Reuters blog archive
By Martin Hutchinson
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
The first volume of Charles Moore’s authorized biography of Margaret Thatcher covers the British prime minister’s life “From Grantham to the Falklands”. In his recounting of her childhood and early years in power, Moore shows her great determination, which was often needed to overcome previous mistakes.
Moore, an Old Etonian, reveals a snobbish disdain for Thatcher’s father Alfred Roberts, who by small-town standards was highly successful (he became mayor of Grantham) and a strong personality who inculcated in her values that were to last for life. Roberts was also initially a Liberal, which became important in his daughter’s later iconoclastic approach to long-established institutions, contrary to the traditions of her Conservative party. Moore is generally interesting on her early life, having traced school friends, university friends and old boyfriends, who painted a picture of an attractive young lady of great abilities and even more self-confidence.
Thatcher’s rise up the Tory party ranks owed much to luck, although her immense capacity for hard work, careful preparation and her husband Denis’s solid financial position also contributed. She was lucky to get a safe Conservative seat in Finchley for the 1959 election, even after diverting her political career for several years to marriage, the bar and motherhood.
from Nicholas Wapshott:
A young girl holds a picture of Bobby Sands in a republican march to mark the 20th anniversary of the IRA hunger strike at the Maze prison in Northern Ireland May 27. REUTERS/Archive
Barely a week after Margaret Thatcher’s funeral in London, her ghost is stalking the corridors of power. At his press conference on Tuesday in Washington, President Barack Obama was asked about Guantánamo Bay prisoners refusing to eat. In doing so, the veteran CBS reporter Bill Plante, who asked the question, exposed a running sore in the Obama administration. He also invited direct comparison between Obama and Lady Thatcher – who faced a similar dilemma in 1981.
from John Lloyd:
There’s no time more apt for murmuring the ending of Brutus’s speech in Julius Caesar than the week of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral: “The evil men do lives after them/the good is oft interred with their bones.” No time better, either, to add that the “evil” that, in this case one woman, did is little examined by her detractors, who prefer to stick to a diabolical version of her 12-year rule.
Margaret Thatcher (narrowly) won the 1979 election because the Labour government of the 1970s, under Prime Ministers Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, had unsuccessfully tried to make a contract with the trade unions. In such a contract, pay would have been calibrated to productivity, and increases would be low in order to bring down high rates of inflation and to keep up investment in the socialized education, health and welfare institutions that disproportionately benefited the lower classes. It was the kind of social deal that the Germans and the Scandinavians had and still – in part – have: one that produces economies that, not by chance, have escaped the worst of the economic buffeting of the past five years.
from The Great Debate:
The passing of Margaret Thatcher comes at a time when the great theme that shaped her years as Britain’s prime minister – the frontier between government and the private sector – is again the focus of serious public debate. Her historic achievement was to widen the frontiers of the “market” and, as she said, to have “rolled back the frontiers of the state.”
There is, however, a pendulum in this relationship between government and private sector. The role of government in the economy has expanded greatly since the 2008 financial collapse, along with government debt. So we will likely again see a struggle to rebalance the respective realms of state and market. And it will again be a battle.
from Chrystia Freeland:
Pity Barack Obama. Everything in his life experience prepared him to be the president who would take on the big challenge of the 21st century: rising income inequality and the hollowing out of the middle class.
His peripatetic youth taught him about the price of plutocracy. In an interview unearthed by Zachary A. Goldfarb of the Washington Post, in 1995 Barack Obama, plugging his autobiography, "Dreams From My Father," recalled that experience for the Hyde Park Citizen, his neighborhood edition of a newspaper that bills itself as the "Premiere African American Weekly" in Chicago.
from Anatole Kaletsky:
Among all the obituaries and encomiums about Margaret Thatcher, very few have drawn the lesson from her legacy that is most relevant for the world today. Lady Thatcher is remembered as the quintessential conviction politician. But judged by her actions rather than her rhetoric, she was actually much more compromising and pragmatic than the politicians who now dominate Europe. And it was Thatcher’s tactical flexibility, as much as her deep convictions, that accounted for her successes in the economic field.
