Dylan Jones: Sir Bernard Ingham says that Thatcher never read leaders – 'to her it was a waste of time'

Talk of the town
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It will come as no surprise to discover that Sir Bernard Ingham is no great fan of the dark arts of spin, especially as practised by the likes of Alastair Campbell or Peter Mandelson.

We were having lunch at Scott's last week, and, over haddock and chips, Mrs Thatcher's Chief Press Secretary spent two hours bemoaning the way in which party attack dogs had been trained to feast on Fleet Street political editors. In his own day, Ingham would occasionally brief against the Government's own ministers – he once described the Leader of the House of Commons, John Biffen, as a "semi-detached" member of Government – but he says he regrets this.

In his book Kill The Messenger, Sir Bernard writes that Thatcher almost never read newspapers, and would rely on him to cut out and photocopy the things she needed to see. He reiterated the point over lunch, stressing that she never read leader columns, and would only do so if Ingham shoved one under her nose. "She didn't see the point," he told me, as he nibbled on his fish. "To her it was a waste of time. Didn't watch much television either, maybe just the headlines on the radio."

He was amused when I told him that the only photograph in Andy Coulson's office is a framed print of Margaret Thatcher sitting on a park bench reading the News of the World (the paper Coulson used to edit before going to work for David Cameron).

Sir Bernard thinks both Cameron and William Hague have grown in stature recently, and believes both to be capable of being great statesmen. "I just wish I knew what Cameron stood for," he said.

Finally we discussed the possibility of Mandelson getting rid of his Prime Minister if the Irish ratify the Lisbon Treaty referendum in October (if Ireland backs the treaty, it will only remain for it to be signed by the presidents of Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic to come into law), suggesting that Mandy could use a bus.

Which, of course, allowed Sir Bernard to recall the famous Lord Carrington story. When Thatcher's first Foreign Secretary was asked what would happen if "Margaret" was run over by a bus, he replied, "The bus wouldn't dare."

Dylan Jones is editor of 'GQ'