The final volume of this monumental biography is gripping and revealing but fails to grapple with Thatcher’s uneasy legacy
In 1991, less than a year after Tory MPs deposed her as party leader and prime minister, Margaret Thatcher appeared on the platform at the Conservatives’ annual conference with her successor, John Major. Thatcher was not scheduled to speak, Charles Moore explains, but the Tory hierarchy realised that her standing with the party membership meant that a brief appearance couldn’t be avoided. Yet the event did not go according to plan. For six minutes, the audience cheered, applauded, stamped, and chanted, “We want Maggie!” Her parliamentary assassins looked on miserably.
It’s a great moment in a book full of them. But arguably it’s also a moment the Conservatives have been stuck in ever since. With their ever escalating hostility to the EU, their stubborn faith in free-market capitalism, their unease with urban and northern Britain and their yearning for a mighty leader, the Tories are still the party Thatcher largely created during her epic leadership from 1975 to 1990. Moore’s monumental official biography – three volumes, almost 3,000 pages, the books published at regular intervals since her death in 2013 – has played a significant part in maintaining Thatcherism’s hold over the party. All three books are measured in tone and have their critical passages but Moore is, at bottom, a believer. Near the end of this concluding volume, when he finally lets his hair down, he calls her “the greatest genius ever to direct the affairs of the United Kingdom”.