The Coming of Prime Minister May: Looking Back at the Thatcher Revolution
2017-05-10 There has been no more disruptive set of changes since the Thatcher revolution than the Brexit vote and the coming of Prime Minister May.
With the Brexit vote, the British public as set in a revolution of its own.
This vote led to the resignation of Prime Minister Cameron and the coming to power of Prime Minister May.
The PM has called a surprise election this month and by all indications will increase her majority.
She is also using the election to move the Conservative Party more to the Center which would give her more maneuvering room as she negotiates the Brexit agenda.
With the election of political novice Emmanuel Macron who is likely to face a National Assembly not of his making, and the coming German elections, PM May will face a fluid negotiating field.
This is in spite of the rigidity demonstrated by the European Commission, the very rigidity which led the British public to vote for Brexit.
Indeed, the performance of the current head of the Commission almost defines the image of the kind of bureaucratic dominance, which calls for significant European reform. Not only is English speaking waning in Europe, but Europe is growing economically more rapidly than the United States.
“Mr. Juncker went on to argue that the UK was preparing to leave the EU at a time when the bloc’s economic growth had reached twice the US level. “
And at that point — despite the success, despite the growth — our British friends decided to leave the EU, which is a tragedy,” he said.”
Well back in the real world, we are reminded of the challenge of political disruption and political reform.
That is clearly the case with Margaret Thatcher and her approach to changing the course of Britain.
We will see if Prime Minister May is as successful in meeting the challenge of changing course in today’s Britain.
In 2013 and earlier this month, Monica Morrill wrote reviews of books looking at the Thatcher years. These two reviews are being republished with the permission of the author.
Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography From Grantham to the Falklands
By Charles Moore
Knopf, A Division of Random House, Borzoi Books, NY, NY 2013
Hardcover, 899 pages; US$35.00
How would historians and biographers look upon the 20th century when two immovable ladies, a Queen and a Prime Minister, simultaneously governed the same nation during a period of uncertainty?
One would sensibly begin with Charles Moore’s biography about the British Prime Minister who came to be known as Margaret Thatcher. Mr. Moore’s first volume was released in May of this year, shortly after the death of the late Prime Minister.
Even when preparing for her eventual passing Margaret Thatcher was capable of choosing a writer who would follow through with a distinctive, yet independent task of telling her story.
Lady Thatcher chose well.
Mr. Moore’s first volume covers the first fifty-seven years of Margaret Thatcher’s life. From the beginning of the book, every detail crafts for the reader a prescient young girl, born Margaret Hilda Roberts, which carefully builds each anticipated leap in her life.
Mrs. Thatcher’s (then Miss Roberts) formative years can be the most deceiving because an average observer might simply view her as a grocer’s daughter who was raised in the strict form of the Methodist Church.
However, there is a constant tide of struggles and successes in the life of Miss Roberts.
Not one iota of opportunity is wasted as Mr. Moore points out that, “One of [her] best political gifts, born of a rather surprising lack of self-confidence and a female conscientiousness, was never to take anything for granted.”
Young Miss Roberts observes, learns and tests her upbringing in religion, education and politics in Grantham, England, a market town of about 25,000 people. Her father, Alfred Roberts, was active in business (grocer) and local politics.
As president of the Grantham Rotary Club in 1936, he shared his political views with an audience explaining why he shifted from the Liberal Party to the Conservative Party. In Mrs. Thatcher’s memoirs she elaborated further: as with many others her father was, “left behind by the Liberal Party’s acceptance of collectivism,” implying that the individual was subverted, anathema to the Roberts family philosophy.
From an early age, Miss Roberts observed election campaigns with keen interest and derived wisdom from participating in elections involving her father and other politicians, whom she admired. The Robertses were known and respected for their thrift, common sense and patriotism. Alfred Roberts was actively involved in war-related efforts and in addition to his committed tasks of owning a corner grocery store, carrying local political responsibilities, and serving as a lay preacher, he may not have fully grasped the impact all this ‘work’ had on his second daughter.
