Thatcher's Britain

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Richard Vinen, Simon & Schuster; £20

This book attempts to do the almost impossible: to take a dispassionate look at Margaret Thatcher and Thatcherism. I say almost impossible because just reading the chapters on the Miners' Strike, the Falklands War and the Hunger Strike brought back much of the rage and hatred I felt at the time.

The author, however, has a rather different take on things: "I was very much opposed to the Thatcher government when it was in power...however, I have often felt exasperated by the sneering tone many authors adopt with regard to Margaret Thatcher herself."

In the book Richard Vinen argues that Thatcher was essentially a pragmatic politician whose primary interest was in holding on to office.

She became Tory leader following Ted Heath's disastrous spell as prime minister when he was twice humiliated by striking miners in 1972 and 1974. The Labour government that followed eventually fell to pieces after the Winter of Discontent strike wave.

She came to office with both a fear and a hatred of the unions. Vinen dismisses the significance of her taking unions on one at a time, while avoiding conflict with others. But it culminated, after a series of defeats for other workers, in a devastating defeat for the miners.

Much of this might not have happened had she not "lucked into" the Falklands War. Thatcher, who at the time was getting terrible poll ratings, seized the opportunity for a piece of jingoistic puffery, without regard to the loss of life that entailed.

This opportunism in general characterised Thatcher's years. She had until near the end an eye for what would be popular with the electorate, and what would be practical to legislate.

For all her right wing moralising and preaching of Victorian values she brought through very few changes to social legislation with the exception of the foul anti-gay Section 28. For all her jingoistic anti-European rhetoric she signed up to every major European Community treaty placed in front of her.

Vinen argues that the end of the Cold War destabilised her and led her into huge blunders around the poll tax and Europe which eventually brought about her destruction.

He tends to downplay the impact she had on the Labour government that followed and, perhaps because of the timing of the book, he doesn't begin to look at perhaps her final bequeathal to us: a deregulated market that would run amok and lead to financial disaster.

Finally he doesn't begin to convey fully her hatred of the working class and the huge damage she inflicted on our unions, our communities and our lives. The book is interesting and worth a read, but there is not enough sneer to its tone for my liking!