Last night, George Osborne interviewed Charles Moore to mark the publication of the second volume of Charles’s magisterial biography of Margaret Thatcher. You can watch the whole thing on the Policy Exchange website but one of the most striking things about the event, apart from Charles’s subtle needling of the Chancellor, was the questions that Osborne felt able to ask. He raised the issue of Thatcher’s legacy for the Tories in the north and Scotland, the poll tax and the question of when she should have gone. Even a few years ago asking these questions would have prompted a row, or at least some disquiet in the audience which had its share of veterans of the Thatcher years. But a proper, rounded discussion of Thatcher and her legacy is now possible.
Partly this is just because of the passage of time. But I think it also owes something to Charles’s biography, which present a sympathetic but rounded portrait of Thatcher, and the fact that the party now thinks it is in for another period of majority government.
When Osborne asked if Thatcher had misled the House of Commons over the Westland leak, Charles replied that the short answer to the question was yes. He said that if this had come out at the time, Thatcher would probably have had to resign. It is startling to think how different contemporary British history would be if Thatcher had been forced out in 1986.
One of the most entertaining parts of the evening came when Osborne suggested to Charles that Thatcher should have done what Cameron has done and announced that her second term would be her last. Charles, to much laughter, responded that what Cameron has done isn’t that clever as Osborne is having to run for leader for four years. But he did say that Thatcher should, as Denis had wanted, quit on the tenth anniversary of her becoming Prime Minister.