At age nine, her own schoolwork led her to win a prize. After being congratulated on her luck by the school head, Miss Roberts gave a rather precocious remark, “I wasn’t lucky. I deserved it.” Mr. Moore offered a fair analysis to the various versions of this family story, “To say anything else would be to cast doubt on the entire judging process.” Miss Roberts gave the head of the school her forthright opinion. What mattered were her convictions, and the honesty of the approach. This characteristic would shine through in her academic pursuits (science and law), her personal life, and particularly in her political career.
For instance, in 1979 about a month after Mrs. Thatcher became Prime Minister, Nigel Lawson explained in an interview that she was an atypical politician, “A key to understanding Mrs. Thatcher was that she actually said what she believed.”
The pre-politician Margaret Roberts later Margaret Thatcher, however, made it her goal to understand early on what it took to excel and therefore she sought guidance from able men and women (usually men). Early on in this quest for knowledge, it was cultivated at Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School (KGGS), which revealed a competitive Miss Roberts.
As Prime Minister, she later recalled that she owed being at No. 10 Downing Street (the Prime Minister’s residence) to KGGS. Eventually Miss Roberts expanded her zest for learning and political involvement at Oxford University to study chemistry and became fully immersed in the Oxford University Conservative Association.
Despite her scientific degree, Miss Roberts longed to study law (as a barrister) – the opportunity was delayed – and a few years after Oxford she was eventually launched into her first political campaign for a parliamentary seat for Dartford in 1949. Dartford led to her meeting and eventually marrying Denis Thatcher, a union that would prove so essential to her life.
Mrs. Thatcher consecutively studied and came to admire in Grantham the laws of God, at Oxford University the laws of nature, in London the laws of man. These were the three pillars that guided her throughout her political career and steadied her path in economic doctrines.
Throughout these and many other experiences: coal disputes, inflation, education, Mr. Moore weaves Mrs. Thatcher’s encounters with relevant British and world political history. He lucidly demonstrates that the cerebral pivot of Margaret Thatcher, combined with her early quiet political determination, formed and shaped her into a formidable character. This often led people to underestimating her. Such miscalculations allowed her to learn from the failures of others and win the favor of her peers through her willingness to be politely combative. This was exemplified through Ted Heath’s leadership of the Conservative Party.
In fact, if Ted Heath had succeeded, perhaps a Margaret Thatcher Prime Minister would never have emerged.
Likewise, Mrs. Thatcher succeeded in nearly everything Mr. Heath did not. The diary entries of Airey Neave as a backbencher MP under Mr. Heath reveal the tantalizing behind the scenes details that prepare readers for the enormous challenges and successes of the Thatcher premiership.
Naturally, there was a delicate and sensitive side to Mrs. Thatcher, although it may have been punctuated with strong opinionated beliefs. Under Mr. Heath’s leadership in Shadow Ministerial positions, she frequently erred on the side of caution. From the 1960s until she became Conservative Party Leader she rarely confronted people in her own party.
Her charm and intelligence led her to be insightfully recognized as a ‘rising political star’ by the U.S. diplomat William J. Galloway when he remarked on her, “very strong will” and her “high standards of ethics and morals.” Mr. Galloway, the first secretary and political officer at the U.S. Embassy in London, arranged for Mrs. Thatcher’s first visit to the U.S. in 1967 through the State Department’s International Visitor Program, allowing prominent non-U.S. citizens an extended opportunity to learn more about the American culture. Mr. Moore shares some impressive details about her visit from sea-to-shining-sea, which were altogether positive, “She loved America, felt at ease there and wanted to go back.”
Her curiosity for economic solutions was reinvigorated after she visited the U.S., particularly on tax issues, a subject she practiced as a barrister. This eventually led to her joining a breakaway group from Mr. Heath to explore meaningful economic policies. Mrs. Thatcher developed a relationship with people at the Centre for Policy Studies and the Institute of Economic Affairs, which continued even after she ended her premiership.
Interestingly, it was Denis Thatcher who first noticed and was won over by then Governor Ronald Reagan, when the latter spoke at the Institute of Directors in London in 1969.
In 1972, Mrs. Thatcher attended a group luncheon at No. 10 in Reagan’s honor, but it wasn’t until April 1975 that they had their first candid conversation.
