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Top picks from the Margaret Thatcher Foundation archives

Yesterday Lady Gaga tweeted the imminent appearance of the artwork to the cover of her new album – for her fans 6pm could not come fast enough. In a similar way, some will have been on tenterhooks to hear just which Liberal Democrat got what mediocre job in the reshuffle. It can be funny what we eagerly anticipate.

And whilst the Gaga fans can lay claim to being cooler, it was another Lady who grasped my attention for much of yesterday after this tweet by The Thatcher Foundation on 4th October:

If you haven’t ever checked out The Thatcher Foundation’s website and you have the remotest interests in British political history you should go there now. Beware; you may be there for some time. The site is a model for how an archive ought to work in the digital age – time and money prevent other Prime Ministers being afforded the same indulgence I guess.

It goes without saying that the Foundation is, online and accessible to all, making available some truly historic and valuable material. But it is also – as importantly – laying bare the mundane and everyday nature of what it would be like to be Prime Minister; and indeed the Whitehouse couldn’t get around to buying a Birthday Card.

Whitehouse birthday card

So to whet your appetite here are some of my picks from yesterday’s releases:

1) In 1936 Neville Chamberlain – then Chancellor of the Exchequer – wrote in the Daily Telegraph of how he had spent many months at Number 11 trying to identify a particular bird by its call. In contrast, if the Thatcher archives demonstrate just one thing it is the sheer workload of a modern politician and Prime Minister. And it isn’t all conference calls with World leaders…:

As you say, in parallel with the relaxation of controls over balloons I shall be amending the aerial advertising regulations to permit the towing of advertising banners behind aeroplanes.



2) If that wasn’t glamorous enough:

The store assures me that a hat won’t be necessary.

Sainsbury's hat

I understand that there are photographs on the wall of all previous Prime Ministers.

No 10 bar

3) On top of this, as a woman in politics, Thatcher faced an extra pressure that is unlikely to be recorded in many other Prime Ministerial archives – her appearance:

Jean Muir suede 2-piece


I am told that you would be well advised to wear an A-line skirt, though I have no idea what that is.

A line skirt

Prime Minister’s hair during campaign



4) Then there is the both humdrum and brutal business of being at the top of the greasy pole:

I sense that you are a little bored with these afternoon tea parties!‘ She was.


He is no good and ought to go.’ (Perhaps another post but, if you visit the archive for only one reason, do so for Ian Gow’s (Thatcher’s first Prime Ministerial Principle Private Secretary) notes of which this is one.)

5) And so, how to relax? An episode or two of ‘Cannon’ of course!


Matthew Bailey

Published inPolitical history


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