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When Margaret Thatcher was elected leader of the opposition in 1975 she remarked that her victory felt “like a dream”. And the author of a new biography says that was part of her problem. To people across Britain, the idea that the stuffy conservative party had chosen a woman leader seemed incomprehensible. Thatcher’s rise from a grocer’s daughter to prime minister is well known. But with access to all of her private records, including personal letters, Thatcher’s authorized biographer, Charles Moore, reveals a side of the Iron Lady few understood. Charles Moore joins us to discuss his new book, “Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands”.
- Charles Moore author of "Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography." Regular columnist for and former editor of "The Daily Telegraph."
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from “Margaret Thatcher” by Charles Moore. Copyright © 2013 by Charles Moore. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us. I'm Steve Roberts of the George Washington University sitting in today for Diane. She's on a station visit to WVXU in Cincinnati. Before Margaret Thatcher died, she selected Charles Moore to write her biography.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSIn the preface to the book, Moore says he normally finds political biography dull. But he says this was not the case for Thatcher. Love her or despise her, interest in the Iron Lady is only intensified. Charles Moore is the author of the new authorized biography, "Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands." He joins me here in the studio. Charles Moore, welcome, thanks for being with us.
MR. CHARLES MOOREThank you, Steve. Lovely to be here.
ROBERTSAnd you can join us too as always, 1-800-433-8850, firstname.lastname@example.org our email address, with your calls, your comments or your questions for Charles Moore. I'm interested, first of all, I mentioned the introduction and you point out that Margaret Thatcher was sort of curiously uninterested in some ways in her own history. She threw things out, she didn't really look back. Why therefore authorize a biography?
MOOREWell, I think people pointed out to her that when she was disposing of her papers, which she gave to Churchill College, Cambridge, because Oxford her own university had refused her an honorary degree, so she got her revenge, that somebody was going to write her life and the sensible thing from her point of view was to choose someone whom she got on well with and allow them access.
MOOREAnd she very kindly choose me and she was, this was wonderful because it meant there was complete access to her, her family, her associates, all her papers and by extension to all the government papers. So she turned the key in the lock. But that didn't mean that she herself had a strong interest sort of as a historian. She didn't see things as a historian.
MOOREAnd so though she was immensely cooperative, I don't think she was deeply interested in the project and this is a great advantage for the biographer, I may say, because what you don't want is these big shots who are trying to write the book that you're trying to write about them.
ROBERTSGood point. I mean, now you're very experienced and seasoned journalist, political columnist and edited several major newspapers in Britain but you'd never written a book. Why do you think she picked you?
MOOREI think that she knew that I was, we knew one another fairly well and she knew that I was essentially sympathetic to her but she also knew that I had never depended on her in any way and I didn't have a dog in the fight if you see what I mean during her career. I never got a salary from her, I never was part of her gang.
MOOREAnd you can't write a dispassionate book if you're actually engaged in, on one side or the other and I wasn't. So I think she wanted sympathy but also distance and I don't absolutely know her reasoning on this because I got an invitation out of the blue but that's my sort of hunch about it.
ROBERTSBut that's interesting that she wanted this distance. You point out that like so many political figures a woman of enormous ego and a very demanding, intolerant at times person and yet she could've picked a sycophant, but she didn't.
MOOREWell, if that's so that's much to her credit. I think what's very important, and I've really tried to do this in the book is -- and it can be difficult because she's a controversial figure, is that this is history. It's not journalism and it's not polemic and because I've had the opportunity to interview more than 300 people and to see all these papers, a huge amount of paper, I really am able to get a perspective on material which others haven't and that's the key thing for me. I want it to be, you know, whole and I want it to last.
ROBERTSWell, one of the interesting dimensions of your arrangement with Lady Thatcher was that she would cooperate as you point out and that you interviewed her a number of times. But first of all, the book would not be published until her death and she wouldn't have a right to read it before.
ROBERTSAnd you point out that actually these arrangements were very helpful to you because perhaps it loosened up some sources who realized that they would not have to answer to Lady Thatcher during her lifetime for what they told you.
MOOREThat is correct. You know, she was a person of whom many people were frightened and it helped some of them to know that she wouldn't read it. but there's a bigger thing there which is that she wanted it to be clear that she was not trying to control this book and that's why she made the stipulation that it shouldn't appear in her lifetime.
MOOREI must say I thought she would try to control it all the same because, you know, she's not known for letting matters lie. And I was nervous, you know, I thought I would have trouble about this. But it was amazing, she never ever said, you know, you must say this, you mustn't say that. She didn't even say, what are you going to say about -- she literally never did that.
MOOREAnd, you know, I'm very grateful for that and I'm frankly surprised. And I think it's to do with this point that, though, as you say, she had a great egotism, in some ways, she thought she'd saved Britain and so on.
