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This, as it happens, came out before the second volume of Charles Moore’s magisterial (the only word one can use) biography and concentrates on just two years of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership: the first two, before she established her control over the party and laid the foundation for her achievements (or otherwise, if you happen not to like what she managed to do).

I found Kwasi Kwarteng‘s Thatcher’s Trial on the shelves for new books of London Library and took it down immediately.

This is how the author sums up the theme of the book:

Thatcher’s Trial is a short account of the six months which defined Thatcher as a leader. These six months started with the budget delivered on 10 March 1981 and ended with the reshuffle of her government which took place on 14 September. during this period, Margaret Thatcher showed herself to be inflexible, tough minded and courageous.

Her judgements were clear but often wayward; her self-belief sometimes faltered, although publicly she never let any hesitation blunt her message. She always conveyed an image of utter certainty, even when some of her closest allies openly expressed reservations.

I am looking forward to reading Mr Kwarteng’s description of all of that.

In the first place, however, I was reminded of the fact that the famous September 1981 reshuffle got rid of a number of wets and, more to the point, a number of grandees who had assumed that the Conservative Party was theirs to run. Among these were Sir Ian Gilmour and Lord Soames whom Mr Kwarteng describes as having had “a political career of considerable distinction” but whose achievements (with the possible exception of his stint as Our Man in Paris) depended very largely on the fact that he was Sir Winston Churchill’s son-in-law. Neither of them every forgave her.

Various versions of what happened when Thatcher had given Soames his marching orders have circulated the political world then and have done so ever since. Quoting from Thatcher’s own The Downing Street Years, Mr Kwarteng says:

His sacking was a notable scalp for the daughter of a Lincolnshire grocer. To Margaret Thatcher, who was not so often as obviously class conscious, Soames gave ‘the distinct impression’ that he felt the natural order of things was being ‘violated’ and that he was, in effect, ‘being dismissed by his housemaid’.

Other versions were more colourful, notably Hugo Young’s in One of Us, which is the basis of this:

Soames decided to give Thatcher a piece of his mind as is reported to have ‘assailed her for twenty minutes for her various shortcomings’. His irritation was manifest and it was said that his ‘thunderous’ and booming voice ‘could be heard out of the open window halfway across Horseguards Parade.

Exactly as he would have spoken to a recalcitrant footman or under-gardener (housemaids being in his wife’s domain). The lady must have given as good as she received because Soames was by the account many of us have heard, severely put out. Charles Moore describes his reaction in his first volume:

Christopher Soames reportedly complained to friends that he would have sacked his gamekeeper with more courtesy than Mrs Thatcher had shown him (though why one should expect gamekeepers to be shown less courtesy than Lord Soames in matters of employment was not clear).

On the other hand, it is abundantly clear that Margaret Thatcher had summed up Christopher Soames and his attitude to her and to the Conservative Party fairly accurately.

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