Mr. Moore describes it as an enormous success, which would cement their relationship ahead of a more turbulent political climate from 1980-1982, which is described in chapter twenty of volume one. Reagan’s 1975
…meeting with Mrs. Thatcher, planned for forty-five minutes, went on for an hour and a half. ‘I was immediately won over by his charm, directness and sense of humour,’ Mrs. Thatcher later wrote. Reagan recalled: ‘It was evident from our first words that we were soul mates when it came to reducing government and expanding freedom.’ …They were not to see one another again or indeed speak until 1978, but their staffs stayed in touch…the seeds of future friendship had been sown.
In 1975, Mrs. Thatcher met with the British historian and poet, Robert Conquest, who was also an expert on the Soviet Union. Despite the decade of détente, Mrs. Thatcher asked Conquest “whether the Soviets had the long-term aim of getting rid of Western democracy – ‘The answer was yes’ – and whether the Soviet Union was, in the long term, viable – ‘The answer was no.’”
Conquest assisted her in drafting a speech she would give at the Chelsea Conservative Association in July 1975. Firmly established in her beliefs, Mrs. Thatcher pointed out the facts to her audience. Communists took over Cambodia and Vietnam and made more serious inroads into Portugal, and furthermore the Soviet Union showed no signs of disarming. But Mrs. Thatcher didn’t simply judge this from Soviet weaponry stocks, but by the internal suffering:
So when the Soviet leaders jail a writer, or a priest, or a doctor or a worker, for the crime of speaking freely, it is not only for humanitarian reasons that we should be concerned. For these acts reveal a regime that is afraid of truth and liberty; it dare not allow its people to enjoy the freedom we take for granted, and a nation that denies those freedoms to its own people will have few scruples in denying them to others.
It is possible that this speech and other subsequent pronouncements by Mrs. Thatcher provoked the Soviet Red Army’s newspaper Red Star to call her the ‘Iron Lady.’
An opportunity that did not go to waste, she claimed the name proudly in January 1976 and continued to use it against the Soviets even after their collapse, thanks in part to Mr. Conquest.
Mr. Conquest was not an ideological warrior but only interested in the truth.
Mrs. Thatcher was an ideological warrior for truth and freedom and intended to implement her beliefs as such.
This slight difference may have influenced Mrs. Thatcher’s decision in declining his request to become Ambassador to the UN, yet he continued to advise her on Soviet issues from the Hoover Institute in California.
They shared a professional and formal relationship publicly but underneath the press and diplomacy the relationship was very cordial. In the 1980s, Mr. Conquest, even to others, always addressed her as ‘Prime Minister.’
If one could summarize Margaret Thatcher in one phrase after reading the first volume, it would undoubtedly be “Mrs. Thatcher stood for truth and freedom.”
She shared this enthusiasm generously with her husband Denis who was her greatest support and friend; she introduced it carefully to their children; happily and bravely to those who genuinely wanted to partake of a freer Great Britain and beyond.
Most importantly for the readers of both biographical volumes, Mrs. Thatcher wanted her chosen biographer Charles Moore to have the liberty to share the details (truth) of her personal archives and his political historical analysis on her life.
Mrs. Thatcher’s notion of truth and freedom, and her fierce defense of it, is infused throughout volume one. For her, it was grounded in the ‘rule of law’: Mrs. Thatcher stood firm in the law of God and built the others upon this foundation (laws of nature, laws of man).
She viewed her nation as undergoing a spiritual crisis – the duty to God and ethics and the teachings had been cast aside. Mrs. Thatcher wanted to, “‘resuscitate a world we had lost’, and she ‘ransacked’ Christian thought for intellectual backing…‘What mattered fundamentally was Man’s relationship to God, and in the last resort this depended on the response of the individual soul to God’s Grace.’”
It was this foundation that would prepare her for the Falklands and subsequent political decisions in the 1980s.
The book is brimming with magnificent and amusing stories.
Mr. Moore brilliantly captures the depth of character of Mrs. Thatcher and one cannot help being transported into an era that now seems to only exist on paper but must live on in all who embrace the essential freedoms that Margaret Thatcher fought for and defended so vigorously.
