Revealed - too late for us to care

Why does the new biography of Mark Thatcher disappoint? Not for want of facts, says Peter Koenig

Share
Related Topics
Now that it no longer matters, we are beginning to get the news on Mark Thatcher and how he profited because his mum was prime minister. A new biography of "the boy", whose three-part serialisation inthe Mail on Sunday began yesterday,fleshes out a story with which most in Britain will be familiar: there is money to be made from befriending oil-rich Arabsheikhs, and Mark Thatcher, via his mother, got in on the action.

The problem is that the information in Thatcher's Gold: The Life and Times of Mark Thatcher by Paul Halloran and Mark Hollingsworth comes so late and is so subtle at the level of factual detail that it is likely to appeal only to reporters and others who follow sleaze and intrigue on high as a matter of professional interest.

From the three-page spread published yesterday, we learn that Mark carried a message of goodwill from his mother to the ruler of Abu Dhabi while she was in 10 Downing Street, and so, allegedly, he gained a commercial advantage in the region. The report detailed an aborted scheme by Mark and others to get Mrs Thatcher appointed president of the Arab bankBCCI after she left power, before it was discovered the bank was crooked.

Despite years of serious work put in on the biography, what we get from a first sighting is a sense of letdown. Hordes of reporters and a substantial section of the public began a pursuit of Mark Thatcher more than a decade ago, intensely interested in his business career and how it overlapped with his mother's exercise of power in 10 Downing Street. What we get at the climactic moment of expos is adesiccated husk of what originally prompted our interest, a selection of facts that mock our original belief that through Mark Thatcher we might alter the basic perception of who his mother is and what she was about.

This phenomenon of letdown repeats itself over and over in British political life. Something happens. A large number of people know it happened. But no one can say it has happened, explore how it happened and what it means, and stay on the right side of Britain's libel laws. So the pursuit of telling what happens deteriorates into a game that preoccupies politicians and reporters, butbores the public. Years later, when it no longer makes a difference, the facts dribble out, by which time they serve as little more than cheap entertainment and, in so doing, confirm the public's deep- seated cynicism about politics and the media.

Today this cynical process exists at something close to the level of a system. Spin-doctors take mounting public despair at the prospect for change and manipulate it, to deactivate truths which might have ignited that despair into rage expressed politically.

Forget Mark Thatcher for a moment. Consider the pressures on the National Health Service, the rise of an underclass in Britain, the scandals in the City. Ask yourself where you last read narrative accounts of these stories that put the news, the background, and the individual characters of thepoliticians involved into anything like a context that is comprehensible in the way daily life is comprehensible.

There is reason to read the papers. But as the first instalment of the Mark Thatcher biography demonstrates, the game is to decipher the news and then to fit it into your own mental construct of what is happening in the country. Each person's mental construct is private or shared with friends. The public debate over what is happening in the country is ritualised and sterile.

Halloran and Hollingsworth have gone some way towards filling in the gaps about Mark Thatcher's business career and its relationship to his mother's time in power. They have offered us a glimpse of 10 Downing Street after hours.They showed how the Thatchers introduced their son to a circle of Denis's business cronies at the beginning of his career - and how in turn these business cronies were close tothe British government's efforts to win international business in the Eighties.

They showed that Mark got work from the British construction company Cementation, "after a meeting at Margaret and Denis Thatcher's home in 1979 with Victor (now Lord) Matthews, chairman of Cementation's parent company, Trafalgar House".

They reported that after the Cementation scandal of 1984 - during which Mark was accused of earning a commission from the company for facilitating a contract in Oman after his mother had promoted British business there - Denis Thatcher, Tim Bell, the then Tory Party treasurer Lord McAlpine, and another media adviser, Sir GordonReece, decided at a secret meeting at the Thatchers' Chelsea home that Mark should move to the US so as to remove him from the media spotlight.

The full extract of the biography is the most complete narrative of Mark Thatcher's life ever assembled. The known facts - the failed accountancy exam, the car racing, the work as an advertising model, the Al Yamamah arms deal (the £20bn sale of British Tornado jets to Saudi Arabia, from which Markearned commission as a middleman) - are placed in the context of the Thatcher family's inner circle of friends and associates.

This is impressive work. But it is too late;the facts have been robbed of their potency. "Are you buying the Mail for the Thatcher stuff?" my newsagent asked me this morning, "or is there something interesting in the paper?"

The overriding message of yesterday's materialis that journalism, even when it is practised as exhaustively as it can bein Britain, does not work very well.

By one of those strange coincidencesthat characterise Britain's intricately woven public life, this depressing theory is on the brink of getting something close to an acid test. This evening, World in Action will broadcast an investigation into the links between theTreasury Minister, Jonathan Aitken and the Saudi royal family. This story of British politics and the Middle East is timely because Mr Aitken is still in power and his fate could affect the fate of John Major's government.

Coming on the heels of reports about Mr Aitken's business ties to the Middle East, published in the Guardian and the Independent, the World In Action programme just might reveal enough more to create a critical mass of facts, which together will tell a story in full narrative form and not as disconnected "revelations".

Mr Aitken has rebutted all charges of wrongdoing concerning his dealings in the Middle East. His position is that his private dealings and public duties in the Middle East are in accord. But it is possible we are close to getting enough of a picture of Mr Aitken's dealings in the Arab world that the public can intelligently judge for itself on this point, rather than rely on the claims and counter-claims of politiicans and reporters.

World in Action reportedly rejected MrAitken's offer to debate his relationship with Saudi Arabia live in the studio. If this is so, it is a pity because it would have provided a rarespectacle: not thedesiccated pseudo-spectacle of the media exposing Mark Thatcher, but a senior government minister going up against his media inquisitors in a debate about a largely hidden dimension of British life at a moment when the outcome of that debate could count.

The author co-produced a Channel 4 documentary on Mark Thatcher in 1992, and will report in the forthcoming issue of `GQ' magazine on how Paul Halloran researched his biography.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Barnardo's: Corporate Audit and Inspection – Retail Intern (Leeds)

Unpaid - £4 lunch allowance plus travel to and from work: Barnardo's: Purpose ...

Recruitment Genius: Content Writer - Global Financial Services

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Receptionist

£15000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward, who were killed after a gunman opened fire during a live broadcast in Virginia  

Because of Facebook and Twitter I still have Alison Parker's final chilling moments looping in my head

Nash Riggins
A Chinese investor holds prayer beads as he monitors stock prices at a brokerage house in Beijing  

We fear China's growing power. But it is morally reprehensible to celebrate the country's woes

Fokke Obbema
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future