28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Downing Street Years: One View
Thatcher intermingles in-depth policy discussions with informative accounts of her relationships with other MP's and associates in this interesting account of her years as Prime Minister. With Thatcher leading a revived Tory party conservative policies are given an authority that they did not always have with Heath or Major (though to be fair, their periods in office were...
Published on 18 Nov. 2005 by Green mountains
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Improved understanding at a price
There are rises of humour in a territory that is unfailingly flat and at times arid. (It has occured to me that there is little in the book that goes beyond a perfunctory review of the characteristics of the people that Mrs Thatcher was involved with for so long.) It is a dull read. The writing is rarely gripping and often little more than functional - I wonder what input...
Published on 2 Oct. 2004 by Amazon Customer
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Downing Street Years: One View,
Thatcher intermingles in-depth policy discussions with informative accounts of her relationships with other MP's and associates in this interesting account of her years as Prime Minister. With Thatcher leading a revived Tory party conservative policies are given an authority that they did not always have with Heath or Major (though to be fair, their periods in office were somewhat different.) Persuasiveness matched with occasional flashes of keen insight characterize this book's better moments. What she truly did well is here - a crusader against the Soviet Bloc, moderating union power, and privitizing nationalized industry. Explanations of these and other issues are intertwined among a broad spectrum of historical narrative.
Margaret whipped some unnecessarily bureaucratic mindsets into line, and more streamlined governing was the result - one interesting proof of that shift can be seen after Blair came to power; he moved the labour party right, abandoning several of His parties far left ideas which Thatcher's successes discredited.
Margaret generally made good headway during her tour as PM, but she never really had absolutely clear sailing - we are given several glimpses of what seems to be a rotating set of her own MP's displeased with some aspect of her leadership. Its a sad and fast paced accounting that Mrs. Thatcher gives of her final period days in Number 10. We would all hurry through our embarrassing moments, but to her credit she lingers long enough to give the story - of her Downing Street Years - a proper and not-so-happy ending. Her words just before the final vote - "I fight on, I fight to win," - I remember well.
Some will perhaps underestimate Thatchers ultimate influence. This work is a good, though not perfect, reminder of that influence and history. It is interesting to read of her late night debates with Gorbachev at Number 10, Husband Dennis' advice, her relationship with Mr. Reagan, speech preparation and policy "white papers", and her rotating inner-circle. As I have mentioned in another review ("Path to Power") it is a bit sad to read of several of her Tory MP confidants falling out of her favor. One is given view's of a variety of policy battles in "Path," while there tends to be more expression given to policy formulation and refinement in "Downing Street". All the narrative on her travels and relations with foreign leaders has its place, but it never seems to overshadow her most effective role as policy maker and communicator. In "The Downing Street Years," Mrs. Thatcher extends that role in a thought provoking and memorable way.
5.0 out of 5 stars "If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing!",
This is an important book for anybody willing to understand Margaret Thatcher and her achievements. I am quite glad that I bought and read it and I enjoyed it - with the exception of two chapters (see below) - even if some fragments needed some effort to get through. Also the size of this opus reminds of a diplodocus (sorry for that, I couldn't resist). I certainly learned a lot from it and when closing this book I was very impressed.
Before going further, for sake of full disclosure, yes, I am a right-winged conservative and therefore, even if I am not British (I am Polish) and never even lived in United Kingdom, I always greatly admired and respected Margaret Thatcher. Even more, I consider her, together with Ronald Reagan, as one of only two really admirable major political figures of western democracies in those last 50 years or so - in fact, the only really visionary, able and courageous statesmen ("hommes d'état") in the West since Churchill and Truman. I had to say it to make it clear that as far I am concerned this book was preaching to the choir - and therefore I am not entirely objective in my review...
As I already mentioned, I greatly enjoyed reading most of this book. The style is of course that of a political autobiography written relatively soon after leaving the office, therefore Margaret Thatcher had to use some restraint, both in what she could reveal and in the language used. Some basic knowledge of British politics and international problems in the 80s will greatly help in understanding and enjoying this book. Some reading between lines is also necessary here and there, especially in the whole chapter about Northern Ireland and fight against IRA and INLA terror - here it is quite obvious for me that author had to leave A LOT of things unsaid...
