James Forsyth

The lunch that began the end of the Cold War

The lunch that began the end of the Cold War
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It is one of the great counterfactuals of contemporary history, what if Mikhail Gorbachev had walked out of that Chequers lunch with Margaret Thatcher in 1984? As Charles Moore explained at last night’s Spectator event to celebrate the launch of the second volume of his Thatcher biography, that lunch—where Thatcher and Gorbachev debated capitalism and Communism—was key to the ending of the Cold War. For Thatcher then persuaded Ronald Reagan that he should meet Gorbachev and that Gorbachev was someone they could do business with. But Gorbachev had almost left Chequers early, his wife had mouthed to him across the table ‘should we go now?’ as Thatcher hammered away at the Communist system and Soviet support for the striking miners

In discussion with Andrew Neil, Charles remarked that the one aspect of the reception of the book that he had been disappointed with, was how everyone had concentrated on the domestic side of things. Charles argued that not enough attention had been paid to Thatcher's ‘pivotal’ role on the world stage.

One particularly fascinating part of their conversation was about the famous Sunday Times’ exclusive, ‘Queen dismayed by “uncaring” Thatcher’. Given that Andrew, was the editor of The Sunday Times who published the story, and that Charles is Thatcher’s authorised biographer you could only have had a more informed discussion about it if the Queen had been there herself. Intriguingly, Charles revealed that the Queen was so worried about the story that she rang Thatcher on the Saturday afternoon before it appeared to reassure her of her respect for her.

Charles was clear that while he is not uncritical of Thatcher—he says that she misled the Commons over the Westlands leak and that she mismanaged her relations with colleagues. However, he said, she couldn’t have handled the miners’ strike differently than she did; Scargill and the NUM had to be defeated and that there was no other way to do it.