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Not For Turning (Unabridged)
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 June 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this well written and informative account of the life Margaret Thatcher. The author, Robin Harris, who worked in the Cabinet office until Thatcher's defenestration in 1990, and who remained close to her in her retirement, including by drafting her memoirs,has clearly attempted to give an unbiased view. He does not shy away from critism of Thatcher's behaviour or at times of her policies or performance. For example he draws attention to her sometimes strident manner with colleagues, and is lukewarm at best about her perfomance as Education Secretary in the Heath government. John Major, Malcolm Rifkind and assorted other former colleagues are excoriated in these pages.

Overall all however, it is clear that the author held Margaret Thatcher in the highest regard, both as a person and as a leader who utterly changed the British politcal landscape.

Harris's personal political position tends to shine through at times - disapproval of the European Union,strong admiration for Ronald Reagan, approval of the actions taken by the USA in Greneda and many other events and personalities receive a little personal touch in the account...Neil Kinnock is usually found in sentences which also include the word 'unfortunately'

This, then, is a personal view of the life of Margaret Thatcher, which covers all the key events and players, and makes for entertaining and informative reading. The years after office receive good coverage, and there is enough information here to make clear the sad decline of her memory and faculties towards the end of her life, particularly after the death of her husband.

Well worth reading whatever your political views - Thatcher bestrode British politics for over a decade, and her policy legacy has lived on through every government since, and is likely to do so for some time yet
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 2 May 2013
As Lady Thatcher's letter on the back cover says - "I can think of no one better placed than you to tackle the subject".

Harris was Director of the Conservative Research Department before joining Mrs Thatcher's personal staff, writing speeches and advising on policy. After she left office he continued working for her, including drafting her two volume autobiography. He was a total insider - he knew her life, her politics and her thoughts as well as anyone who is still around to tell the tale.

Harris can write punchy, readable narrative which tells a good story, as anyone who reads his many newspaper articles can attest.

Harris got his doctorate in French history - you can tell the academic background because the facts look like they have been checked, there is a decent index and by the way he sticks to main subject and doesn't drift off into personal reminiscences or personal point scoring. In passing I notice that he doesn't even mention himself in the index - this is Margaret Thatcher's story all the way through.

Those that loved Margaret Thatcher will find a lot to like with this book. Having her whole life in one moderately sized volume will be a relief to anyone who wants the essence but not the finely wrought detail. Those that did not love Thatcher - and there are plenty of them - may still find it worth reading if they want to understand rather than condemn. After all, the British public voted for her in their millions, voted for her again and again, and they never voted her out of office.
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I have to admit that at times I was making heavy weather of Robin Harris's biography of Margaret Thatcher : the middle chapters dealing with her premiership; the first part and the last in particular dealing with her decline were by contrast easy to digest and well written. I am not suggesting the rest wasn't but perhaps there were too many footnotes, with RH too concerned to capture the nuance of people's character, or ideas, or intent involving support for MT to make for comfortable or relaxed reading. Maybe that is the result of compression. Nevertheless this is more than a mere setting of the record straight, even though a lot of that seems to be going on.

Thatcherism, we are reminded, is all about self-reliance in a world where democracy and freedom are provided in a framework of law and order. If you have freedom, you cannot argue for equality, for it becomes one person's right to work more intelligently, or harder, than his neighbour and to enjoy the rewards of success. However creation, as far as possible, of equal opportunities so that a meritocratic society evolves was also part of her scheme, and this aspect dirives more from non-conformist Liberalism than high-Church Toryism. When MT came to power one of the first battles was with the Trades Unions as some of these were vaunting their monopolistic power and privileges. They drew the blanket too far to their side of the bed, endangering Sterling and/or British industrial competivity, and it fell to her to curb these powers and level the playing field for the future.