The dry, low-key, first-person narrated and quite frequently sarcastic writing style takes a moment to get used to, but once we catch the rhythm, it actually has its charm. I think also that, British reserve notwithstanding, Margaret Thatcher bared a lot of her soul here - and this allows us to understand her better.
Particularly strong moments of the book concern the electoral campaigns in 1983 and 1987, great miners' strike, Falkland War and relations with Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Being Polish I also liked a lot the four pages description of the official visit Margaret Thatcher made in Poland in 1988, when my country was still under the boot of a communist dictatorship. A particularly good and poignant moment was the description of the last - and ultimately lost - fight Margaret Thatcher had to wage against her own party.
The two chapters with which I had a problem, were "A little local difficulty" (about poll tax fight) and "Floaters and fixers" (about monetary policy). In the case of the former, I found the narration of this story very disappointing, as Margaret Thatcher clung stubbornly to her position - when even for her great admirer and rabid conservative (and proud of it) like me it was clear from the beginning, that this thing was unfair, morally wrong and politically suicidal. Margaret Thatcher was extremely stubborn in her fights and I believe she was right to be so in all of them - except that one... Well, "quem Deus veult perdere, dementat prius" and in this case, the great mind of this exceptional woman was, for once, evidently clouded by what one has to call a form of madness - and clearly this condition remained with her even long after the whole thing was over... Well, I guess after all she was a human being like the rest of us - all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding...
The reason why I didn't enjoy the chapter about monetary policy is more personal, very subjective and a little bit embarrassing for me... Maybe it is because I am the child of an economist and married to another one (the reason why my wife manages our finances), but, well, for me large parts of economical science always were and still are a completely hermetic mystery and therefore I couldn't understand one darn word from "Floaters and fixers" - so I ultimately gave up and skipped it. Shame on me...
Although a huge admirer of this exceptional woman, I found myself disagreeing a couple of times with Margaret Thatcher positions - especially about the vision of European construction. Of course, coming from Poland, a smaller and poorer country than United Kingdom, I am naturally more inclined to see the virtues of a stronger and more tightly linked European Union. However, already in the 80s it was clear that even mighty and wealthy Great Britain couldn't maintain its rank in a world in which existed such economic mega-powers like USA and Japan and in which future giants, like China, India, Brazil, Pakistan, Indonesia, Mexico and Nigeria were already rising. Ultimately, a 63 million people country simply CANNOT compete with 150-200 million people nations - not even talking about behemoths like China or India... For me, even in the 80s it was already clear that if Europe wants to remain wealthy and mighty, it will achieve it only by uniting - not by scattering... Being myself something of a Polish nationalist I am not exactly in love with the idea of an European confederation (and even less a federation) - but reason tells me that sometimes "everything must be changed so everything remains the same"... It will always surprise me no end that with such a great mind Margaret Thatcher couldn't overpower with reason the veto of her heart...
Those reserves notwithstanding I really loved this book and I found myself in agreement with Margaret Thatcher over most of things - and I am really darn glad that she won so many of her battles, that she transformed United Kingdom from the "sick man of Europe" into one of economic powerhouses of our continent and above anything else that for eleven years with her mighty voice she said loud and clear so many blunt, uncomfortable truths, which lesser men and women took great pains to hide, by sheer cowardice... She was a great lady, a great Prime Minister and her achievements were immense - and for all those reasons her memories are really, REALLY, worth reading. ENJOY!
5.0 out of 5 stars The Iron Dreamer,
Margaret Thatcher's 'The Downing Street Years' is, in my estimation, one of the greatest political memoirs of all time. The book satisfies all the basic criteria: it is well-written, informative and thorough. Thatcher doesn't necessarily go in for critical self-analysis, but on the other hand this is a conviction politician who entered office with a definite and clear purpose and a coherent programmic theoretical framework. Her passion is palpable and it is obvious that she really did want to change Britain, for the better. Personally, I do not on the whole sympathise with Thatcher's politics, but I must hail 'The Downing Street Years' as a literate and well-crafted memoir, the type of book that a graduate chemist and barrister is well-qualified to write. And you can tell she really did write this: the prose is missionary, trenchant and punchy.
