The Downing Street Years by Margaret Thatcher

Downing Street Years

All I can say is “I can’t believe I took so long to read this!”  I have owned this book for 20 years, and for 20 years it has sat on my shelf collecting dust.  I have always been a fan of Margaret Thatcher, but somehow felt I was not well versed enough in British politics to appreciate Lady Thatcher’s memoirs of her time as Prime Minister.

In some ways, it is very interesting to read this book now.  From the outset, the Britain she faced when taking office was very much like America today:

“…the British Government soon jammed a finger in every pie.  It levied high rates of tax on work, enterprise, consumption and wealth transfer.  it planned development at every level – urban, rural, industrial and scientific.  It managed the economy, macro-economically by Keynesian methods of fiscal manipulation, micro-economically by granting regional and industrial subsidies on a variety of criteria.”

“It made available various forms of welfare for a wide range of contingencies – poverty, unemployment, large families, old age, misfortune, ill-health, family quarrels – generally on a universal basis.”

“Labour moved Britain towards statism; the Tories stood pat; and the next Labour Government moved the country a little further left.  The Tories were the corset of socialism; they never removed it.”

Mrs. Thatcher described the economic problems Britain faced as having evolved from the ideal of a “democratic socialist society” that Labour espoused.

“No theory of government was ever given a fairer test or a more prolonged experiment in a democratic society than democratic socialism received in Britain. Yet it was a miserable failure in every respect.”

Fortunately for Prime Minister Thatcher, Britain’s system of government meant that as long as she convinced her Tory party members to back her, she had a free hand reversing the course set by Labour.  She understood that her primary goals were to set the British economy on a better footing through deregulation, privatization, debt reduction, income tax reduction, and sound fiscal policy.  Another large component of her administration was to raise Britain up to, once again, a high ranking power in the world.  When she left office she had accomplished these goals.

I was fascinated with her chapters on improving Britain’s economy, dealings with the European Council and the way she took on the trade unions.  The Falkland War chapters were also enlightening.  I have studied much about the collapse of the Soviet Union and it’s relations with the United States, so Thatcher’s discussion of these events and the repercussions to Europe were particularly interesting.

One the things that kept me from reading this book for so long, was my fear that I was not familiar enough with British politics or government to fully appreciate this memoir.  In some instances that was true.  Lady Thatcher used so many acronyms that were lost on me.  I had to look up many, and oftentimes, even when I understood what they now meant,  the people and departments were still too foreign for me to fully comprehend.  That said, those times were the minority.

Margaret Thatcher had a keen insight about the way the world works.  Her writing is powerful – her speechwriters always claimed that they never wrote her speeches, but that she wrote them and they “helped.”  There were many times I wanted to yell “Yes!” to an eloquent comment she made, or picked up the phone to call someone to further discuss something she had said in the book.   There’s an old game people play where you are asked if you could choose one person, living or dead, to sit down to dinner with, who would it be?  I can most definitely say it would be Margaret Thatcher.

4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1993
914 pages

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About Suzanne

I'm a stay-at-home mom with three kids who loves to read.
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