Margaret Thatcher's triumphant second term sowed the seeds of her downfall, says Jesse Normanby Jesse Norman MP / November 12, 2015 / Leave a comment
In 1982 Margaret Thatcher led a British delegation to Beijing to discuss the vexed question of Hong Kong. They were given second-rate accommodation, and most of the Chinese leadership deliberately stayed away from the British banquet at the Great Hall of the People. But matters really hit rock bottom back at the hotel when Denis Thatcher discovered that he could not obtain a gin and tonic, a point on which he was vociferously indignant to his wife in the privacy of their bedroom. The eavesdroppers took the hint; both gin and tonic were then supplied.
To read this book is to find oneself in something of the same position as the Chinese eavesdroppers. For as with the first volume of his superb biography, such is the depth of Charles Moore’s research—he interviewed 286 people for the book, some more than once—that he is able to move the reader effortlessly from front of house to behind the scenes and back again. The political and the personal are juxtaposed, and the result illuminates even the most familiar episodes of an already well-researched period.
The result is a book almost every one of whose 821 pages is absorbing. The style is clear and incisive, the viewpoint sympathetic, nuanced and dispassionate; all qualities which give additional weight even to Moore’s most trenchant judgements. And the footnotes, in which much of the most gossipy and revealing material has been placed, are worth studying in their own right.
Beginning with the Hong Kong negotiations, this second volume takes us from the aftermath of the Falklands War until the general election of 1987. It is a period packed with incident and drama, among which the miners’ strike and the IRA’s Brighton bomb of 1984 (which killed five people and nearly took Thatcher’s life) stand out.
“Thatcher was bamboozled over Europe, struggled with local government and failed to make headway on public spending”
Moore describes these events with great skill. But he does not neglect a host of other matters that challenged Thatcher and her government. Some, such as Star Wars, the proposed defence system designed to protect the United States from strategic nuclear weapons, and the European…