The book is organised thematically. This has become a modern fashion which few political biographies veer from, though in my opinion it often works out badly. But not for Thatcher, who manages to pull it off well and the book just flows. The chapter headings are entertaining, at turns witty, prescient and amusing. I think the highlights are the sections on the Falklands War, the crisis that could (perhaps should) have brought her down early ['The Falklands War: Follow The Fleet' and 'The Falklands: Victory]; the Westland Affair, a relatively trivial Cabinet tussle trumped-up into a minor constitutional crisis that almost did lead to her resignation [pp. 423-437]; the Miners' Strike ['Mr. Scargill's Insurrection']; later relations with the then-European Community ['The Babel Express']; and her eventual resignation in the midst of a leadership challenge ['Men In Lifeboats']. There are also some great colour pictorial sections interleaving the book, and the index is thorough and helpful. Some reviewers seem to think that the book is too long. I have to confess, this point never before occurred to me. If anything, I should have thought the book could have been much longer, and I for one would not have minded in the slightest.
What else to say? Well, I suppose a useful exercise would be to compare this highly-literate memoir with the inferior products being churned-out today. An honourable exception would be John Major's, which stands up very well, but the others are poor, especially Blair's half-literate, jumbled mess of a book. I think this drop in literary standards among political biographies tells us something about the material we propel into public life now. Speaking as one of the generational group that sociologists call 'Thatcher's Children', you could say I am one of her 'wayward sons': I could wax lyrical about my points of disagreement with Thatcher's politics. Nevertheless, I must acknowledge her superior intellect and observe that it would be unmatched were she around today. This is not some kind of neo-oldfogeyism. Lots of things have improved since the 1980s, but we have also regressed in many areas. The debates that took place in Parliament in Thatcher's era and before were much more thoughtful and literate than those of today. In a sense, Thatcher belongs to a divisive but more colourful and principled era of politics, and it is no coincidence that most of the interesting figures in politics today on both the Left and Right emerged from, or were touched-by, the Thatcher years. A sad and unfortunate paradox is that it was Thatcher herself who presaged the decline and brought us the awful persiflage of Blairism: she began the media management techniques that would later coarsen British politics and introduce the boring, drippy, compliant personalities who get "elected" today.
Perhaps one issue that might irritate the politically-literate reader of this book is Thatcher's quite shameless revisionism over Europe. She doesn't exactly hide her role in selling-out Parliament to Brussels, but she does not really take proper responsibility for it either, preferring to blame shadowy forces and pressures for her own cowardly decisions. Those in favour of Europe as an integrated political concept will be inclined to disagree with Thatcher's rather Manichean attitudes to the project (without realising, perhaps, how pro-European she once was, even as Prime Minister). Those against Europe will feel frustrated that she said so much on the issue but did so little to preserve Britain's sovereignty during a crucial period of the Community's evolution. In fact, Margaret Thatcher practically signed-away parliamentary sovereignty in her first few years as Prime Minister, continuing a political movement that would eventually (under Major-Blair) leave our Parliament bereft and purposeless. She signed the treaty that created the European Single Market and her government pushed the Single European Act through Parliament ruthlessly. Lest we also forget that earlier in her career, under the Heath premiership, she was one of the most vocal Tory Cabinet ministers campaigning for Britain's entry into what was then called the European Economic Community, something that probably made her cringe later. In short, if Margaret Thatcher was a Eurosceptic, then she was a pretty tepid one. And she was certainly no Nationalist.
