One of Us by Hugo Young (Macmillan £16.95) IT seems absurd to say that a great, fat (546 pages) wellresearched fact-studded, indeed definitive account of the first ten years of Mrs Thatchers rule (not quite reign, yet) is one vast question mark. Is it a tribute to a Guardian political correspondent's impartiality and objectivity, or w her uniqueness, that we should be left with yet another version of the timeless, unanswerable riddle do times produce characters or are they produced by them?
Obvious, some will say the greater the "character", the greater the mere ability to ride the crests of inevitable change. Must we suppose that classical music would have gone on for ever in the eighteenth century idiom if Beethoven hadn't broken the mould? Would there really still be an unchanged Fleet Street, with clanking hot-metal linotype machines and the rest of it, if post-Toxteth-strengthened police had not made the Wapping Times practicable?
Would over half of British Telecom shares have been bought by "workers" (whatever they are) if this wasn't already the way workers were moving anyway? And isn't Mr Young right to say that "only the deluded Left could persuade itself that the non-Tory vote, 58 per cent in 1987, was politically more significant that the non-Labour vote of 69 per cent", and to remind us of the tendency of "such socialist governments as were elected in France, Australia and New Zealand, for example to adopt highly conservative policies" also.
Nonsense, others will say. Single-handed she cut one tentacle after another of the trade
union octopus stranglehold, its very work-delimiting ethos the paradoxical product of an imperialist sense that the world owes us a living. In the dark days of 1980-81, not for turning, she stuck to her guns of monetary control; in 1982 she stuck to our guns in the Falklands.
Politically blooded on purely internal economic affairs, a novice in diplomacy, she showed she could turn, however unwillingly, at the Lusaka conference preceding the Rhodesia settlement ("inside the iron casing is a soft heart", said the Times of Zambia) and she is now respected on the world stage, even by the EEC, our disproportionately large contribution to which she handbagged them into reducing or even Ireland, or that part of it represented by Dr Fitzgerald with whom she made the brave Agreement; if not by Mr
Haughey (and.it's mutual) . . .
Mr Young, apart form the odd aside ("a harrying inquiry as to why I didn't abandon journalism and start doing something really useful, like setting up a small business") or even the odd mixed metaphor ("Lord Prior, Lord Pym, Lord St John and others had to content themselves with making cautionary noises, of no political significance, from the museum of extinct volcanoes"), gives the facts.
Grantham childhood dominated by penny-pinching Nonconformist-work-ethos autodidact father Alderman Roberts (mother not even mentioned in Who's Who), Oxford (her link between quasinorthern Grantham and her present-day Home Counties persona) where Somerville tutor Janet Vaughan said "If I had interesting, amusing people staying with me, I would never have thought of asking Margaret Roberts except as a Conservative".
Later, Dr Jonathan Miller was to speak of "her odious suburban gentility" and the Baroness Warnock, seeing her on TV buying clothes at Marks & Spencer, thought it "packaged together in a way that's not exactly vulgar, hust low" and confessed to "a kind of rage" whenever she thought about her. With enemies like these, who needs friends?
In 1965 Heath let her into his Shadow Cabinet as the then statutory woman ("she's much the most able", but he says "once she's there we'll never be able to get rid of her") and in 1975, for his pains, saw her displace him as the Tory leader.
The rest we know (although if, as Mr Young suggests, readers send corrections, etc, for the inevitable next edition, I'd suggest a year date on every page, or maybe a timetable summary at the end, so we know where we are. I mean, for instance, hands up who knows what year the awful Giscard D'Estaing called her la fille d'epicier?)!
She seems to have won the south and lost the north, especially Scotland. But surely what worries us floating voters is the disappearance of all those metal-bashing factories in the Midlands, the lack of a real motor industry (would we still have one if she'd been there in Red Robbo's time?), the transformation of great manufacturing centres like Glasgow and Birmingham into joke parks and conference centres (and if hi-tech is replacing all this, what about HOTOL, then?) One quite sees that she is not personally responsible for our industrial attitudes. But she leads a Britain for which the visual surrogate is that film cartoon cliché, A chasing B over a cliff, both going on till one or both looks down, and — aargh.
One can't help feeling that Mrs T has it in her to make it to the opposite bank. But how one hopes that when she gets there, with us following her, she will unsay her now famous saying "there is no such thing as society".
Paul Jennings was for many years a regular in the Observer with his -Oddly Enough'' column