Interacting with Maggie Thatcher

From John Lanchester’s “1979 and all that: Margaret Thatcher’s revolution”, in the 8/5/13 New Yorker (p. 71), with remarks on her managerial competence and her conversational skills.

After the breakdown of the Heath government in 1974,

[from biographer Charles Moore] “officials quickly came to recognize that Mrs, Thatcher was not, in the normal managerial sense, much good at running things.” This last point is confirmed by an astonishing memo, titled “Your political survival,” by a close adviser in 1981:

You break every rule of good man-management. You bully your weaker colleagues. You criticise colleagues in front of each other and in front of their officials. They can’t answer back without appearing disrespectful, in front of others, to a woman and to a Prime Minister. You abuse that situation. You give little praise or credit, and you are too ready to blame others when things go wrong.

She was literal-minded well beyond a fault, needed jokes explained to her at length, and could be relied on to grasp the wrong end of any proffered stick, and had, as one of her ministers said, the habit of “jumping the rails” in conversation. Moore gives an example:

On one occasion, I asked her a question about her mother’s occupations. She replied that her mother had been a good seamstress and “she did wonderful voluntary work. And that’s the thing about the women of Britain — they do wonderful voluntary work — not like French women,” and before I could stop her, she had made her escape from an uncongenial subject to the area of politial generalization which she preferred.

As for her strengths, Lanchester writes that the greatest of these

was her unfeigned and bone-deep truthfulness. Even those of us who disliked her could see that her public self was not, as with so many public figures, a false one. She was who she seemed to be, and she meant what she said, and she did not shrink from saying things that she knew her audience did not want to hear.

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