The Invincible Mrs. Thatcher

With Britain’s Tories back in power—and a biopic starring Meryl Streep on its way—the career of Margaret Thatcher is newly resonant. A conservative revolutionary, she prefigured, then partnered with, Ronald Reagan, worshipping “real men” as she went where no woman had, never losing a national election (or a war), and defining an era. Twenty years after Thatcher’s retirement, her biographer Charles Moore re-assesses the most powerful British prime minister since Churchill, one who forged a legacy that will long survive her.

  1. READ Thatcher’s revealing first interview after she left office in 1991

    * * *

    Not long after she resigned as prime minister, in 1990, Margaret Thatcher began to write her memoirs. I met her at a dinner party and asked her what she would call them. The famous blue eyes flashed at me: “Undefeated!” she declared.

    This expressed a sober arithmetical fact. Uniquely at that time in British politics, Margaret Thatcher had won three general elections in a row as party leader and had never lost any. Before she had the chance to contest her fourth, she was deposed by members of Parliament from her own party in a coup. Yet, even in that contest, the pure numbers were on her side. In 1990, when the Conservative Party staged a challenge to her leadership, she won more legislators’ votes than her main rival, but not enough to avoid a second ballot. Her Cabinet colleagues convinced her that she would be humiliated in the runoff, and she resigned.

    In the end, those memoirs were given a more boring title (The Downing Street Years), but that one-word exclamation succinctly expressed the great Thatcher myth of invincibility. And in a sense it was true. Much more than any other modern British politician—particularly Conservative politicians accustomed to swimming against a leftish cultural tide—Margaret Thatcher fought, and Margaret Thatcher won. Her victory was so great that it changed her political opponents—the Labour Party—as much as it changed her own party. Her defeat of the left m...