The rise of Ronald Reagan was improbable. Margaret Thatcher’s journey to British prime minister seemed almost impossible. Journalist Charles Moore tells the story in Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands.
Margaret Roberts was the younger of two daughters of a middle class grocer. She married businessman Denis Thatcher, who supported her political career.
Although she was not the first female MP, they were few in number. Rarer still were those with an aptitude for “men’s issues,” such as economics. But Thatcher impressed party elders and local residents, and in 1958 won the Conservative Party nod to compete in Finchley, a Tory stronghold.
In the following years she served in and out of government, impressing those around her with her knowledge of the issues and ability in debate. She joined the cabinet of Prime Minister Edward Heath in 1970.
As I wrote in my review in the Washington Times, that government:
“was battered by turbulent times. Indeed, I lived through much of his premiership, since my Air Force father was stationed in Britain from 1970 to 1973. Unfortunately, Heath lacked the principled beliefs and firm character necessary to challenge the expansive welfare state.
He went to the polls early and lost. The majority of Tory MPs then wanted to defenestrate him, but the obvious challengers hung back. So the lady from Finchley challenged Heath. On February 11, 1975 she piled up an overwhelming majority on the second ballot to become opposition leader.”
It was another four years before the weak Labor government collapsed. But on May 3, 1979, British voters gave the Conservatives a 43 seat majority, making Margaret Thatcher prime minister. The country’s economic problems seemed intractable and party moderates soon wanted to retreat. However, she famously responded: “The lady’s not for turning.”
Her premiership was rescued by Argentina’s decision to invade the Falkland Islands on April 2, 1982. The islands didn’t seem worth a war and Britain’s military power was waning. However, the “Iron Lady” risked all, and won. That set the stage for her future success. Writes Moore: “The Falklands War established Mrs. Thatcher’s personal mastery of the political scene, and convinced people of her special gifts of leadership.”
There ends volume one, with much more to come. It’s well worth the read, and likely will leave any political buff waiting for more.