MOOREShe didn't have that sort of male vanity which goes over things again and again and wants to tell you this story which shows them in a brilliant light about how funny they were or, you know. She didn't have that type of mind, she always looked forward so she stayed clear, which was great.
ROBERTSAnd you mentioned about having interviewed over 300 people and, of course, many of them elderly given the time of her prominence and that, I gather you interviewed the oldest first so that you would get to the people who were still alive and that a call from you was almost as if the grim reaper was calling. My goodness, what does Moore know, you know, that he wants to come talk to me?
MOOREWell, I'm afraid there was some truth in that, that the oral material is a fascinating historically because it's very inaccurate. The human memory, even at its best, is immensely inaccurate. But it tells you all sorts of things that the paper record, which is basically accurate, couldn't tell you.
MOOREBecause what it tells you is what it was actually like and who hated whom and who was trying to get what and what game was going on. And so I think you have to balance these two things so that the imperfect, but fascinating oral testimony and then the drier contemporary record that the civil servants put down.
MOOREAnd with that contemporary record, Mrs. Thatcher, her way of working was to write all over it. She didn't write her own memorandums, she would write on top of other people's. So in comes the document and then she'll write feeble or nonsense or typical foreign office or something like that on it and you'll start to see what she's really thinking about this.
MOOREAnd then, you see the message that comes back from her private secretary which slightly turns down her criticism and says the prime minister was not satisfied or something. It doesn't actually use the word nonsense or feeble, you see what I mean? So the material comes in and is processed and goes back firing back down the line.
ROBERTSFascinating. You say you knew her well, you covered her through her career but having access not only to her personally, to all of the sources, including some in America that you then came to visit and as well as these private papers, what was the most surprising thing you learned that you didn't know when you started the project?
MOOREWell, the most purely surprising thing was about her early life because Margaret had one sister, older sister, Muriel and no other siblings. And because she said that all her family should talk to me I went to talk to Muriel who was an old lady and a fascinating woman and a woman who's more formidable than Margaret.
ROBERTSIs that really possible?
MOOREYes, it is possible. I met her and she's almost like, you know, in Sherlock Holmes when he has a really difficult problem he goes to see his brother Mycroft and Muriel told me many interesting things about the unknown Margaret. But in particular she had a 150 letters plus that Margaret had written to her between the age of about 13 and the age about 40.
MOOREAnd these are completely revelatory about the character of the young Margaret. What she did, you know, she's taking her exams, she's getting into Oxford, she's falling in love, she's having political ambitions. Very lively letters, they're more about clothes than about politics.
ROBERTSWhich you found surprising?
ROBERTSAnd films, I did, I mean, I always knew that Lady Thatcher cared greatly about what she wore and took great trouble and she would always say things like, I want to look my best for Britain. And of course, the handbag was a very famous implement, but...
ROBERTSYou describe it as a shield.
MOOREYes, sometimes a shield, sometimes a more aggressive weapon. And but she was always interested in that but I was really fascinated by how deeply interested she was in this and, of course, she knows how these things are made so she'd always talk about their cut and design but she's also thinking of how to use these weapons in the armory of a woman.
MOOREAnd she'd also always denied on the whole Margaret Thatcher was a truthful person, but she'd always deny that she had boyfriends and in these letters a strong, I mean, in fact, irrefutable documentary evidence of three boyfriends and possibly more some of whom were serious, which she writes about in often a very amusing way to her sister.
MOOREAnd it's just a revelation because I think the trouble is so many people have this strong view of Margaret Thatcher, I think, because she was such a strong person that she couldn't have normal human emotions and it was absolutely marvelous to see how untrue that was and how funny she could be and also how sort of concerned about relationships in the way that a young woman would be.
ROBERTSNow, when you mentioned her romances and the eventual marriage to Dennis Thatcher, I used to kid that I belonged to the Dennis Thatcher Society, which is a group who had clearly married above themselves and it's quite a large group, certainly here in Washington. But then, you say in the book that her selection in the sense of Dennis was an important part of who she became.
MOOREThat's right, I mean, what was happening was that there were three men who were real possibilities for her and all that same time and sometimes all three are mentioned in the same letter which is amazing. One was a...
MOOREYes. One was a Scottish farmer living in Essex, farming in Essex and he was very keen and she liked him. But she realized she didn't want the farming environment so she actually did the brilliant thing of pawning him off, passing him on to her sister. So he actually, Willie the farmer, actually married Muriel and they lived happily ever after. So that was that one dealt with.
MOOREAnd then in Dartford where she was a young parliamentary candidate she met a doctor who was a very distinguished man actually, twice her age, bachelor doctor, also a Scot and he had developed, invented the iron lung in Britain and it had a lot to do with, you know, saving young children's lives as a result. And she was very, very keen on him and then there was, at the same time, Dennis Thatcher.