The present author shall not give away the ending of volume one, yet when the readers reach the final chapter and page they will understand her opening question above.
Then one must briefly revel in the intermission and prepare, as there are still seven more years to unfold in Mrs. Thatcher’s premiership that readers eagerly anticipate from the biographer Charles Moore, in volume two.
Margaret Thatcher: At Her Zenith in London, Washington and Moscow
By Charles Moore
Alfred A. Knopf, Borzoi Books, Penguin Random House, London, England 2016
HC, 821 pages, $35.00
Сharles Moore once again vividly explores the widespread triumphs and struggles of Mrs. Thatcher running a national government, this time in the second volume of Margaret Thatcher’s authorized biography.
He maps it internally with her Cabinet and corresponding bureaucracies, while simultaneously covering the inevitable external battles in foreign relations, the media, and maintaining a global presence.
Precisely one month before the snap election called by the second ever lady Prime Minister Teresa May, it seems even more fitting to review Mr. Moore’s second volume. The subtitle cleverly captures the mood and years after the British victory of the Falkland War – “At Her Zenith: In London, Washington and Moscow” and most notably putting Washington before Moscow.
This second volume covers a much shorter time span than the first and includes the years 1982 to 1987, encompassing two of Margaret Thatcher’s crucial re-elections (1983 and 1987). It is replete from the preface to the last chapter revealing little-known details that chart an even fuller picture of well-known political stories that add tremendous meaning and depth.
Each of Mr. Moore’s two volumes that have been released thus far correct and exceed the detail that are in Mrs. Thatcher’s memoirs.
The author highlights that she “insisted” on not reading the manuscripts of the authoritative biography and added, “that it should not be published in her lifetime.” He quotes a number of Americans who were close to President Reagan, even Soviet correspondence, among other sources, to offer a fuller view of events.
Privately, Mrs. Thatcher was fully prepared to take on many of the political ideas and implement the philosophies when she commenced her Premiership, but publicly she waited patiently until after her 1983 re-election.
The timing was superb.
On the heels of the Falklands victory, she had the political capital necessary to proceed.
The far reaching impact that the Thatcher era brought about covered in volume two:
- Visiting the Falklands after the war; meeting with Chancellor Helmut Kohl the month he was elected;
- Achieving a record breaking re-election in 1983;
- Investigating the communist infiltration amidst union struggles, the looming threats of miners’ strikes – “the political atmosphere was one of extreme unease,” recalls the author;
- Negotiating the best “Agreement” for Hong Kong with Chinese leader Deng; “always kicking against the pricks of bureaucracy and inertia” she trusted a team led mainly by Nigel Lawson to pursue privatization of state-owned enterprises, reclaim “territory for freedom” and reinvigorate the economy;
- The slight set-back with President Reagan on Grenada and then the incredible bond with him on national security and focusing on winning the defense argument;
- The struggles with Ireland and the terrorist bombing in Brighton during the Conservative Party conference;
- Discontent in the Middle East; helicopter manufacturing with Westland; and re-election in 1987, amidst other events.
Any one scenario was enough to bring down a normal human being.
Surrounding each challenging political affair, right or wrong, Mr. Moore highlights how Mrs. Thatcher created strength in uncertainty.
The most fascinating year covered in the second volume was 1984.
In December, she concluded it with the most impressively productive week, which is mentioned differently throughout the book about five times. Her first meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev at Chequers (before any in the West knew he would become President), where “the lunchtime conversation [between them both]…had been one of the most remarkable ever to have taken place across that dining table. It defied all diplomatic norms.”
The next day, the Prime Minister journeyed to Peking to sign the agreement she and her government had worked so tirelessly to ensure the liberties of the people of Hong Kong; a brief visit to Hong Kong to explain the agreement to the people. The whirlwind week ended in the U.S. with her great ally President Reagan for her first visit to Camp David – described by the author as one of the most astonishing single weeks “in modern political history.”
