The Downing Street years
The appearance of Margaret Thatcher's memoirs has been one of the most eagerly awaited publishing events in many years. As this book now shows, rarely has such a sense of anticipation been so amply justified. The Downing Street Years is, first and foremost, a brilliant first-hand portrayal of the events and personalities of her years in power. She gives riveting accounts of the great and critical moments of her premiership - the three election victories, the Falklands War, the Miners' Strike, the Brighton Bomb, the Westland Affair, her battles abroad with foreign federalists and at home with faint-hearted or misguided ministers. Her judgements of the men and women she has encountered, whether world statesmen or Cabinet colleagues, are completely, sometimes brutally, frank. She is lavish with praise where it is due; devastating in her criticism when it is not. The book ends with an account of her last days which is as gripping as anything in thriller fiction. But The Downing Street Years is as much an argument as it is a record or a series of character portraits. No prime minister of modern times has sought to change Britain and its place in the world as radically as she did. Her government, she says, was about the application of a philosophy, not the implementation of an administrative programme. She sets out here with forcefulness and conviction the reasons for her beliefs and how she sought to turn them into action. Not the least interesting aspects of the book are the author's incidental insights into diplomacy ('the twin, opposing, temptations of statesmen are hubris and timidity'), political morality ('what is morally right often turns out to be politically expedient') and her ownstyle and tone ('once I begin to follow a train of thought, I am not easily stopped'). It is a work intensely - sometimes unconsciously - revealing of the mind and personality of its author. The impression which emerges is, as one recent commentator put it, of a world-class battleship at full steam ahead. Her thoroughness, her passion for change, her tenacity and her astonishing determination are evident in every chapter of the book.
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