MOOREAnd when she first met Dennis Thatcher, she said, "I met Major Thatcher, aged about 36, plenty of money, not a very attractive creature." That's how she put it to Muriel. But somehow other she didn't marry the doctor, I think the age difference was too great and she did marry Dennis.
ROBERTSAnd that's a perfect segue way, Charles Moore, to the next stage of Margaret Thatcher's life. So stay with us, a lot more on Margaret Thatcher when we come back.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in for Diane today. And my guest this hour, Charles Moore, distinguished British journalist who is the authorized biographer of Margaret Thatcher. And you can join our conversation. We have some lines open, 1-800-433-8850, email@example.com. And Charles Moore, we were talking about Margaret Thatcher's infatuation with clothes and her appearance. We were talking about her romance with Dennis Thatcher.
ROBERTSAnd in talking about her life you say that gender was just an absolutely basic critical dimension of who she was. Talk about that and beyond the obvious that she was the first female prime minister.
MOOREWell, sometimes the obvious is the key thing of course. And the impact of a woman in a completely man's world was huge. And obviously it was to her disadvantage because it made it harder, but it was to her advantage when she jumped the barrier because she could then break all the rules. But I think the biggest mistake people made was to say she's really a man wearing a skirt. Her whole sensibility and attitude was that of a woman through and through.
ROBERTSAnd what did that mean, do you think, Charles?
MOOREWell, I think it meant, for example, that she -- it helped her to be a complete outsider in her (word?) . All her economics were the economics that come from the household. What she said was, these men who claim to be experts, they don't understand. And I do and women do because we have to run the household budget. We know what it means. We know what happens with inflation.
MOOREThere was a great time when she was accused of being a hoarder because she said -- well, she was trying to become a conservative leader -- and she said in an interview, I keep -- I buy things because prices are going up so much, I buy them to keep them, tins of food and so on. And everyone attacked her -- opponents in the Tory Party attacked her. And they said, you're a hoarder, which was a very bad thing to be because of the war.
MOOREHer aide said, get away from this subject. Get on, you know, change the subject. She said, no, I'm not a hoarder. I'm a woman and I run the household budget. And I am concerned about price rises. And I buy things at a good price and I keep them. Come and see my larder, she said to the press. And there's a picture of her in the book opening the door of the larder and there are the tins of pilchards, you know, tin fruits, nasty sort of puddings that people had in those days, all there to prove her point.
MOOREAnd it's a classic example of her using her sex to turn the issue right around. Instead of being a vulnerability, which is what her opponents though, this is a new thing. And this is the part of the woman against the men who are trying to conceal the truth from you.
ROBERTSAnd she was also a woman who grew up in a very modest circumstance.
ROBERTSFather a grocer. And that that was also very much part of what marked her as an outsider in the Tory Party because that was the party of the upper class, of the patricians of Britain.
MOOREThat's right. That background is very important. It's important because it was humble but also because it had that great tradition that was very strong in Britain, of self education and the respect for education, which comes a lot from the Methodist roots. Her father was a Methodist preacher. Her father was a very able man but had to leave school at 14 because of poverty. He would certainly have been to university in modern times.
MOOREAnd he poured -- he had no sons -- he poured all this sort of intellectual energy into Margaret. And he always made her feel that she could do everything. And she got into Oxford, first person from either sex from her family to go to university and to read science. You know, she always preferred to say, I'm the first scientist prime minister and that I'm the first woman prime minister.
MOOREAnd so it's that combination of being completely outside what you call a beltway in the United States. But also a deep devotion to education improvement reading. Very strong combination. So she came into that world that you were talking about, that patrician world complete outside of it well equipped -- intellectually well equipped.
ROBERTSAnd this was part of the -- her appeal and what in a sense revolutionized -- one might even say modernized the Tory Party in broadening its appeal. Because she was not of the upper classes and she had a much more common touch.
MOOREYes. She had, I think, really a genius we've had to say for putting complicated issues simply. And she always related them to what actually happens in your life. And she never -- even when she'd been prime minister for many years, got captured by the jargon. In fact, jargon was a word she hated. So she could always -- so for example, when she was trying to be Tory leader and there was a lot of trouble with labor unrest, she said, we back the workers against the shirkers. That's a typical Thatcher type proposition.
MOOREA lot of people would be frightened of making a proposition that's as direct as that, but she would use something very crisp that sort of comes out of ordinary language and has a hard formation in people's minds.
ROBERTSNow given -- of course the United States still has not had a woman head of government or head of state -- of course in America it's the same thing -- but talk about how it happened that she first, of course, became leader of the Tory Party. And then in the parliamentary system when they won the election she became prime minister. But this was a great surprise even to her. I mean, she talks in the book about how surprised she was.
