she got a budget with deeper spending cuts in 1981.
She started the process of privatizating public housing and privatized one public company by time of the June 1982 Falklands victory. She stocked up on coal and gave the miners union a lavish settlement; confrontation would come later.
Argentina's capture of the Falklands in April 1982 came as an unwelcome surprise at a time when Conservatives were running third in polls, far behind the new Social Democrats, led by four former Labor ministers.
Moore shows how she made the decisions that led to victory. And contrary to American conservatives' assumptions, she was angered at times by Ronald Reagan's support of U.S. mediation efforts and by the pro-Argentina stance of Jeane Kirkpatrick.
Charles Moore leaves off with Thatcher speaking at a dinner of 120 all-male officials celebrating victory in the Falklands. Spouses were in another room. At the end she rose and said, "Gentlemen, shall we join the ladies?"
"It may well have been," he writes, "the happiest moment of her life."
Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.
COPYRIGHT 2013 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER
DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
See Other Political Commentaries.
See Other Commentaries by Michael Barone.
Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author or syndicate.
Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.
We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.
Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $3.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.
To learn more about our methodology, click here.