No-one can deny that Margaret Thatcher was a divisive figure. As so often, I’m somewhere in the middle. To me, Thatcher has qualities that one can admire, even if one isn’t supportive – to put it mildly – of everything she did. As an autobiography, it’s wholly unsurprising that it is her positive attributes that tend to shine through here.
It seems a little unfair to compare prime-ministerial autobiographies, but with Tony Blair’s relatively fresh in my mind (review here), it is hard to resist. Poor writing makes Blair’s volume difficult to consume, and it took me well over a year to plod through it in relatively short bursts. In contrast, Thatcher’s is entirely readable, and very enjoyable – bordering on being a page-turner. Thatcher genuinely masters the art of making the reader feel like a close confidant, as though this is a fireside chat in book form. I get the sense that this is what Blair strives to achieve, but fails.
And yet, Thatcher’s contains much more detailed political discussion. While Blair chooses to share his toilet habits, Thatcher writes long and detailed (though defensive) rationales for many of the policies she adopted. To give a single example from their respective autobiographies, I understand much more clearly Thatcher’s argument for defending the Falklands than Blair’s argument for invading Iraq. Where I disagree with Thatcher, I can still follow her line of argument in a way that I cannot even where I agree with Blair.
This set me thinking: perhaps the reason for Thatcher’s clearer explanations is the fact that she defended her policies more often and in greater detail than Blair. The long-form wide-ranging radio and television political interviews in which Thatcher participated simply did not exist in Blair’s day. I think that represents something lost at the heart of modern democracy. But I digress.
It’s worth pointing out that this is an abridged combination of two volumes: The Path to Power and The Downing Street Years. While I haven’t read those two volumes, it seems that the abridgement has largely been handled with skill. There are occasions where the detail of events is noticeably lacking in comparison to others, but these are rare, and don’t distract from the overarching narrative.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that Thatcher should write a self-assured autobiography, and it’s no surprise that many will disagree with much of the reasoning contained within. But it is the quality of the writing that stands out here, and that makes this volume worthy of four-star rating.