MOOREIt was. I think she slightly exaggerates the surprise because I think she planned it more carefully than she admits. And in fact, I have evidence of that in the book. However, it was a surprise because, you know, she was such an outsider. The reason was that the heath conservative government of which she was education minister failed. And essentially it failed in its attempt to take on the miners union. It failed to control inflation. It failed to improve the economy.
MOOREAnd she got -- if Margaret Thatcher hated one thing it was failure. And she became the candidate of the people who were fed up with failure. And she would never have been chosen in good times because it would be -- why would you choose such an outsider in good times? You'd pick, you know, what we call in England (word?) the next guy. And she said, no Britain's failing, the Tory Party's failing. It's not good enough. I'm not putting up with this. And we -- this nation should not put up with it. That was the appeal.
MOOREAnd that sort of cut through all the sense that you couldn't get anywhere which was a big problem in Britain. And actually I think in the 1970s also in the United States about -- that was a big feeling in those countries and the whole of the Western world. It applied to economics and to the Cold War issues. And so she -- in she came and she said, it's got to be different. I'm going to be truthful about what's wrong and I'm going to be tough about what's right. And this was a class outsider appeal, and it was the right moment.
ROBERTSAnd as you've just eluded to, one of the critical points in British politics at the time, British economics was the enormous power of the labor unions. And not only did she say I'm for the shirkers against the workers, she also was against the workers -- for the workers against the shirkers. But also a sense of being against the entrenched power of the unions was a very big part of her appeal.
MOOREThat's right. And what she identified, which was a key thing electorally, was a lot of those workers themselves were fed up with it because...
MOORE...they -- it was a labor union's leadership that was the problem. And the fact that it was so political and the fact that it was so mixed in with the labor party. So that this was actually -- all these strikes were stopping the workers getting the opportunities and the money that they wanted. And she recruited a great many voters who had not been traditional conservative voters for that reason, a key factor.
ROBERTSAnd that leads to an important topic in your book and certainly to American audiences, which was her alliance with and relationship with Ronald Reagan who, in many ways, rose to power as a conservative political figure in this country for some of the same reasons, appealing to some of the same people with the same kind of argument. The lot of labor workers, the members of unions in America who were traditionally democratic voted for Ronald Reagan for some of the same reasons. Talk about that relationship.
MOOREWell, I think the key -- first thing to remember about it is that it was forged in adversity. They first met in April, 1975 when she had just become conservative leader. So her part was still in the wilderness. And he was nothing actually because he had finished in California, he was trying to get Republican nomination for '76, which he didn't get.
ROBERTSDidn't get, yeah.
MOOREAnd he came to see her in London. And they had immediately struck sparks off one another, partly in personal terms. They liked one another's very differing styles, and partly ideological. And it was very much on the economy, as you say, and it was also all those issues about the soviet threat. And it was that same year -- well, actually the very beginning of the next year, where she became known as the Iron Lady. The Russians called her that as an insult. She took it as a compliment and off she went and, you know, became the name of a famous film.
MOOREAnd Reagan and she built up this idea that everything had to change and that they were allies. And she won first. She won in 1979. She became prime minister. Reagan rang up number 10 Downy Street on the day she went in there to congratulate her. The switchboard wouldn't put him through because they didn't think he was important. And, poor man, you know, he managed to get a message to her a couple of days later by other means. And she was, of course, delighted.
MOOREAnd then he won in 1980 and inaugurated January, '81. And immediately he had made sure that she would come over to Washington as the first European leader to -- and actually this was very good of him in fact, because Mrs. Thatcher was going through a very difficult time and people didn't believe her economics. The New York Times had a thing at this moment about how the word Thatcherize was a terrible word. You didn't want your economy to be Thatcherized, and it was looking bad.
MOOREBut Reagan wanted to be seen with her, to have this meeting of minds and this readiness to deal with tough problems. And that's how he began his administration. And from there it went on very successfully.
ROBERTSWell, you make an important point, that while in many ways the most prominent legacy of Thatcherism and the most prominent sort of connection people see between Reagan and Thatcher was about domestic economics, but there was also this very important foreign policy dimensions. And the strong commitment to opposing Soviet Union and communist expansionism was central to their common bond.
MOOREYes. And what they particularly shared was this idea that this isn't just a matter between governments. It isn't normal diplomacy stuff. This is about what happens to the actual people who are oppressed in these countries, in Poland or in Russia, Czechoslovakia. It was reaching out and saying, freedom that we believe in is a universal thing. And it's something that everybody deserves. And we want to counter actively the Soviet ideology. We're not -- it's not just containment. It's countering it and reaching those people.
