Only twice since her coronation in 1952 has the present queen of England attended a funeral of a non-royal, non-relative. The first was that of Winston Churchill. The second, that of Margaret Thatcher.
With sure instinct, the queen identified the two most important British leaders of her era—British leaders, but not leaders only of Britain. Like Churchill, Margaret Thatcher belonged to the world. Along with her friend and admirer Ronald Reagan, she was a leader of both a party and a global movement that would redefine the appropriate economic roles of the state and the individual. Yet precisely because Thatcher wrought such transformative change, her world and her challenges have receded into a past that seems to many as remote and exotic as sepia images from before the First World War. One of the many achievements of Charles Moore’s biography of Thatcher is to recall into vivid life not only the British prime minister herself, but the political era to which she gave her name—an era in which the socialism and statism Thatcher so strenuously opposed remained daily experiences for every air traveler, every railway commuter, every natural-gas user, and everyone who used, or hoped to use, a telephone:
In 1981, the present author bought his first house. It had no telephone and he wished to install one, but was told by [British Telecom] that this would take six months because of a “shortage of numbers.” The only way to speed this up was for his employer, the editor of The Daily Telegraph, to have a word with the chairman of the company, Sir George Jefferson. The device was installed in ten days.
A former editor of The Spectator and The Daily Telegraph, and now an influential columnist, Moore was Thatcher’s own choice of biographer and the beneficiary of exclusive first access to her papers. (Moore also happens to be a longtime friend of mine.) But while Moore certainly admires Thatcher, he is also an independent intellect and a dispassionate voice. As Richard Aldous recently wrote in The New York Times Book Review, “Moore remains on target to produce the definitive ‘case for the defense’ of this titanic and still controversial figure. His work will very likely stand alongside that of John Morley, official biographer of Gladstone, as one of the masterpieces of British political history.” It was agreed from the start that the book would not be published in Thatcher’s lifetime, and she herself never read—nor asked to read—a page of it.
Moore’s biography will extend over three volumes. The first was published in 2013. The second and latest was published in the United States earlier this year—a year when it seems very possible that a woman could be elected president. In that context, Thatcher’s precedent-smashing achievements have gained new immediacy.