Mrs T – the long view

My copy of Ferdinand Mount’s book, “The New Few, Or a Very British Oligarchy”, arrived in the post just as news was breaking of Margaret Thatcher’s death. As he used to work for her, his analysis is more interesting than most of the reheated punditry and eulogizing filling the airwaves at the moment:

Britain in the twenty-first century is certainly not a full-blown oligarchy. What we live in would be better described as a flabby, corroded type of liberal democracy, in which the oligarchs have been enjoying a free run…

The trouble is that, on the whole, politicians can only think about one thing at a time. In the 1980s and 90s the overwhelming imperative was to bring Britain back from the brink of economic collapse. All that mattered was to make her industries and services competitive again, to liberate the energies of her managers and to turn the country back into a place that people wanted to live and work in. In that desperate, eleventh-hour enterprise,  Margaret Thatcher was a towering figure, indefatigable and implacable. The force of her personality was, if anything, more respected and admired overseas, but very few people would seriously deny the extent of her achievement. Unfortunately, in the heat and smoke of that long and painful battle, other abiding imperatives were lost sight of: the need to maintain the shape of our democratic institutions, the need to preserve the local dimension,  the proper governance of companies and the importance of making them fully accountable to their shareholders and to the public interest, the need to keep markets free of harmful monopolies and to root out restrictive practices in the boardroom no less than on the shop floor.

Half the time, I have to confess, I was as blind to these other imperatives as most people. In fact, I was in a tiny way complicit, a foot soldier in the long march towards oligarchy.

One of the most complimentary reviews of the book, btw, came from the ex-PM’s official biographer.

UPDATE: John Rentoul, on the other hand, found it “comically trite”.

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