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Once, the No Turning Back group — her most committed backbench supporters — invited her to discuss a pamphlet on education policy we had produced. She tore into it. Counter-arguments were similarly eviscerated. After she left, those who had never experienced this before concluded that it was true that our heroine just would not listen to perfectly reasonable arguments. Having worked with her on policy papers and speeches before becoming an MP I reassured them: we had won the argument, now she would go back to the officials who had briefed her and hurl our arguments back at them. Sure enough, the policies in that pamphlet soon became government policy.

In cabinet committees, she would often open by spelling out her own views and asking for comments. On one occasion, after every single minister round the table had dissented, she exclaimed, “Am I the only person who thinks we should do this?” To which the chancellor (who, by convention, does not disagree with the prime minister in front of colleagues) replied: “Yes, prime minister, but your views are not without influence.”

By contrast, John Major would go around the Cabinet table soliciting views, not revealing his own until his summing up. To prepare our negotiating position over the draft Maastricht Treaty he asked each cabinet minister to rate the issues affecting their own department as A — desirable, B — undesirable but tolerable and C — unacceptable. After the tour de table, I pointed out that no minister had rated any of their items as A — positively desirable: so, should we not be negotiating to bring about a breakdown in the talks? John Major, who had a strong sense of honour, replied simply: “That would be dishonourable.” The option of openly rejecting the treaty, as Cameron later did, seemed out of the question. So we negotiated a treaty knowing it had only negative implications for the UK.

Mrs Thatcher’s powerful convictions and clear agenda have imprinted on many of us a template of what a prime minister should be. This is not just among Conservatives. Many on the Left yearn for their own left-wing Thatcher. Some look back to Attlee as a proto-socialist Thatcher, albeit more taciturn, driving through his programme of nationalisation and establishing a centralised welfare state.

However, Gimson shows how rare it is for prime ministers to have a clear agenda or even a clear philosophy. Churchill did in the context of war, as did both Pitts. Attlee, he notes, simply applied to peacetime problems the top-down, command-and-control approach which had been essential and necessary in war. Gladstone was the nearest peacetime equivalent to Thatcher. But the norm is for prime ministers to want to be someone rather than to do something: to manage events as they arise rather than set the agenda.

We are certainly wrong to be surprised, even if we are disappointed, that her successors have been in that managerial, reactive mould rather than conviction politicians.
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