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A Conservative Coup.

A Conservative Coup. Alan Watkins. Duckworth. 14.99 [pounds].

The political columnist of The Observer describes here in dramatic blow-by-blow detail the 36 hours in November 1990: in which a Prime Minister in good health and with a substantial majority in the House was removed from office by her own supporters, most of whom owed their Cabinet jobs to her choosing.

Watkins writes incisively and with much acid in his pen-portraits. Not all his dramatis personae will always recognise, or welcome, his descriptions. |Mr. Ridley seemed to have been intended by nature to be an evictor of widows and oppressor of orphans'. |While Mr. Lawson looked on the world as a philosopher or mathematician, seeking the flash of an inspired generalisation, Sir Geoffrey Howe plodded through life as a painstaking lawyer.' |Mrs. Thatcher possessed two methods of discourse denial and assertion. It was a mistake to believe, as many did, that Mrs. Thatcher's style of politics was founded on a fondness for facts and distrust of vagueness and generalisation. On the contrary, it was a form of bullying.'

This is a piece of higher journalism rooted in detailed knowledge of the players and of the play; it is readable and meaty. Watkins sees two of Mrs. Thatcher's achievements as unchallengeable: the sale of council houses and the reform of the trades unions. Mrs. Thatcher herself was always kindly, frugal and in her own way modest. But for Watkins a decline in her standing began with the City crash and the inflation of autumn 1987; it was compounded by the poll tax, in which too many hands -- too many of them amateur and academic -- were working at the pump; and climaxed with her stridency in the House on Europe, which for Sir Geoffrey Howe became an occasion for bitterness and resignation. (Why, however, did he hang on so long? And why did she not replace Sir Geoffrey by Douglas Hurd much earlier?).

Conspiracy is, in fact, easier now than ever before, aided the abetted by too many small dining clubs, with journalists as well as MPs as members, all eagerly fanning each other's ambitions, rich in rumour and intrigue, all hot for the publicity that is mother's milk to politicians. Moreover, most of the personalities here clinically exposed, were youngish men; the elder statesmen of the party were no longer active on the scene, and of those who might have served as moderators too many were nursing their hurts, or were just absentees. Too many of the men Mrs. Thatcher had appointed were too greedy for a temporary fame in a TV spotlight to remember that loyalty is the most valuable, and today one of the rarest, qualities in politics. Whatever the fashions and the style that the media imposed on all three parties in the recent election, it is clear that British politics is not presidential but prime ministerial; and that among a Caesar's selected colleagues many are keen to play the role of Brutus. And in November 1990 it was a close-run thing. More than that: those who are English had best be on their guard against the Scots and the Welsh.

Esmond Wright
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Author:Wright, Esmond
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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