Until the Brexit crisis, and related to it, the fall of Thatcher in 1990 was the great watershed in recent Conservative Party history, the beginning of a long period of open warfare and general rudderlessness which consigned Britain’s exhausted party of government to irrelevance through the New Labour years. Thatcher was forced out by her mps, undefeated in either a Westminster leadership ballot or general election. The same fate would await Blair, after a shorter spell in office; but Iraq loomed over him and Labour had a logical heir-apparent in Brown. By contrast Thatcher’s demise was sudden and consequential. In Herself Alone, the third and concluding volume of the official biography, Charles Moore compares it to an Agatha Christie murder mystery.
Moore, a former editor of the Daily Telegraph, personally selected by Thatcher to write her life, was born in Hastings on the Sussex coast during the 1956 Suez Crisis. His family background was Liberal—a minority current in post-war Britain, confined by the consolidated Tory–Labour duopoly to a handful of Commons seats. Moore’s mother was a county councillor and his father a leader writer for the News Chronicle, which suffered commercially for its opposition to Eden’s Suez adventure and was afterwards absorbed by the Daily Mail. Moore went to Eton and Cambridge before being taken under the wing of Peter Utley, a senior figure at the Telegraph, just as Thatcher arrived in Downing Street. Utley was a patron of young Fleet Street hacks and in Moore’s appreciation ‘the truest Tory’, for whom ideologies were untruthful and cruel.
Utley championed Thatcher, seemingly so doctrinaire, by discounting her ideological novelty, and imparted this perspective to his protégé. Moore developed this line when he moved to the Spectator magazine as political columnist in 1982. ‘Whatever she may have said, Mrs Thatcher has not broken with all previous conventions or consensuses. She simply reached the top at the moment when those conventions became obviously unsustainable, and she was sufficiently robust not to resist the obvious’, he told Spectator readers a few years later. In the biography he describes Thatcherism as a disposition rather than a philosophy (vol. 1), a vision more than a doctrine (vol. 2) and a restoration not a revolution, though it ‘would sometimes require revolutionary methods’ (vol. 3). The recasting served to make Thatcher less alien to a traditionalist like Moore. She deeply respected national customs, he insists, despite ‘a radical’s total lack of embarrassment about arguing from first principles’.
Moore’s journalism mixed sober praise for her achievements with concern for constitutional proprieties: ‘It may seem stuffy and pedantic, but . . .’ A staunch Anglican, Moore co-wrote The Church in Crisis (1986) with two other young fogeys, the essayist A. N. Wilson and architectural writer Gavin Stamp, and launched a prize for schoolchildren capable of reciting extracts from the Book of Common Prayer, ‘grimly confident’ this was no longer widespread practice. Private Eye dubbed him Lord Snooty, after the Beano comic-strip character. His elevation to the real peerage came last year, a gift from Boris Johnson, one of his former journalists.
In an interview, Moore described the Telegraph’s base as ‘middle to upper-middle Britain, mainly England, not the whole of Britain so much and mainly the South’. A Home Counties readership, in other words, ‘people who hold respected and steady positions in society: the bank manager, the successful executive, the police chief. You could say the backbone of England’. Comfortably off, they were never completely at ease with déclassé and pushy elements within Thatcher’s New Right. ‘Bourgeois triumphalism’ is how the Sunday Telegraph under Peregrine Worsthorne characterized her 1987 general-election campaign. With a dash of dry humour Moore adopts it as the title for Herself Alone’s opening chapter.
In 1984, aged just 27, Moore replaced Alexander Chancellor as editor of the Spectator—‘the Spectator’s Voice of Youf’, ribbed the critic Auberon Waugh, after Moore picked a fight with him on behalf of young Eurosceptic Conservatives. Moore argued that, unlike Waugh’s generation, they were not casting around for visionary schemes to fill the gap left by imperial decline, having become inured to it, and could take a cooler look at the rebarbative detail of plans for pan-European federal government. Waugh riposted that ‘national sovereignty, in the context of what we are losing, means no more and no less than the power fantasies of a handful of young political aspirants. They are not too high a price for the rest of us to pay.’
Moore returned to the Telegraph as deputy to editor Max Hastings in 1990. It was in this period, between the Single European Act and Treaty of Maastricht, that the prospect of British involvement in further Continental integration became an idée fixe among the Tory grassroots. Moore reflected and reinforced this trend. A column urging Conservative backbenchers to rebel against Major over Maastricht was spiked by Hastings, who shared the leadership’s view of the Treaty as a grim necessity. Once Moore replaced him in 1995, however, Euroscepticism was given full rein. ‘Tell Us Why We Should Stay’, demanded one editorial.