Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands
Margaret Thatcher is portrayed as "a woman of beliefs" rather than a generator of ideas in this first volume of her authorized biography.
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It’s a reminder that even as the leader of a major power, Thatcher was still touched by traditional ideas about womanhood. In documenting the Thatchers’ domestic life, for example, Moore notes that in accordance with government rules, the prime minister and her husband, Denis, were given no household staff to clean their government residence or cook meals. Because Denis was too old-fashioned to think about providing meals for himself, supper duties often fell to Thatcher, who frequently resolved the issue by ordering convenience foods from down the street.Skip to next paragraph
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Thatcher could, Moore writes, use longstanding cultural assumptions about women to her advantage. Upon her election as leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, she played upon the consensus among her critics that she was “a little girl lost,” telling allies that “she was a frail little woman who needed the help of strong men such as they. She was not as vulnerable as she wished to seem, however. She had a burning sense of mission.”
That mission included an affirmation of free market principles to stir Britain’s renewal, a philosophy that advanced Thatcher as an icon of conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic. But Moore suggests that as a politician, Thatcher wasn’t nearly as radical as many of her sharpest critics – and most fervent admirers – claimed her to be. “She did not believe that the bureaucracy should be reshaped from top to bottom,” he writes, “but rather that it should be regalvanized.”
As an author, Moore follows the Robert Caro school of factual exactitude, as when he parses recollections of the supper menu at No. 10 Downing St. on Thatcher’s first day of office by noting that some remembered cottage pie, while others instead remembered sandwiches and others recalled shepherd’s pie. Such descriptive notation, often laid out in copiously detailed footnotes, can make Moore sound more like a recording secretary than a biographer.
Moore’s primary strength – a thorough grounding in British culture and politics – can also be a complication for American readers. His references to British parliamentary customs might confuse those less well versed in these traditions, and the book contains a number of British idioms, as when he uses the word “poky” to describe the relative smallness of the Thatchers’ living quarters.
“From Grantham to the Falklands” ends with Thatcher offering a victory speech after her country’s successful military campaign to eject Argentine forces from the Falkland Islands.
“It may well have been the happiest moment of her life,” Moore writes – hinting, without quite saying so, that Volume II of his biography could be an anti-climax.