Her supposed 'regrets' about Europe and increasing Euroscepticism towards the end of her premiership are part of the mythology of Thatcher: the Iron Dream, if you like. The myths do harbour some truth - she probably really did regret it all - but I think the real story is that when Thatcher started baiting 'Europeans', she was just being an astute politician. She was keenly aware that most Britons - certainly most of the English - are disinclined towards the notion of a federal Europe as they value our island identity. Furthermore, the southern English - more conservative than the social-democratic northern English - see Europe as a Continental 'social' project. Having apparently rejected Butskellism herself and shifted the Conservative Party to the Right (supposedly), it was a natural progression for Thatcher to come to reject Europe, at least conceptually. At first, though, she saw no need to do so. With large majorities, she could govern Platonically on the overarching issues such as Europe, without popular ratification of her unpopular decisions. But as the Tory Party declined in popularity and it became clear that her premiership was threatened, she adopted Euroscepticism not as a through-going rejection of Europe, but as a strategic ruse. Had she survived in office, the Labour Party would have been painted as pro-European and Quisling by the tabloid press and that would have formed the basis of a Tory general election campaign in 1991/92. It is true that as part of the War generation, Thatcher understood that Europe was, ontologically, a Continental project and, essentially, an extension of German power over Europe that earlier Germans had been unable to achieve militarily, but I am not convinced she was completely genuine in her concerns over the submergence of British sovereignty and identity: she had already given away more of those than any prime minister in the Nation's history.
In a sense, Thatcher wrote this book to contribute to her own mythology. The way the book is written projects her as a kind of heroinic persona. Even the book cover is almost Stalinist in its subliminal appeal to the cult of personality, but this Iron Dream that Thatcher was a kind of modern Boadicea who stood up to Europe before being deposed by a group of Quislings is false. She was just another chiseler, an erudite car salesman(woman), albeit one with a bit more principle and scruple toward the end. Perhaps when she lies awake at night, she thinks sometimes about how she has sold-out her country and how she only realised this when it was too late. I hope so. And I hope it hurts.
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A subjective account of domination, not a historical record,
It is often said that hind sight is 20/20, and the Ex-Prime Minister has made good use of this theory when writing.
Her recollection of the events frequently tie badly with the recollections of others, and of the media at the time. The book is self justifying, and unfortunately often finds her so desperate to vindicate criticism against her that the actual history is lost. I would not suggest that this is deliberate, but rather a product of a person completely convinced of her own correctness.
There can be no denying that Thatcher was a strong and highly driven leader. The reader follows the story from the start of her leadership experience, displacing Ted Heath as leader, following her through mounting confidence in her own decisions and ability to govern, and developing into an absolute belief in her own ability. The final chapters deal with a Margaret Thatcher so convinced of her own invulnerability, that she completely fails anticipate the seriousness of the plot against her, and is overthrown in the same manor that she overthrew Heath.
Any reader of this book will find illumination shed on the current state of the Tory Party, as the party loses all internal cohesion under Thatcher's and subsequently falls apart when she is deposed.
When read in conjunction with other books covering Thatcher's reign the biography sheds light more on the character of this world famous leader and the contest in which it developed than on any actual reliable historical record.
Readers may also wish to read Woodrow Wyatt's biography which displays a Thatcher racked by doubts and feeling besieged by enemies. Perhaps a combination of both characters may be more accurate!
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Downing Street Years,
At long last Margaret Thatchers first memoirs from the early 90's have been reissued while no doubt in an effort to cash in on the current hysteria surrounding the film at least this particular release will give you a more in depth and comprehensive insight into this countries most divisive yet influential leader.
The book opens on her becoming PM up till her final day which is an 11 year period therefore it will be no surprise given the complexity of the 1980's and the challenges Britain faced and Margaret Thatchers apparent attention to detail that the book is a fairly large in size. Frankly of all the political books I have read it is one of the hardest to take in everything you are reading as I said before it was a very complex period in British politics which to fully understand will require more reading than this book alone and obviously from less bias sources. That said of course as with any political biography there is a sense of self justification however it is rivalled by Thatchers ability to argue every point to the death in a lot of detail (sometimes probably too much detail) and her frank views of those that opposed her both from opposition and within her own party.
She does not shy away from any of the key issues here from all of the Domestic Issues Britain faced, Relations with the US and Soviet Union, The Falklands and of course Europe. Many chapters are dominated by relations abroad primarily her ongoing saga with the French & Germans in which interestingly she states a united Germany along with France would try to dominate a European Union probably at the time this would seem a little extreme however now in 2012 its all feeling a little familiar and I dare say her opinion has almost been vindicated some 23 years later. However what did strike me the most was how this ultimately sheds light on the lasting impact this era had on the Conservative Party which frankly has never been the same since, it is still to this day divided on Europe and policy.