Governments in Europe and Britain today are obsessed with hitting preordained and unconditional targets: Inflation must be kept below 2 percent; deficits must be reduced to 3 percent of gross domestic product; government debt must be set on a declining path; banks must be recapitalized to arbitrary ratios laid down by some committee in Basel. In sacrificing their citizens’ well-being and their own political careers to these numerical totems, modern leaders often claim inspiration from Thatcher. And when voters turn against them, Europe’s leaders keep repeating Thatcher’s most famous slogans, “There is no alternative” and “No U-turn”. But are these the right lessons to draw from Thatcher’s political life? A closer look at her economic achievements suggests otherwise.
The passing of the UK’s former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has brought the issue of her work privatizing public assets to the surface. When she began her efforts, her country was in desperate need of revenue. However, there were deeper reasons for her privatization binge. From the FT.com:
Mrs. Thatcher embraced it initially as a way to reduce public debt after the 1980-81 recession. It was only when the £4bn flotation of British Telecom in 1984 proved hugely successful – with the offer almost 10 times subscribed – that she seized on its political possibilities for rolling back socialism.
from Nicholas Wapshott:
When Margaret Thatcher met Ronald Reagan in April 1975, neither was in their first flush of youth. She was 50 and he 65. She was the leader of Britain’s opposition; he a former governor of California. It was by no means obvious that either would win power. They bonded instantly.
Although born almost a generation and an ocean and continent apart, they found they were completing each other’s sentences. Both instinctive politicians rather than taught ideologues, they discovered they had both found validation for their convictions in the works of Friedrich Hayek, at that time a long-forgotten theorist even among conservatives.
from The Great Debate:
My immediate and lasting memory of Mrs. Thatcher -- Maggie as we called her -- is sitting next to her in the late sixties at a dinner table as she scorched a bunch of City of London financial types. I was astonished. She wasn't yet the Iron Lady. She wasn't in government. Labour was in power. She was an obscure back bench Conservative MP, elected only in 1959, noticed in those sexist days (has much changed?) as much for her hats and aggressive hair style as for her passionate defence of grammar schools under threat of closure from Labour.
What she did with the City of London men was later characterised as a "hand-bagging." A black Asprey bag she always carried was metaphorically wielded against people she saw as standing in the way of the greatness of Britain as Boudica, the leader of a British tribe, wielded a lance against the Roman occupiers. I suppose that as a new national editor (of The Sunday Times), and with normal male presumption , I had expected to lead the questioning of the ten or so big names and the table. I didn't stand a chance. Maggie pounded and pummeled them all by herself for an hour. I can't pretend this is verbatim but it went something like this: "All you people are interested in is moving paper around, making money not things. What are you doing for British industry? When are you going to help business stand up to the unions?" They murmured, they shuffled, they were outclassed. British elections -- six weeks to a vote and no paid television ads -- have never been as corrupted by money as much as American, so she was not turning off a potential source of funding as an American candidate would fear to do. Still these were men -- all men of course -- who were influential and articulate and used to reverence not rebuke.
from The Great Debate:
This piece originally appeared in Reuters Magazine
Every year publishers release dozens, if not hundreds, of books about leadership. These books range from how-to books written by tenured professors of management theory at Harvard Business School to inspirational tracts generated by motivational speakers and longtime high school football coaches. While it’s evident that an eager audience exists for leadership books, how useful could they actually be? After all, if it were possible to become an effective leader simply by reading a stack of books, then presumably there would be a lot more good leaders in the world.
Assuming it’s possible to learn leadership lessons from a book, it seems even more likely that one could glean authoritative wisdom from reading biographies of great leaders, people who were not only influential but who actually succeeded in changing the world. Biographies, moreover, have the advantage of being real stories and, unlike leadership self-help books, are often composed by excellent writers. They appeal to a much broader class of reader, including the kind of people who might once have read epic poems or romances, tales of gods and heroes and their mysterious ways. If it’s true that biographies of great leaders constitute a higher form of leadership literature, several questions remain: How do the biographers deal with the subject? Do they take lessons from leadership books or leadership theory? And do they agree—as many of the how-to books maintain—that leadership lessons can be distilled and presented independently of the leaders themselves, and transferred from one field of accomplishment to another? Seeking instruction, I turned to three distinguished biographers for guidance. Here are a few lessons I learned about leadership lessons.