April 14, 2008


How Margaret Thatcher went from 'Madam Prime Minister' to 'Dear Margaret': Mrs Thatcher's unique bond with Ronald Reagan defined her premiership (John O'Sullivan, 4/14/08, Daily Telegraph)

It was Reagan who first set out to cultivate Thatcher, rather than the other way round. They met in London shortly after she became Tory leader in 1975 and found they agreed on most political topics. But it was Reagan who thereafter kept the friendship going by sending her regular reports of his political activities.

Whether out of genuine affection or long-range political calculation - probably a mixture of both - Reagan wanted a best friend in European politics.

Once both were in power, of course, the balance of friendship changed considerably. It was now in Thatcher's (and Britain's) interest to have such a close friend in the White House. And Reagan delivered handsomely on his promise of partnership from the first.

When Thatcher arrived in Washington in early 1981 on a state visit, she was in the depths both of unpopularity and of economic recession. Reagan's senior economic advisers wanted the president to distance himself and his economic programme from Thatcherism - and said so publicly. Instead the president gave a ringing speech of support for his British partner and declared that both they and their economic programmes would be "home safe and soon enough".

That looks far-sighted today. But it was a risky and brave commitment in the dark days of 1981 - and therefore a telling proof of the reliability of Reagan's friendship.

Soon after this trip "Mr President" and "Madam Prime Minister" were replaced by "Dear Ron" and "Dear Margaret". Thatcher and Reagan had forged a partnership over the whole range of policy that lasted, with occasional disagreements but no fundamental breach, until January 11, 1989.

What enabled it to work so well? First, Reagan sincerely liked Thatcher. He admired her Boadicea act when she was working with him, and he was amused by it when she was opposing him. On one latter such occasion he took a phone call from her during a Cabinet meeting. As she complained loudly down the line, he held up the phone so that his colleagues could hear her.

"Isn't she marvellous," he said.

Thatcher, for her part, was careful always to be respectful to the president even when she was bitterly disagreeing with him. In his indispensable study of the Reagan-Thatcher partnership, Geoffrey Smith describes her technique: "She would employ the device of turning to the Secretary of State or the National Security Adviser and saying 'Al' or 'Bill' or 'Bud' - I just don't understand your logic on this matter." Reagan saw that she was avoiding a confrontation with him personally. This allowed him to reconsider his policy without looking as if he was retreating under fire. As well as being amused by this, he appreciated it.

It's sort of futile examining the personal differences and trying to make a mystery of their friendship given that the same exact thing happened with Churchill and FDR and Blair and Bush. The Anglospherics make the relationship, not the men.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 14, 2008 7:48 AM

Maybe it was just the Anglospherics, but I'll always treasure the story that, after Reagan's funeral, she just up and got on the plane to California for the burial even though she wasn't invited, and no one had the nerve to tell her she had to get off.

Posted by: Ibid at April 14, 2008 4:47 PM

Once again, you forgot the Amazon link to:
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: A Political Marriage

Posted by: Mike at April 14, 2008 9:02 PM
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