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Theresa May was an 18-year-old undergraduate at St Hugh’s College, Oxford when Margaret Thatcher was elected leader of the Conservative Party in February 1975. She had not yet left the slight mark on Oxford student politics that she would before going down from the university. Much like Mrs Thatcher at the same place 30 years previously, she was a relatively impecunious, provincial girl with no very obvious glittering prospects. And yet, according to a female friend who knew her, when she heard that a woman had for the first time been chosen to lead the Tories, Theresa May’s reaction was one of irritation. “I wanted to be first and she got there first,” she is quoted as saying.


It takes a lot of chutzpah, and possibly a touch of madness, for a young person ungroomed for greatness to respond in such terms. Doubtless there are other women now aged 60 who, having expressed lofty political ambitions in 1975, got nowhere. For all that, I like this anecdote in Rosa Prince’s superlative new biography, Theresa May: The Enigmatic Prime Minister (Biteback, £20), because it connects May to Thatcher at an early age, and invites us to ponder the many arresting similarities, as well some notable differences, between our two female Tory prime ministers.

Both became leaders of their party at a time of crisis. In Thatcher’s case, inflation was running at more than 20 per cent, the economy was sclerotic and the unions rampant. In May’s case, a fractured country faces arduous negotiations and an inevitably uncertain future outside the European Union. There is a danger that the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, will succeed in turning Brexit into a grievance, and prise Scotland away from the United Kingdom. Terrorism is a shared threat — the Provisional IRA for Thatcher, and the Islamic variety in the case of Theresa May, as the recent outrage perpetrated by the British-born Khalid Masood in Westminster attests. This was the biggest crisis so far of her prime ministership. Despite these serious challenges, Mrs May appears mistress of all she surveys, facing as she does a hopelessly-led Opposition, and having for the moment seen off the Remainers in the Commons and the Lords. But I am sure she is aware of the magnitude of the task that lies before her.

On the whole, Thatcher succeeded as Prime Minister between 1979 and 1990 in salvaging Britain, albeit at a considerable social cost. Can Theresa May slay her arguably even more fearsome dragons? And what kind of country will she leave behind once — if — Brexit is successfully accomplished?

The enormity of the respective challenges of the two women is only the start of it. Reading Prince’s book, one is continually struck by similarities of background and experience. As the grammar school and Oxford-educated Margaret Thatcher slowly clambered up the greasy pole, she demonstrated a capacity for hard work and assiduousness that has also been noted in the grammar school and Oxford-educated Theresa May. Neither woman was steeped in a knowledge of history or especially well read, the one having studied chemistry, the other geography, and both were considered more practical than intellectual before becoming leaders. Nor, during their competent ministerial careers, were they often thought of as future prime ministers, save by themselves and possibly their husbands. Against most people’s expectations, they suddenly emerged holding the golden prize, declaring themselves to be at odds with political views they had previously espoused.

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October 16th, 2017
2:10 PM
Barnier Rubble,Halal Capone Junker and team are disgusting . How about giving the EU Ed Sheeran and Bob Geldof? Just wrap them in a big ribbon with fairy lights. With the option of adding Richard Branson and Michael Heseltine wrapped in Christmas paper and Nick Cohen decked in holly and ivy. If the EU insist on having Michael Craig Martin RA in a cardboard box for display in Brussels then Theresa May should just deliver it.

October 13th, 2017
1:10 PM
M Barnier`s `disturbing deadlock` is caused entirely by his own analism and stinginess and that of his ` mandate `. He should be showering us with gold and flowers. Obviously pro-Brexit Julie Burchill in the Spectator,Ringo,Morrissey,John Lydon and Gilbert & George mean nothing to Corbyn,May,the Green Party, the Lib Dems or the BBC`s Daily Poltics. Sterile tv studios are mandatory for discussions. Brexit is more famous than anyone.

October 10th, 2017
1:10 PM
The EU`s M Barnier is poncing about. The ball is in the EU`s court. The EU is in denial because it can`t handle Brexit at all. The EU has gone catatonic and reduced to jerking movements and irrational malevolence. Even a monosyllabic tory team should be able to win by Christmas. If there`s no deal all the countries concerned would soon be beating a path to the UK`s door. Because Brexit is a brilliant quantum leap and paradigm shift. The will of the people is for Brexittania not Remainia. Trump and Brexit have rendered the dire style of politics extinct.

October 4th, 2017
1:10 PM
Theresa May`s conference speech means she can`t be `friends` with Jeremy Corbyn ? PM Macmillan got thousands of council houses built. The Thatcherites spoilt everything.

October 3rd, 2017
5:10 PM
The only word used at the Conservative conference to describe the Brexit vote was `opportunity`. Mr Johnson thinks the `quiet revolution` is a roaring lion. And Corbyn is Mr Vampire Venezuala. Another tory minister claims we are `good Europeans` and daringly `international` and `global`. Marvellous. But at the local level it`s the atrocity of Grenfell Towers, cuts to Disability Benefits, library closures, social care cuts,evictions and debts. According to Mr Rees-Mogg even the tory members are treated appallingly by the `north Korean` tory leadership. Will Theresa May be able to express any appreciation of Brexit? A nastier then ever tory party simply virtue signalling is repellent to young and older voters. Capitalism is pagan.

September 30th, 2017
11:09 AM
I`ve already decided to vote Labour again. Corbyn was absolutely right to claim that the stars of the Labour conference were 1) the Manifesto and 2) the increasing number of Labour members and voters. The Brexiteers got rid of Cameron and Osborne but neither May nor Corbyn hail this achievement. Brexit is more punk than punk and more radical than 1968. The Tories are not. The Labour Party now is. Brexitannia not Remainia won. The Honourable Members for the 21st Century are all in the Labour Party. The Tories are all Dickensian cobwebs, stingy,anal and verging on the monosyllabic. Luxury Socialism For The Many Not The Few.

September 23rd, 2017
2:09 PM
Theresa May`s speech in Florence was an insult to the 17.4 million who voted for Brexit. She should make another speech to the Brexiteers in the UK . What does she think we want? We ordered a pizza and the Tories say they will deliver but it will take at least four years. She never mentioned the will of the people om the ingredients. The problem with our political elites is that they are too Bob Geldof when they should be pro-Brexit Ringo. In Royal Academy terms the elites refuse to listen to the Fuckosophy of (tory voters) Gilbert & George. Mrs May wants `creative` ? A quick Brexit would be creative. The EU elite hates us. Appeasing it is not leadership

July 22nd, 2017
11:07 AM
I`ve changed my mind about Theresa May. I voted for Brexit and the Labour Party.

April 19th, 2017
1:04 PM
It`s good news Theresa May isn`t doing tv debates. The other party leaders are professionally jealous of her and can only rattle their bins noisily. George Osbourne is actually leading the retreat of the anti-Mayists. The majority of voters will give Theresa May her mandate.

April 18th, 2017
5:04 PM
After her announcement for June 8 Theresa May has my vote. 17.4 million Brexiteers may well have already decided to vote for her.

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