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Margaret Thatcher: The Authorised Biography, Volume One: Not for Turning
(Allen Lane, £30 *£24)
Margaret Thatcher didn’t jump into public life fully armed and ready to do battle. Hers is the story of surprising achievement rather than predictable success-the transformation of a rather awkward provincial girl with no connections into Britain’s most remarkable post-Second World War leader. She took time to make her mark and even more time to find her style. When she found it, she was the most formidable of operators and the toughest of opponents.
Charles Moore tells the story of those early years, from backbencher to Cabinet Minister, party leader, and then Prime Minister with style and verve. In what might have been a daunting book, at more than 800 pages, he moves at a spanking pace, never submerged by the weight of his very extensive research nor diverted by his own political preferences.
Despite his predilections, Mr Moore doesn’t spare his subject. Beside the determined leader, the conviction politician and the woman of great personal kindness, he presents the awkward and mousey student, the bossy know-all and the less than assiduous daughter.
Thatcher chose her biographer well. The precision of his prose, honed by years of journalism, and his natural aptitude for story-telling rarely desert him. Despite his occasional pedantry, Mr Moore has produced an immensely readable book that is, at the same time, authori-tative and full of insight. His understanding of Thatcher’s vulnerability, self-doubt and caution make his depiction of her strength of will and her courage all the more remarkable.
When I sat with her, hour upon hour, helping to write her speeches, I would hear the simple certainties of her Methodist upbringing far more often than the theories of the Monetarists. It wasn’t just the influence of her father for, as Mr Moore suggests, she tended to exaggerate that to assuage her regrets at not caring enough for him in his later years. It was much more the overriding influence on her of Protestant provincial England that she carried to the end of her life when, increasingly hazy about everything else, she would sing along to Songs of Praise.
It was that which gave her so deep a sense of what was right and wrong. In turn, it gave to her statements a profundity that their simple message belied. In a particularly compelling passage, Mr Moore tells the story of her turning the Winter of Discontent into a landslide victory. It was her advisers who suggested she should offer James Callaghan co-operation in bringing the unions under control. She took some persuading, as it smacked of Butskellism. Then she recognised it as the way to present what was right to the whole nation.
She adopted the phrase One Nation as if it were her own, not by committing herself to compromise, but by moving the centre ground towards her own position. She offered to work with him on taming the unions by establishing that so radical a concept was actually what the whole nation wanted.
Extremists of the Left had made her brand of Conservatism seem possible and reasonable. To exploit that opportunity was perhaps her most long-lasting achievement. She realigned politics in Britain, moving the centre ground and giving us the modern Labour Party.
Yet, that was not her original intention. She learnt her politics on the job. Mr Moore’s storytelling reveals that as never before. His book could be subtitled ‘The Revelation of Margaret Thatcher’, as we share in each stage of her development from childhood until her testing in the fire of the Falklands. This is that rare delight-a serious tome that is also a good read.
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