Book review: A Journey with Margaret Thatcher
This article is from the June 2013 issue of Total Politics
If you want an engaging whistlestop tour of Margaret Thatcher’s foreign policy, then this book hits the spot. Robin Renwick’s A Journey with Margaret Thatcher reminds us how much the late prime minister achieved on the world political stage against a backdrop of major reform at home. From her relentless pursuit of the Argentine aggressors in the Falklands to her fearless clashes with the big beasts of Europe, Renwick portrays a woman who succeeded against all odds on a mission to restore Britain’s global standing.
It’s difficult to say anything new about the Iron Lady, but as ambassador to South Africa during the last days of apartheid and key official during the infamous EC negotiations, Renwick’s renditions sparkle with personal anecdotes. For example, the time when he stressed to Thatcher, before meeting Mandela, that the anti-apartheid campaigner had waited 27 years to tell his story, she replied, “You mean I mustn’t interrupt him?” There is also an abundance of witty sketches detailing the relationships between Thatcher and her European counterparts.
Renwick offers a compelling rebuttal of claims that Thatcher was a friend of apartheid. He explains that she opposed sanctions to maintain influence over the white regime, and not to endorse a racist agenda, which she vehemently opposed. Interventions in Rhodesia and Namibia – she threatened the white South African rulers that if they used air strikes “the whole world will be against you, led by me!” – further paint the picture of a leader whose intentions were honourable. Even Mandela recognised “a very powerful lady, one I would much rather have on my side”.
Thatcher makes no less of an impact on American foreign policy, convincing Ronald Reagan to do business with Mikhail Gorbachev, and persuading him to provide equipment to help build the Siberian pipeline to secure British interests. And when the Americans failed to impress with their “woolly” ideas for resolving the Falklands stalemate, Renwick recalls she reminded them they were not dealing with Neville Chamberlain.
The beauty about Renwick’s book is that it gives context to Thatcher’s foreign policy. As a child of the war, she was inherently suspicious of a strong Germany, and therefore opposed reunification. As a capitalist, communism was the enemy and she fought it at all costs. Following Suez, she vowed never to enter a war with no end. As a qualified barrister, she had utmost respect for the rule of law when considering military intervention.
The trouble with A Journey with Margaret Thatcher, however, is that its weakness lies in its strength. It is a deeply affectionate and occasionally revelatory personal tribute, but it is shamelessly uncritical of Thatcher. It is brief and punchy, and at times flies through chapters that warrant more detail and explanation. And yet, for a politician who has been too often misunderstood, this is an important portrait of a resolute and patriotic leader whose deeply held convictions helped put our small country back onto the world map.
A Journey with Margaret Thatcher: Foreign Policy under the Iron Lady by Robin Renwick - Biteback Publishing, £20