Customer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars Of what metal was she made of?, 27 April 2013
This review is from: Margaret Thatcher: Iron Lady v.2: Iron Lady Vol 2 (Hardcover)
This is by far the best and most thorough biography of Margaret Thatcher yet to appear, superseding Hugo Young's effort. I was almost going to write 'definitive' but of course Campbell has not had access to the state archives of her time as Prime Minister, locked away under the thirty year rule, or Thatcher's private papers held at Cambridge University. Instead he has relied on memoirs, diaries, newspapers and broadcast media to analyse Thatcher and her premiership.

Campbell writes from a centrist, Blairite, Europhile perspective. He broadly supports her neo-liberal policies and is perceptive of the clash between her economic liberalism and her nationalism, and he is also critical of her Euroscepticism. By reading what must amount to hundreds of thousands of words spoken or written by Thatcher, Campbell is able to make those generalisations of summarising what Thatcherism was all about, thereby enlightening the reader. He has accurately understood her personality and political philosophy. For the most part, this is a critical assessment of her, usually providing both sides of the argument. By utilising the memoirs of her colleagues (Howe, Lawson, Major, etc) Campbell avoids hagiography of the most divisive Prime Minister of modern times.

Having read some of Campbell's other biographies of British politicians, I would go so far to say that he is the best political biographer we have at the moment. As the book progresses, however, Campbell increasingly becomes critical of Thatcher, culminating in the last chapter which is almost entirely negative; she was neglectful of her family, prejudiced, a 'batty old eccentric' who by refusing to retire quietly was damaging the Conservative Party (the party was 'hag ridden' by her repeated forays into politics). However despite making some valid points, Campbell allows his animosity towards her views to cloud his judgment.

For example, he writes of her arguments put forward in her last book, Statecraft: her belief that most of the major problems of her lifetime had sprung from the Continent is 'blinkered nonsense' despite being true; her support for renegotiation of Britain's EU membership is denounced as 'fantasy' yet renegotiation is now mainstream policy; her support for withdrawal from the EU should renegotiation fail is 'impracticable' yet support for withdrawal has sizeable public support. Campbell is unable to understand the irony that the issue that brought about her downfall, Europe, Thatcher was proved right. Who now supports joining the euro or ever increasing union?

I have not read Charles Moore's authorised biography so I cannot compare the two. I would be surprised, however, if Moore's access to her private papers has substantially challenged the interpretations offered by Campbell. This is a superb biography.
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Location: London, UK.

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