The first volume of Charles Moore's authorized biography of Margaret Thatcher, covering her life up to Britain's victory in the Falklands, is out. It takes its place among the finest political biographies of all time.
Thatcher gave Moore full access to her papers and to all her friends and relatives, on condition that she never see the book. It was a wise precaution.
Moore is a conservative, more traditionalist than Mrs. Thatcher (as he always calls her) and broadly sympathetic to her causes. But he was able to get frank responses from relatives, friends, and colleagues that might never have been forthcoming had they thought the book would be published in her lifetime.
Moore catches her in some lies and omissions. A cache of letters to her sister showed she had four boyfriends before she married the rich businessman Denis Thatcher. She always wanted to wear fetching clothes and have her hair done.
The most important single fact about her, he says, is not that she was a conservative but that she was a woman, ready to use her charms as well as her intellect in dealing with men.
That's not quite in sync with the common understanding of her in this country, particularly among conservatives, who saw Thatcher as the Iron Lady, fearlessly putting her ideas into effect, eschewing compromise and never flinching from principle.
Such an approach, Moore indicates, would have been doomed to failure and was usually not her way. Her ideas developed slowly and changed over time. She waited to fight for many of her great victories -- over the coal miners, in privatizing government entities, subjects for volume two -- until she had laid the groundwork and was fully prepared. Hers was a strategy of conviction tempered by prudence, compromise in pursuit of later success.
Consider her early parliamentary career, unfamiliar to American admirers. As education secretary, she acquiesced in phasing out grammar schools which provided upward mobility to brainy lower-class children.
She didn't like the policy, but support was too strong. She ended up being cheered by the teachers union.
Nor was she was an early opponent of the European Union (then called the Common Market). Like most centrist politicians of both major parties, she supported British entry.As a tourist I watched the debate on the issue in the House of Commons in October 1971. West Country gentlemen with plummy pronunciation and Scots and North of England Laborites in incomprehensible regional accents spoke out against the Common Market. Thatcher may well have been in the hall, but I have no recollection of her speaking.