The final volume of Margaret Thatcher’s official biography is a brilliant Westminster drama but misses the European dimensionby Anthony Teasdale / November 8, 2019 / Leave a comment
I received a warning, in early 1988, on what was virtually day one of my new job. I had become special adviser to the man who was then Margaret Thatcher’s foreign secretary, would soon be her deputy, and was ultimately her political nemesis: Geoffrey Howe. “There’s one thing you need to know about this government,” my opposite number in another major Whitehall department said: “The prime minster is going mad. Half the people you will meet don’t realise it, and the other half won’t talk about it.”
The late 1980s were interesting times. Herself Alone—the third and final volume of Charles Moore’s official biography—covers the tumultuous years from Thatcher’s third general election victory in June 1987, when she dominated the political scene, to her painful loss of power in November 1990. The book then takes the story through the long, sad years to her death in March 2013.
Moore launched his new volume in the magisterial setting of the Banqueting House, the only surviving component of Whitehall Palace and scene of the execution of Charles I. The event brought together, perhaps for the last time, many of the anciens combattants of the Thatcher revolution. The guest of honour was Boris Johnson, leading a government whose central mission, Brexit, can only be understood in the context of the political battles of 1987-90.
Whether or not one agrees with Johnson’s description of Moore’s book as “the greatest work of modern British history”—written, he joked, with “the almost obsessive lust for accuracy and detail that is the hallmark of all great Daily Telegraph journalists”—it is a remarkable achievement, impressive in ambition, scope and depth.
Moore’s book breaks a lot of new ground, drawing on hundreds of interviews and newly released official and private papers, to complete a trilogy of titanic proportions—a cumulative text of nearly 3,000 pages, the writing of which has consumed more than 20 years of the author’s life.
Even though the tale of Thatcher’s third term has been told before—Thatcher herself, Howe, Nigel Lawson, Michael Heseltine, John Major and Douglas Hurd have all published memoirs—this epic story of triumph and tragedy just keeps on giving. One doubts if even Moore’s…