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Book review: There Is No Alternative

Claire Berlinski Basic Books, £16.99

THIS book is the first cuckoo of spring, the harbinger of whole flocks of books on Margaret Thatcher that will appear before, during and even after the 30th anniversary of her coming to power.

Some of the books will be good and some bad. I would say this one comes about halfway in between. Berlinski shows commitment and energy as an author, beside an ability to wheedle great men into telling her things they might not have vouchsafed to anybody else. They continue to do this even when her persistence embarrasses them, so she must be quite a charmer.

The text consists largely of transcripts of her interviews, interspersed with expositions by herself of the great issues at stake (occasionally a little wearisome). I think she would have done better to incorporate all this raw material into some more coherent narrative of her own.

Berlinski does, after all, have a story to tell. She is a Young Person, an American who has already seen a lot of the world. She is not old enough to possess any personal memories of the impact Thatcher made in her time. Yet Berlinski feels her world has been shaped by Thatcher. And this, I would have thought, might have formed some more unifying theme for the large amounts of original material on offer here.

Berlinski is at her best when dealing with the enemies of Thatcherism. Her encounters with Neil Kinnock are tactical masterpieces, where she draws the Welsh windbag out and then deflates his woolly thinking with as much cool, perhaps cruel, precision as Thatcher herself did.

One strong presence never actually appears in the text: Arthur Scargill. The only product of her efforts to meet him was an exchange of e-mails with Linda Sheridan, a representative of his Socialist Labour Party.

It ended with this verdict from Sheridan on Thatcher's present state of health: "When one lives one's life on a narrow path, without compassion and understanding for the deeper issues in life, when temporal power is taken away, one invariably falls into a spiritual abyss of self-doubt and loneliness. Some people call it karma."

Is Arthur somewhere clad in saffron with a begging bowl, one wonders?

 
 
 

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