From handbags to Westminster: Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography: Volume I, by Charles Moore - Review

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

This long-awaited biography, with previously unpublished correspondence and unprecedented access, presents a fresh - even vulnerable - Iron Lady

The phrase “long-awaited” is over-used in politics, but the official, authorised biography of Margaret Thatcher, 16 years in the writing, commissioned on the condition that it would only be published after her death, is just that: Charles Moore, whose first book this is at the age of 56, must have felt a heavy burden of duty to get it right – even though Lady Thatcher agreed that she would never read his manuscript, and while it is merely Volume I, it feels like a life’s work of research and interviewing.

Less than a month after her death, followed by days of retelling of the story of the former Prime Minister, Moore presents us with enough new material (including previously unpublished correspondence with her sister, Muriel) to offer a fresh, even vulnerable person behind the mythology. The details – her girlish obsession with clothes and appearance, well into her thirties; her fickle affections for men before she settles down with Denis; her naivety, on becoming Prime Minister, of how Whitehall works – do not undermine her Iron Lady image but, at a moment when her grand Establishment funeral appeared to afford her immortality, they make her mortal. As the Bishop of London declared in his St Paul’s sermon that “lying here, she is one of us”, so Moore fleshes out the ordinariness of the suburban, lower middle-class scholarship girl.

Click here or on "View Images" for Margaret Thatcher's life in pictures

Her literary tastes are traditional and unadventurous: Shakespeare and Kipling. In the summer of 1944, as the Second World War reaches a turning point, an 18-year-old Margaret writes to Muriel: “Do you think the person who makes the handbags could make me one in maroon leather like your blue one? I have decided that maroon would be the best colour for my wardrobe ….”

Yet, here is a clue to what made Thatcher not so ordinary after all: at moments of external crisis, such as war raging in Europe or, in 1960, the illness and death of her mother, Beatrice, Margaret refers to neither in her vast amounts of contemporaneous correspondence with family and friends. This volume covers the period from her birth to the Falklands conflict in 1982, and although other dangerous moments, such as the miners’ strike and the poll tax, will come in Volume II, the book shows how she tried to protect herself from serious issues by apparently ignoring them.

The day before her mother died in December 1960, a comment piece by Thatcher about being a woman in politics, written when her mother must have been gravely ill, ran in the Liverpool Daily Post. Thatcher wrote that “charm is not enough” but must be accompanied by “courage and conviction, for without these qualities the others are hollow and useless”.

Thatcher’s coldness towards her mother and, in turn, to her daughter, Carol, is poignant, but it is frustratingly under-explored. About her mother, Thatcher told Moore in an interview: “After I was 15 we had nothing more to say to each other.” But she also hinted at regret, telling the author: “I don’t think I thanked my mother enough, because you don’t realise ….”

If she was so cold to both her daughter and her mother – although perhaps warmer to her sister – is it any wonder that she failed to lift other women into positions of power around the Cabinet table? It is disappointing if Moore failed to push her on this subject, but if he did, perhaps she refused to elaborate.

Moore observes that Thatcher was “happier when the focus of attention was her views rather than her sex”, but there is plenty of evidence in the book that she loved being a lone woman admired by equally intelligent, powerful men. While she all but grew out of her obsession with appearance and clothes, she used her gender to her own ends – rather than to benefit womankind.

Like his journalism in the Daily Telegraph and Spectator, Moore’s writing is often elegant and vivid, particularly when he escapes the burden of authorised biographer by turning to commentary on Thatcher’s behaviour and decisions. There are surprising moments of demythology: when she arrives in Downing Street in 1979 she asks a senior civil servant: “What do I do now?” to be told: “You’ve got to form an administration.” But at other times the book is almost too detailed, too exhaustive an account, particularly of her career as a junior minister, and it is difficult for the subject to come to life underneath the weight of information. The richness and depth of primary-source material on her earlier personal life, however, make this forgivable.

Moore says Thatcher can serve as a “cautionary tale” to some and a lodestar to others, but – unsurprisingly, given his politics are sympathetic – there is very little criticism of her policies. His 11 pages of acknowledgements read like a guide to the British Establishment and the Washington elite, and the book ultimately echoes what Thatcher’s funeral achieved for her record: creating an official, Establishment-backed, and largely uncritical version of a very controversial figure.

Jane Merrick is the political editor of 'The Independent on Sunday’


Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all