Stories revealed rather amusingly on at least two occasions, Mrs. Thatcher’s double standard combined with her uncompromising nature, whereby she did not want power leveraged against her but was unmovable when those with less power didn’t want her using it against them. Whether the Iron Lady stood loyally, obstinately, or both will be up to the reader.
Her early defense of the United Kingdom in fighting for the rebate from the European Community (now the European Union) was prophetic with the Brexit victory now in full view.
Her political skirmishes demonstrated how attached to the will of her people she really was, and endeared them to her further. In retrospect, she genuinely envisioned a Great Britain with serious long-term interests, and acted on them when there was the highest probability of success, regardless of their impact on her re-elections.
The private records during her Premiership reveal the soft humanity that she displayed underneath the hard shell of the Iron Lady. One can visualize at times how truly vulnerable she was.
Two instances really stand out in the book.
Her admiration of the British miners and their heroism was noteworthy as she worked behind the scenes writing personal letters to uplift the miners’ wives.
Secondly, her high regard for British Intelligence and especially the Soviet Union mole, Oleg Gordievsky, in the London Embassy who relayed details back to British Intelligence from the miners’ strikes to NATO’s ABLE ARCHER exercises. Mr. Gordievsky was eventually found out by the Soviets and later fiercely protected by Mrs. Thatcher and worked even after her Premiership to reunite him with his wife and children.
The energy with which Mrs. Thatcher approached a problem, the interconnected decisions and choices that needed to be made with varying cadence are astounding. Mrs. Thatcher, for example, took a chance on officially meeting Gorbachev before he eventually became President. The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that Reagan advocated was accessorized by Mrs. Thatcher’s pro-active involvement and keen sense of the personalities involved.
Her judge of character and intuition were usually spot on.
The second volume closes with Mrs. Thatcher’s 1987 re-election and includes Tim Bell’s brilliant marketing with a campaign poster that had three major sections.
The first was in the largest font that read, “BRITAIN NOW HAS THE FEWEST STRIKES FOR 50 YEARS.”
The second line had smaller but underlined font and read, “The last Labour Government ended in The Winter of Discontent.”
The final line was smaller still but in capital letters and contained a phrase that is familiar after the 2016 Presidential elections:
BRITAIN IS GREAT AGAIN. DON’T LET LABOR WRECK IT.
One detail that stands out to the reader – that it is useful and recommended yet not entirely necessary to read volume one before reading volume two.
The author makes careful passing references to volume one and throughout other chapters in volume two.
Mr. Moore grappled with the narrative structure and confesses that, “The easiest way to convey the mêlée of events is to stick to a single, blended, chronological narrative of everything.”
Sometimes an incident, such as the bombing of US Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 American personnel, is mentioned twice in the book, but the context is extrapolated to fit the chapter’s theme. The barracks bombing is mentioned in the chapter detailing the invasion of Grenada, and another referencing the discussions of foreign relations in the Middle East.
After all, this painstaking work is admired when one considers that when the third volume is eventually published it will have taken Mr. Moore twenty years to write the trilogy, longer than Mrs. Thatcher’s entire leadership of the Conservative Party.
Writing a book review could be reasonably compared to penning a review of a restaurant’s cuisine.
The reader can be informed and motivated by the description of the distinctive tastes.
But to truly understand the depth, to savor the meaning, the readers must try for themselves.
This is only the second of a generous three-course meal; hence the dessert is duly anticipated with eagerness.
Both the first and second volumes are highly recommended.
The author, Charles Moore, artistically weaves in the subtle but needed obvious humor and gravity, yet engrossing details that are imperative to grasping the Thatcher era.
It is a full-scale political account bursting with flavor.
Monica Morrill is a Geographer focusing on government economics, regulation and policies.
She co-authored the book BETRAYED: The Shocking True Story of Extortion 17 as told by a Navy SEAL’s Father.
Editor’s Note: And watching the head of the European Commission handle “run away” politicians like May and Trump would be amusing if it were not a said commentary on the state of European leadership.
In this video, the head of the Commission demonstrates his deep understanding of the United States after lecturing Trump on his “ignorance” of Europe.
Looks like a case of the pot calling the kettle black to the SLD team.