Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister in 1979, the first woman to hold the position, and the first woman in the Western world to lead a nation.
Within two years she was beset by troubles, and it seemed her historic government would be short-lived. In 1981 unemployment had risen to levels not seen since the 1930s and public finances foundered in their worst state since 1945. The ‘no hope’ budget delivered by Chancellor Geoffrey Howe in March marked the beginning of a six-month period which witnessed pressures in Northern Ireland, hunger strikes, urban riots and unprecedented unrest within the Conservative Party.
By the Cabinet reshuffle of 14 September, in which mutinous grandees were removed, Thatcher had firmly reasserted her authority. This extraordinary six-month period would come to define the Conservative Party’s most successful and divisive modern figure: to her detractors a harsh, uncaring and dogmatic leader who made the country a more unequal, materialistic and brutal place; to her supporters, the saviour of a Britain which was becoming an ungovernable socialist state. The 1983 general election would prove a triumph.
Kwasi Kwarteng here captures this shopkeeper’s daughter’s unique leadership qualities – from her pulpit style and New Testament imagery to her emphasis on personal moral responsibility – in some of the most adverse conditions facing any statesman in modern peacetime to offer a compelling study of arguably the most significant six months in British post-war history.