The author is none too kind to either Heath or Major in his assessment of their qualities of leadership; nor do her Chancellors of Exchequer, Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson, escape much better, effectively accused of plotting the downfall of their PM. Although one of her speech-writers and trusted collaborator (he also helped with her autobiographies), and someone who obviously held her in close affection, a warts and all composite picture of Margaret is painted. Without implying she was wrong, he concludes she was divisive as Education Minister under Heath over school milk subsidies, she was divisive as PM, over Trades Union and Welfare reform as already mentioned, divisive and mainly hated over the Poll Tax, divisive and eventually embraced after the Falklands War. In retirement, in the House of Lords, RH asserts that her position over the terms of the Maastricht Treaty, her compassion for Bosnian Muslims and for General Pinochet whose co-operation had helped achieve success in the Falklands, were also controversal and actually divisive within Conservative ranks. But she succeeded in being true to her ideals and not deflected in her purpose and this in the end is what makes a PM great, instead of compromising with an eye on her popularity ratings in the Gallop Polls. This book is certainly worth reading and shorter than the abridged two volume autobiography.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Very good read. There are so many Thatcher biographies and obviously the core is the same in every one but this covers many of the weaknesses and failings of The Lady and of those around her as well as the triumphs. Well worth a read if you believe, as I do, that Thatcher transformed Britain from a real low point. It's easy to forget the union domination of the country before her, the wild inflation and so on. This reminds you of that time.
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on 25 July 2013
A must-read book for anyone interested in the political history of the Thatcher years because the author was based in No 10 for much of this period, and so can give the 'back-story' to many of the most important events. Harris explains some of the motivations by both Thatcher and her ministers for their policies and indeed their disagreements, much of which was not known. For business men like me whose career she saved, the courage she showed at crucial times to lead her cabinet full of doubters was almost breathtaking. The battles with the unions, the Argentinians, and the nationalised industries are very well explained and even exciting.

For all those who disagreed with her, at least it gives detailed descriptions on her thinking and her beliefs.

The indexing is superb as it allows one to dip in and out by following the people and personalities one is particularly interested in. On the big issue of Europe and currencies, time has shown that she has been right against most of her cabinet and certainly her chancellors' advice. But making unpopular decisions with such a feral press is never easy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 October 2013
There are academic disputes about the extent to which military success boosted Conservative chances in the 1983 election. There were signs of a revival in the polls and greater economic optimism even before the capture. But what if the Falklands had been lost? Would the government have survived?
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on 29 July 2014
Not having read other biographies about Margaret Thatcher, I enjoyed stepping back to those years when she was PM. The earlier section about her influences and education is convincing. Does she emerge from the pages better understood? Can the reader get a sense of what drove her, her people skills, her political skills? For me the answer is that this book does not have the weight or indeed size, to do more than sketch the background, so there is an incompleteness. But her personality comes through, her considerable charm and presence, her weaknesses, and the account of her life after stepping down from power, provides a fuller sense of her life in its entirety. Where the authors views come through, one senses they are those of a man near the centre of the action.
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33 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on 29 April 2013
Mr Marsh has not reviewed this book - he has simply produced the usual diatribe against the best Prime Minister since Churchill. Here, briefly, are some inconvenient facts.

1. Manufacturing output rose by 7.5% during her period in office.
2. Public spending rose by 17.6%
3. Harold Wilson's governments closed 251 pits and Maggie's 154. A former miner recently wrote "Scargill wanted me to go back down the b***** pit. Mrs Thatcher gave me £25,000 to buy a house in Spain.
4. Wilson, Callaghan and Heath all wished to reform the unions and all backed off. She succeeded and no subsequent government has had any inclination to put the clock back (for obvious reasons).
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This is a book that has three distinct and stylistically different parts, which have difficulty merging into one story. The first part covering early life simply re-hashes all the old "living over the grocery shop" clichés and brings absolutely nothing new to the subject. I expect it was simply a re-write of the draft Harris made for her auto-biography.
Then we come to the years in power and we learn that everything that Thatcher did which was good was as a result of Harris's advice and every disaster came from ignoring his wise counsels. The footnotes are always insinuating what an influential adviser he was albeit discrete and unseen. Clearly Harris sees himself as an economic theorist and so goes into an unnecessary level of technical detail on economic lever pulling. (this might have been interesting if it had been clearer). The actual instigators of the economic policies: Howe, Lawson, Lamont are attacked as "Wets", "too clever by half" and other caricatures without explaining that they were the authors of these policies as well as the executors and in what way they were at odds with MT. Insinuations of plotting and disloyalty are believable, but Harris doesn't make it clear what was the policy disagreement.
Then suddenly she is out of office. Harris now starts to speak patronisingly of MT as an elderly aunt confused and cantankerous. Lot's of "poor old thing" stuff! Somehow it doesn't ring true as Harris never made any attempt to portray her as likeable at any earlier stage of her life.
There is one intriguing detail: there is a letter reproduced in introduction and on the back dust cover from Thatcher dated 2005 encouraging Harris to write her biography and regretting she would never get the chance to read it!!! Does this mean Harris only intended to publish after her death? Or, did MT have a premonition? Strange indeed!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 April 2015
(1) “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run OUT of other people's money.” margaret thatcher.
(2) "The problem with thatcherism is that eventually the "casino" bankers run AWAY with other people's money." Anon.
(3) “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Winston Churchill
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