Britain’s storied Iron Lady comes in for a largely positive but not uncritical reassessment from a Conservative Member of Parliament.
Kwarteng (War and Gold: A Five-Hundred-Year History of Empires, Adventures, and Debt, 2014, etc.), who represents the historically conservative constituency of Spelthorne, may offend one or two die-hard admirers of Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) with his careful qualifications: yes, she was a true-blue scourger of socialism and the welfare state, but she was defined by a largely negative program of what she was against. Yes, she had strongly held beliefs and remained true to her cause, but she was doctrinaire and an ideologue. More than anything else, she had an “almost preternatural ability to divide opinion,” such that few were undecided or neutral on the matter of Margaret Thatcher. Much of Kwarteng’s look at the end of Thatcher’s first term in office is a balanced assessment. She was, more than any other prime minister in modern British history, open to discussion and even dissent on the part of her Cabinet, and she thrived on confrontation and debate—“provided, of course, that she prevailed.” Occasionally, the author gives away more than he intends to: Thatcher, he writes, was a radical from the beginning, and her “quasi-revolutionary fervor” was deeply shocking to the established order on both left and right. One senses mild disapproval though not disavowal on Kwarteng’s part as he steers the narrative through purges of that Cabinet and the government, union-busting and strike-breaking, dismantling of various parts of the social safety net, and neo-imperialist adventuring—all of which took place in the last part of 1982 and first part of 1983, when Thatcher would profoundly remake the Conservative Party and be rewarded for it with a sweeping re-election victory.
Readers on this side of the pond who are puzzled by the impassioned esteem and disdain in which Thatcher is held in Britain will find much of value in this short but illuminating study.