MOOREAnd so the first step of course is to be able to counter them in military terms. And that was all the early stuff with Thatcher and Reagan about intermediate nuclear missiles in Europe. When they were deployed and successful and Reagan was developing his SDI ideas, then you -- from a position of strength you start to see whether you can get some movement. And that's when Thatcher met Gorbachev and suggested to Reagan that he should meet Gorbachev. And everything starts to move.
ROBERTSWhat is it that she saw in Gorbachev that indicated a potential partner as opposed to an adversary?
MOOREI think it was -- the first thing that she was was a readiness to talk. I don't mean to negotiate but to discuss. All the previous Soviet leaders were sort of boot-faced characters who just read out scripts actually. And she had this meeting with Gorbachev in 1984 where they just had wonderful arguments. They went back and forth for hours. He said, your party is just the party of the halves. What's the use? That's out of date. And she said, no, no. I don't want to be the party of the halves. I want us to be a nation of halves. That's what capitalism is about.
MOOREAnd so they had a great, almost like a student debate, you know. What's capitalism for, what's socialism for? And the thing is they totally disagreed but they really enjoyed it. And it set up the idea that actually you could go further. You could -- that's her famous phrase about doing business with him.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You know, it's interesting, as a correspondent I was with Reagan, covered the White House during Reagan's years. And traveled to Moscow when he -- his only -- Reagan's only trip to Moscow in 1988 when he met with Gorbachev. And there was a personal chemistry between Reagan and Gorbachev too. And it was very tangible and very much a part of the -- I mean, the nations operate on self interest, but sometimes the chemistry between leaders is undervalued as a dimension of relationships.
MOOREVery important. And with Margaret Thatcher, particularly important in this case, back to her being a woman because she was very instinctive about men. And without being any way improper towards them, she was flirtatious with the ones that she found attractive. She found Ronald Reagan very attractive. She found Mikhail Gorbachev very attractive. She -- surprisingly, though he was a socialist, found President Mitterrand of France pretty attractive. And she did not find Helmut Kohl of Germany attractive. And she thought he's a great big blobby German and I don't like...
MOOREAnd these instinctive things were very important with her. And it made her excited and it helped to -- at the highest level to generate the electricity you need in these summits for things to happen.
ROBERTSWell, you know, it was interesting that on the way back from his historic trip to Moscow, President Reagan stopped in London. And I think as much as anything to share with Margaret Thatcher his impressions. And it was -- and made a major speech to Guild Hall on that occasion. But it was clearly part of their ongoing conversation and their ongoing relationship.
ROBERTSI'd like to say something about their conversations because I think what's very important about their friendship was that it was such a strong friendship that they could have really major, major disagreements. I mean, the key disagreement they had -- there were many, many but the key one was that Reagan basically wanted to get rid of nuclear weapons. He really hated nuclear weapons. And she really did not want to get rid of them because she believe in their deterrent effect.
MOOREThat was actually a huge difference but the reason that it was sort of managed was that they had such trust and friendship. And they had this common goal about freedom and about change and winning the Cold War. And this meant that there was a real closeness in the discussion of policy between Britain and America, not just between those two individuals but right the way through. And it was very productive.
MOOREAnd, well, the thing was neither would say nasty things about one another in public but they could be very frank in private. And in this volume you'll find them, for example, about the Siberian gas pipeline, which she'd get so angry with Reagan. She said, put down your pencils, because she doesn't want it recorded. Put down your pencils. Ron, you speak to your companies -- because this was all about an export order -- you speak to your companies and I'll speak to mine. Because he'd been finding out something about one of her companies and she didn't like that. And you see what I mean. It's an interesting frankness.
ROBERTSAnd they also had very different governing styles, as you point out. She was an extremely meticulous person, given her background, prided herself on her education, her scientific knowledge, her economic knowledge. Reagan was very different. Reagan was not a man of detail. Reagan was a man of large principles and large ideas. But they're governing styles were quite different.
MOOREAbsolutely right. And sometimes this frightened her. I mean, she came out of one meeting in '81 and she said to a colleague, there's nothing there of Reagan, meaning, you know, he just doesn't know what he's talking about. And she sometimes had that feeling, but she knew actually that feeling was wrong. Because what she understood was he had moral courage and a clear sense of direction.
MOOREBut of course if you're prime minister -- and it's not the same as being president, which is head of state -- you are doing an incredible amount of executive detail. And she was absolutely on top of the detail all the time. And the president wasn't and didn't have to be. The temperaments were so different but actually they were complimentary.
ROBERTSWell, it's so fascinating that you say that because that story was told over and over again in American politics, of people leaving a meeting with Ronald Reagan and saying there's nothing there. He talks from three by five cards and has no intellectual depth, no intellectual curiosity. But it missed something about Reagan.
