on 4 December 2001
This is the best book written by any of the insiders involved at the heart of the decision making process in the Thatcher government between 1979 and 1981. The author has a balanced perspective and is happy to admit the early mistakes of 79-81 that nearly destroyed the administration before it had got off the ground. His frustrations at the timidity of Thatcher and her cabinet come through well and his decision to stay until he believed that the crucial battles were won is fully explained. An excellent source on the economic situation faced by the administration written with candour. It gives excellent portrayals of the individuals involved. This book is a must for anyone wishing to learn about and understand the most controversial government since 1945 in Britain if for no other reason than because it is devoid of the pompous self-justification found in many other insiders' writings and also of the sanctimonious claptrap written by those with an axe to grind. This book is such a welcome contrast, it is like a breath of fresh air blowing through the vast literature on Thatcher and Thatcherism.
This book has never received the attention it merits. Without a doubt, it is one of the most important political books to appear in post-war Britain. It is all too easy to forget how the so-called 'Butskellite' consensus stultified thinking in the pre-Thatcher era. At the end of WWII, Britain was the only European power left standing against the Soviet Union, and it still had the second-largest economy in the world (mostly by default). By 1979, Britain was on the verge of third-world status, with the IMF on the doorstep. Yet our rulers could not understand that their attempts to 'manage' the economy were in fact the cause of our decline.
Hoskyns gives full credit to Sir Alfred Sherman, who started it all, and to Keith Joseph and Geoffrey Howe, who initially were the only Tory politicians clever enough (or perhaps brave enough) to grasp free-market economics. He is especially generous to his co-conspirator, Norman Strauss, who helped him write the 'Stepping Stones' political blueprint which eventually put Britain on the road to recovery. He is modest about his own part; without his tireless staffwork, Sherman's brilliance could never have broken through the mental fog that enveloped the world of politics and the civil service.
This book is a salutary lesson to historical determinists. It should be an inspiration to anyone who doubts the ability of a talented individual to have a positive impact on the course of human affairs. People really do make history.