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The ‘Thatcher should quit’ splash that never was

11 April 2013

5:17 PM

11 April 2013

5:17 PM

When Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher did not have a great deal to do with The Spectator. She was not hostile, but slightly suspicious and perplexed. ‘This is Charles Moore,’ I remember her saying edgily as she introduced me to the Turkish prime minister at a reception. ‘He supports us some of the time.’ After the sinking of theBelgrano in May 1982, Ferdinand Mount, then the political editor, wrote a column deploring the incident and calling for a ceasefire. The then editor Alexander Chancellor, who had incited the piece when Ferdy had really wanted to fall silent altogether, put it all over the cover. Ferdy’s was an act of near-suicidal courage, as he was just about to leave to take up his job as the head of Mrs Thatcher’s policy unit at No. 10. She never said anything about it, and it had not the slightest effect on his work. It is inconceivable that a modern prime minister would be so laid back about employing someone so out of line with the overriding policy of the moment. If the Iron Lady thought well of a person, she would tolerate his unorthodoxy. She could, on occasion, be angry and vengeful, but very rarely was she petty.

Immediately after she won her third successive general election, in 1987, I took it into my head that it was time for her to go, and wrote what was intended as a cover piece saying so. Although editor, and therefore effectively unedited, I just had the wit to ask Ferdy Mount (who had returned to us) for his opinion. He said it would be mad to tell her to leave when she had just won another huge majority. He was right, of course, though I still think my essential argument — quit while you’re ahead — had some validity. I spiked my own piece. Anyway, I remain forever grateful to Ferdy. I am sure that if the article had appeared, Lady Thatcher would never have entrusted me with her life.

This is an extract from Charles Moore’s Spectator’s Notes from this week’s magazine. Click here to subscribe to the magazine and receive a FREE copy of the official authorised biography of Margaret Thatcher, by Charles Moore, worth £30.

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