MOOREIt did and she knew it did. So when she said that she was expressing a sort of moment of exasperation rather than a real belief about him. You know, she had ultimately tremendous confidence and affection.
ROBERTSI'm talking to Charles Moore. His new book "Margaret Thatcher." -- it's a big book, 800 pages -- "Margaret Thatcher: the Authorized Biography from Grantham to the Falklands." And Charles Moore is here to answer your calls and your questions. We're going to get to your comments in just a minute. And you stay with us. We'll be right back.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. She's at a station visit in Cincinnati and I'm here with Charles Moore. He's the biographer, the authorized biographer, of Margaret Thatcher. His new book is out. And, Charles Moore, let me read just an email and some -- here's one that says, "It seems to me she faced much opposition because she was not a pushover. Our male dominated world expects women to take a backseat to men and be swayed by male favor."
MOOREWell, she would certainly agree with that and I think I would, too. One reason she had to be so tough is because she had to overcome all this. And she felt -- she said there's only one chance for a woman. The men would make excuses for one another when they failed, but if she failed out. So she had -- that's why she had to give of her best the whole time and not yield. That was her strong belief.
ROBERTSAnd from Twitter, "Isn't it a mistake to call Thatcher a conservative. Like Reagan she advocated neoliberalism. It would be smart to know the difference."
MOOREI would disagree with that because I think she's -- though she was a radical, she had a strong belief in tradition. She believed in the British monarchy. She believed in the British constitution. She believed in the history of our country and of the English speaking peoples. What she thought was you had to get government out off the backs of people, but in a way she was almost a nostalgia. She looked back to the greatness of Britain in which to restore it.
ROBERTSHere's another email from Drew who asks, "Was Mrs. Thatcher aware of the irony that her policies led to the closing of the grammar school she attended giving her access to Oxford and all the opportunities that allowed her to rise in the conservative party?"
MOOREShe was aware of it and she felt bad about it. This is a complicated political question, but -- which is too complicated to go into here, but it was a great pity that the grammar schools -- they were the best state schools and they were abolished and Mrs. Thatcher was unable to stop it when she was education minister. She tried to do something to restore them when she became prime minister, but by then it was really too late.
ROBERTSAnd here's an email about the film you already mentioned. "Please ask your guest how accurate the Meryl Streep movie, "Iron Lady," is in portraying the subject." You and I were chatting that in some ways we now almost come, certainly in America, come to see Meryl Streep instead of the real Margaret Thatcher, but talk about the movie and its effect on Thatcher's legacy.
MOORELike many people who knew Margaret Thatcher, I was upset by the film because I thought it was wrong to make a film about a living person with -- who is senile. But having said that, I think its effect was good for Margaret Thatcher's reputation because it brought home a big proof which is that, you know, her vulnerability. You know, she was a real person not either a saint or a witch or all the different things that people said about her. And it brought it home brilliantly because of the skill of Meryl Streep's -- in some ways it's not a terribly good movie, but the Meryl Streep depiction is fantastic. So good that I thought she must have seen some of these things that -- of the late years which she, in fact, she couldn't have done, but she did.
MOOREI did say to Lady Thatcher that I was going to see this film, but she wasn't well then, obviously, and she didn't know its content. I didn't want her to know its content, but just I said I'm going to see a film about you, which Meryl Streep is depicting you. And she didn't like being depicted. So she said oh, dear, can't you tear it up. So I thought that was sweet. And I wanted to go into the projectionist's office and...
MOOREBut, no, it -- if you see that film that is -- almost is Margaret Thatcher at the end, I mean, in the last years. It almost is her.
ROBERTSNow you make the point in your preface that since you started this project in 1997 at a time when she was still very much with it and you were able to have very long and very fruitful conversations with her, but as she declined your conversations changed and that there was a very poignant irony about the day of her death.
MOOREYes. She did decline as people now know. And I stopped, therefore, interviewing her in a formal way because it was unfair to her. She couldn't take the, sort of, toughness that is required of that process. So I'd take her out to lunch and we'd have a little chat. And as often with the memory of old people the mention of a particular name from the past strikes her accord and something would come out. So I'd get little nuggets of gold, but poor lady it did get worse. On the day she died I was correcting, by strange chance, the last page of the last proof of this book. And I now realize -- I didn't know she was dying -- that it was in the same hour as she died, almost the same minute. It was sort of uncanny really.
ROBERTSWow. But you had that arrangement that you would wait for publication.
MOOREYes. It -- and so we were essentially ready to publish after her funeral. I had to write the acknowledgements and one or two other things, make some corrections after her death, but so it was a tremendous rush to get it all ship shape and ready and out, but it took two weeks from death to publication.
ROBERTSCharles Moore, let's turn to some of our callers and I want to start with Richard in Truro, Mass. Welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show," Richard.