The point is wether you are a Thatcherite or someone on the fence or on the other side of the fence and loathe her there is absolute no doubt that her clarity, passion for this country and ability to push on in the face of adversity without turning is dearly missed within todays political landscape.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Downing Street Years by Margaret Thatcher,
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Just finished reading it. It just makes me appreciate MT even more and is a terrific look at the thought process behind an important part of history. It really is a marvellous book
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant,
A brilliant insightful well-written account of the Great Lady's progressively revolutionary time in power. Good value book. R.I.P. Mrs Thatcher
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Instantly readable if a little long,
Whilst the book is overlong and a slight step too far in the bid for self-justification, 'The Downing Street Years,' especially for politics undergraduates like me, is a book of useful knowledge not only containing the recollection of events which occupied her premiership, but also the inner workings of government and the decision-making process the public (especially during Labour's term) have been distanced from. If you can ignore or contain the ideology of Lady Thatcher herself, then you'll find she has a great deal more to say
19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No rust on the Iron Lady,
This book is one of the most interesting political autobiographies I have read (and I've read many of them). I must confess that interest was intensified due to the fact that I worked in the House of Commons during her tenure in office, and indeed worked during the 1987 General Election for two Conservative Members of Parliament (David Amess of Basildon and David Evennett of Erith & Crayford--yes, I know, you've likely never heard of either of them).
This is actually the first volume of Margaret Thatcher's books to be published; the prequel is 'The Path to Power' and there is a follow-up, 'The Collected Speeches', but for those interested, 'The Downing Street Years' is the book to have.
It begins with the 1979 General Election, and carries forward to her resignation as Prime Minister a decade later. In this volume are her perspectives on all the various Cabinet intrigues, shuffles and reshuffles; her attempts to find civil servants and other helpers who were not of the old guard but of a new mentality, often asking, 'Is he one of us?' by which she meant, not is he a Conservative, but rather, will he get something accomplished, is he a do-er?
Thatcher's perspectives on the various scandals and inter-Cabinet fighting makes for interesting reading -- she is candid in her likes and dislikes among her Cabinet colleagues. Her final row with Geoffrey Howe, who delivered a scathing speech in the HoC that mostly prompted the leadership crisis, is enlightening. (I've not seen his version, if one exists--it would be good to compare the two sides.) She was very disappointed at the end when she thought she had the continued support of the party, but each of her ministers and 'friends' told her in turn that while he supported her, others would not. She saw the writing on the wall, and after having won the first ballot for party leadership but not by a sufficient majority to avoid a second ballot, she resigned in favour of John Major (whose autobiography, recently issued, is also well worth reading, particularly for his comments about how Thatcher tried to maintain a controlling influence over him from behind the office).
One might be tempted, if not really into politics and not reading this for scholarly purposes, to skim over various minor issues that are gone into great detail. Historians are appreciative, but I seriously ask myself how many non-political scientists and historians will read through all the detail of what are now minor bits of history?
In all, a brilliant career, the first woman head of government in a major Western democracy, and well worth reading on the whole.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Improved understanding at a price,
There are rises of humour in a territory that is unfailingly flat and at times arid. (It has occured to me that there is little in the book that goes beyond a perfunctory review of the characteristics of the people that Mrs Thatcher was involved with for so long.) It is a dull read. The writing is rarely gripping and often little more than functional - I wonder what input her staff had? There is little self-doubt in the book which stands in contrast to other accounts I have read of Mrs Thatcher as a worrier. Mrs Thatcher's belief in Britain is unfailing, an article of faith in her own life. Because of this, or because she has to present this to the British people (a patronising rule in most political memoirs) there is little inquiry into the rights or wrongs of history or of British policy. Certainly the murkier side of politics is ungazed at by the reader in this account.
There are some impossibilities about this book. It is impossible that things were quite as simple as Mrs Thathcher puts them, it is impossible to not admire her spirit, and it is impossible to read a second time (in quick succession except under the most urgent need) - life is too short.
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The Downing Street Years by Margaret Thatcher (Hardcover - 18 Oct. 1993)
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