The books that shaped Margaret Thatcher’s worldview

Jamie Weinstein | Senior Writer

What books shaped late conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher?

Nile Gardiner and Stephen Thompson, authors of the recently released “Margaret Thatcher on Leadership: Lessons for American Conservatives Today,” told The Daily Caller the former British Prime Minister, who passed away earlier this year, “was an avid reader throughout her life.”

“Books that had a major impact on shaping her worldview included Friedrich Hayek’s ‘The Road to Serfdom,’ Adam Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations,’ John Stuart Mill’s ‘On Liberty,’ and anything by Winston Churchill,” the authors said in an email. “She was also influenced by Edmund Burke.”

“In addition Thatcher loved history books,” they added. “Her favorite historians included Robert Conquest, Andrew Roberts and Norman Stone.”

Gardiner, who directs the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation, was a foreign policy aide to Thatcher in her post Downing Street years. A writer and consultant in Washington, D.C., Thompson lived in the United Kingdom during much of Thatcher’s prime ministership.

Gardnier and Thompson say that Thatcher “was always a conservative.”

“Margaret Thatcher was always a conservative, even during childhood,” they told TheDC. “She learned the importance of running a small business from her time working for her father’s grocer’s shop in Grantham. She was also strongly influenced by her father’s sermons as a Methodist lay preacher, which were infused with a strong conservative message. She greatly admired Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister during World War Two (who later led Britain again from 1951 to 1955).”

See more of TheDC’s interview with the authors below:

Why did you write the book?

This is a book written to inspire American conservatives, based upon the example and principles of Margaret Thatcher, one of the greatest leaders of our time. The timing of this book is important. Barack Obama heads the most liberal presidency since Jimmy Carter, big government is on the rise, and the United States is perceived as a declining superpower, drowning under $17 trillion of debt. This is a time for strong conservative leadership in America, just as Thatcher stood up to the Left in Britain in the 1970s and turned her country around.

What made Thatcher a great leader?

Thatcher was above all a conviction politician, who had a clear set of conservative beliefs and principles, which she led by. She was a remarkably decisive leader, who also possessed both tremendous physical and political courage. She had a good understanding of the concerns of ordinary voters, and was in touch with what is commonly known as “Middle England,” with a strong grasp of their hopes and aspirations. Thatcher, like Reagan, was a great communicator, able to reach out to millions of people with tremendous empathy, always delivering a positive message of hope and inspiration.

Where were her leadership qualities forged?

Thatcher’s leadership qualities were forged at an early age, when she worked in her father’s grocer’s shop in the town of Grantham, Lincolnshire. She was strongly influenced by her father Alfred Roberts, who was also the Mayor of Grantham. As a child growing up during World War Two she looked up to Sir Winston Churchill, the great wartime prime minister, whom she saw as a role model. Many of her political leadership skills were developed as a young Member of Parliament, and subsequently during her time as Britain’s Secretary of State for Education and later Leader of the Opposition.

What American political leaders are the most Thatcher-esque?

Several Members of Congress have displayed the kind of leadership principles that Lady Thatcher stood for, including Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, who have been leading opponents of Obamacare. Significantly, both are strong admirers of Margaret Thatcher.

Where did Thatcher’s nickname the “Iron Lady” come from?

The nickname was coined by a young Russian Army Officer, Yury Gavrilov, who reported on a speech Thatcher gave in London’s Kensington Town Hall in 1976, writing in the newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda (“Red Star”). The origins of the “Iron Lady” nickname are outlined in detail in Margaret Thatcher on Leadership.

What are the most important lessons of Thatcher’s leadership that conservatives today should heed?

Thatcher always stood by her principles. She wasn’t a believer in consensus politics, or following focus groups or the latest political fads. She firmly rejected the idea that conservative politicians need to move to the center ground in order to win. Thatcher demonstrated how a conservative leader who was proud to be a conservative, and always stood by her beliefs, could win three general elections.

What is the most interesting story or anecdote you discovered researching the book?

Thatcher’s leadership during the Falklands War was hugely impressive. She succeeded in assembling and launching a naval task force to retake the Islands (which had been invaded by Argentina in 1982) within just 48 hours. The Falklands were liberated in 11 weeks. During the course of writing the book, Thatcher’s personal papers from 1982 were released, including key documents during the time of the Falklands War. The papers showed just how deeply many members of her own government were opposed to military action against Argentina. Many Conservative Members of Parliament urged the prime minister not to go to war, and instead negotiate a deal with the military junta in Buenos Aires. Thatcher would have none of it, and pressed ahead with the campaign to free the Falklands Islanders. Britain was ultimately victorious. This is real leadership.

How did Thatcher become a conservative?

Margaret Thatcher was always a conservative, even during childhood. She learned the importance of running a small business from her time working for her father’s grocer’s shop in Grantham. She was also strongly influenced by her father’s sermons as a Methodist lay preacher, which were infused with a strong conservative message. She greatly admired Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister during World War Two (who later led Britain again from 1951 to 1955).

Was Thatcher a big reader? What books most influenced her worldview?

Yes, she was an avid reader throughout her life. Books that had a major impact on shaping her world view included Friedrich Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom,” Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations,” John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty,” and anything by Winston Churchill. She was also influenced by Edmund Burke. In addition Thatcher loved history books. Her favorite historians included Robert Conquest, Andrew Roberts and Norman Stone.

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