RICHARDHi, thank you. Yes, I think it's unfortunate that you have this program basically sanctifying Margaret Thatcher and don't have someone to point out the tremendous amount of damage she did to the country, which I'm sure history will show just as Reagan did a huge amount of damage to this country, which in time we will see more clearly. I think that, you know, she may have been a good person, just like Reagan was good to his horses, but she really wasn't good to people.
RICHARDShe, you know, even though she came from, you know, poor circumstances she obviously didn't care about people in the labor unions or people that had less than she did when she became powerful. And I think it would be good to have someone with a different point of view on the show in addition to the author.
ROBERTSThank you, Richard. This is a -- I'm sure you get this comment frequently. What's your response, Charles Moore?
MOOREWell, first of all I completely agree with you, Richard, that -- and I -- she should not be sanctified and I specifically said that earlier in the program. I also think that it's true that in some ways she did damage. When you try to make big changes in your country some people will suffer from it. And, you know, there's an expression you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs and some eggs were broken and sometimes the wrong eggs were broken.
MOOREFor example, the very high interest rate policy early on in her time as prime minister produced much higher unemployment than was really necessary. But I do think you're mistaken in an important respect. You talk about the labor unions. This was -- it really was a liberation for the people working who were themselves in the labor unions that there was trade union reform because the privileges of the union leaderships were very, very hostile to economic opportunity and very dangerous for the polity. These changes really did benefit and emancipate the ordinary worker. That I would strongly argue.
ROBERTSLet me turn, Charles Moore, to George in Denton, Texas, welcome.
GEORGEHi, thanks for taking my call. I'm a big fan of "The Diane Rehm Show."
ROBERTSHappy to have you this morning, George.
GEORGESo I know that after Thatcher's death that the British reaction to it was extremely mixed. I mean some of the things going on like celebrations in the street. Glenda Jackson's address on the House of Commons in which she said Thatcher wasn't a woman by my definition, but more of the celebrations after the death of a tyrant rather than like a democratically elected dictator. And that's in sharp contrast to the, sort of, (word?) of Reagan as we see.
GEORGENow as a member of the left I'm kind of partial to these celebrations, but I'm wondering why the author thinks these really strong outcries were happening throughout the country and what her legacy will ultimately be because it seems to be one of austerity and poverty rather than the, sort of, glorification that we see in the United States.
ROBERTSThank you very much, George. Tell us more.
MOOREThank you, George, there are lots of points in there, but I think while it's true that some people reacted immensely critical, sort of, you know, distastefully to her death this was unrepresentative and was picked up by the BBC and it wasn't all over the country, to use your phrase. It was in some particular mining villages, for example. However, she certainly was exceedingly controversial and she rejoiced in being controversial because she felt that it was necessary. And she would not have been sorry that people strongly criticized her as well as praised her.
MOOREHowever, I think the funeral itself and the reaction to the funeral calmed quite a lot of this down and achieved something which, I think, is essentially right, which is a recognition not that Mrs. Thatcher was necessarily correct about everything. Obviously she wasn't, but this is an extraordinary life and an extraordinary achievement and an extraordinary British example to the world, which is a great fascination, as a type of leadership, and particularly leadership by a woman, which will be considered for hundreds and hundreds of years. And I think you do need to get the right proportion -- historical proportion -- on this rather than a, sort of, political view of it.
ROBERTSAnd let's turn to Ben in Washington, D.C. Ben welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show." Thanks for your call. Ben? Are you there, Ben?
BENYes, can you hear me?
ROBERTSYes, please go ahead. You're on the show.
BENOkay, thank you very much. Yeah, so kind of along the lines of several of the other callers about, kind of, looking at the other side. I just wanted the author to make any thoughts or comments about her thoughts toward Nelson Mandela during the time of Apartheid, by which she literally referred to him as a terrorist. So I wonder if you could, kind of, put that into perspective based off, you know, some of the other glowing things that you made about her.
MOOREThank you. I've seen this said and I don't believe it's true. I've never found -- this is going around the internet that she said Mandela was a terrorist. I've never found this. What she was very keen to do was to prevent revolutionary collapse of the white government in South Africa. But it -- what she was also doing, one of the ways she thought she could prevent the revolution was to ensure the release of Mandela. And because she had -- was almost the only foreign leader with a relationship with the Apartheid government she was extremely persuasive in calling for the release of Mandela in private while rejecting sanctions.
MOOREAnd, you know, when Mandela came out he came to Number 10 Downing Street and he thanked her because she -- all these people who yelling at the government were obviously unlikely that the South African government would listen to them so much and F. W. de Klerk, the last South African white prime minister, jolly well did listen and Mrs. Thatcher was the single most important exterior leader to have that dialogue. So I think when the whole history of this is written and this will be in volume two and so I'm one of those who are writing it. It will not be as presented. She was not trying to maintain the Apartheid regime and she was working very hard for the order to release Mandela.
