Not many books are published more than a third of a century after they were written; but then, it was never my intention to write this particular book, and it all happened almost by accident.
I was a one-time lawyer back in the ’70s, who became an entrepreneur with no experience or even interest in politics, trying to build a business in a world of never-ending strikes and power cuts. Eventually even I could take no more, and in the middle of the Winter of Discontent, I volunteered my services to the Conservatives, assuming they won the forthcoming election. In May ’79, I joined the Department of Industry and over the next eight years I became chairman of the Manpower Services Commission, Minister Without Portfolio in the Cabinet and then Secretary of State for Employment. And finally, in April 1987, Margaret Thatcher asked me to help run the forthcoming general election.
I was still a complete political newbie. Not only had I never taken part in any election; I had never knocked on a door to ask for a vote, nor even attended a party meeting. It wouldn’t have been so bad if this was any election, but this was an election which I was convinced would shape the economy for decades to come; an election which would consolidate all our work over the past eight years to restore enterprise to our economy.
That night in April 1987, I resolved to keep a diary, and every night until the election was over, I would dictate for ten or fifteen minutes the events of the day, no matter how late it was. We won the election handsomely, and I went on to a new job, so I put the tapes away and forgot all about them. Some years later, in 1990, I had retired from government and was waiting in purdah before I could take any job – so I had the tapes transcribed and put in order, and again, I put them away and forgot all about them.
When the lockdown started and we stayed at our home in Graffham, I came across the diary and read it straight through for the very first time. It took me back to those few fraught weeks, now so many years ago, which decided the future shape of our economy. It also showed Margaret in action as I remembered her – as a very human being and not as she is so often portrayed. The diary itself is unaltered, and as I read it, I could feel the tiredness in my words. It is not a considered analysis of the election, but it is a true reflection of how one of the participants felt, day by day.
Happily, Biteback agreed with me, and in a few weeks’ time Inside Thatcher’s Last Election: Diaries of the Campaign that Saved Enterprise will be published.