ROBERTSYou're not telling me there's misinformation on the internet, are you?
MOOREHeaven for forefend.
ROBERTSHeaven forefend. I'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You mentioned a second volume and we should tell our listeners that this is only the first volume and it ends with the Falklands War. Falklands not an incident that looms large to most Americans and yet you chose it as the end point of this volume for good reason. And you chose a different end point for your volume than she chose for her own memoirs which were in two volumes and she chose a different end point. Talk a bit about the Falklands and why it's so significant in your mind.
MOOREI wanted it to end volume one because of the trajectory of her life. From the humble beginnings to this incredible unexpected triumph which secure her and brought her to her zenith which she then continued for several years because Argentina had always claimed the Falkland Islands as a British colony, inhabited only by British people of British descent. And suddenly they invade it and she had no expectation of this.
MOOREOn a Wednesday the news came they were invading. On Friday they had invaded. Our marines were humiliated, only 40 of the them there and we'd lost these islands and our people were imprisoned. And she knew that she'd lose her job if she didn't do something about it. And so the following Monday she dispatched the taskforce which went across the ocean, and it takes a long way to go those -- I think it's 8,000 miles. And she had to maintain the military advance and the right diplomatic moves. And in this the relationship with the United States was key.
MOOREAnd it wasn't easy because the Americans, while naturally tending to side with the British, were very worried about the destabilization of Argentina, which might happen leading to greater communism. So you had this great shuttle by Secretary of State Haig trying to sort it out between Buenos Aires and London and her appeals to Reagan. And it was a very close run thing. And she prevailed by a combination of determination and also some diplomatic subtlety.
MOOREAnd it's so fascinating with her personality because she knew nothing about war, you see, of course, absolutely nothing. And she minded about the soldiers in a way that I think a male politician would feel somewhat less. So Dennis, her husband, told me that he went in -- the news had just come in of the sinking of a British ship. And there she was on the bed in Number 10 Downing Street -- sitting on the end of the bed and crying and saying another ship, another ship, all my boys, all my boys and crying. And he said well, that's war, love, I know because I've been in one because he was older than she and he'd been a officer in the Second World War.
MOOREAnd so it brings out that loneliness of that position. But through her determination and also through the friendship with Reagan it worked. And through the valor of the soldiers and sailors it worked and the British won unequivocally, got a surrender. And suddenly everything turned round in British politics. All those doubts about Margaret Thatcher and all the attempts by the more patrician elements that you've spoken about to throw her out they'd all gone. And there she was the all triumphant and it was the most extraordinary turnaround. And it was a turnaround within six weeks. And in terms of personal drama it's sort of unbeatable really.
ROBERTSAnd we've used the word Thatcherism as part of the political lexicon, not only in Britain, but in America and world history. And you say that she, herself, saw it as emblematic of her legacy. What today, looking back, does Thatcherism mean?
MOOREWell, I don't think that Thatcherism is precisely a theory. I think it's more, sort of, disposition. I think it's a sort of belief in the strenuous virtues that human beings have which they should be allowed to exercise. So it's a sort of -- it's to do with get up and go. It's to do with freedom. It's to do with personal responsibility. It is an idea of society, but it's an idea of society based on individual responsibility rather than delegating those responsibilities to others.
MOOREAnd I think it's also -- it has a quality of revival. It's an idea about how we can all do better if only we'd set our minds to it. And so I don't think you have to be necessarily a great conservative to learn a great deal from Thatcherism. And, indeed, in our own country Tony Blair would acknowledge that that he learned a lot in his labor party from Thatcherism. It has a sort of universal applicability, but it very much derives from the particular character of this particular woman.
ROBERTSAnd how do you think she'll be remembered?
MOOREWell, I think she is -- the details of what she did are very interesting because she was obsessed with so many things in such detail. And that's very important for the serious student of history and politics, but I think what it really is all this is mythological. I think she is -- she's one of those great characters of history like Queen Elizabeth I or Winston Churchill or Abraham Lincoln or, you know, where everybody gets some idea about them which goes on for centuries in which everyone argues, even if you say to someone in a hundred years, huh, you're a real Margaret Thatcher. They'll know what they mean, you know. And radicals make such a profoundly fascinating study.
ROBERTSAnd volume two will be out...
MOOREOh, well, please don't ask me, but two years maybe.
ROBERTSCharles Moore, his new book -- the first volume of two -- his authorized biography of "Margaret Thatcher from Grantham to the Falklands." Charles Moore, what a pleasure to have you with us this morning.
MOOREThank you very much, Steve, thank you.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane and thanks so much for spending an hour of your morning with us.
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