Magazine article The Spectator

'God & Mrs Thatcher', by Eliza Filby - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'God & Mrs Thatcher', by Eliza Filby - Review

Article excerpt

God & Mrs Thatcher Eliza Filby

Biteback, pp.432, £25, ISBN: 9781849547857

As I swink in the field of Thatcher studies, this book brings refreshment. It is a welcome and rare. Far too many writers attitudinise about Margaret Thatcher (for and against) rather than studying her. I doubt the author likes Thatcher much, but all the more credit to her that she makes a fair-minded effort to understand what she believed about God, and how she succeeded and failed in applying her beliefs.

Not all who knew Mrs Thatcher agree that she was religious. In a way, they are right. She was not churchy or denominational, which is good. She was not sacramental (she once told me that her twins were baptised but 'didn't have the water') or spiritual, which is not so good. But Denis thought she had a serious Christian faith, and I think he would know.

Her religion was of a kind which once dominated England. God's word, expressed in the Bible, set out how to live. People should try to follow this, not only in their private lives, but in the ordering of society. This was a lifelong, exacting duty, requiring ceaseless work to improve oneself and serve one's country. Material wealth was part of the good harvest which the country needed. Somewhere inside these thoughts was an almost Jewish idea of a chosen people: her talk of Victorian values was partly a romanticised folk memory of a special, British (or rather English) Christian order. Critics might say it was a 'Sunday best' religion; but Mrs Thatcher wanted the best seven days a week.

Eliza Filby subtly relates Grantham Methodism to Mrs Thatcher's 15 years of leadership. So she recognises that her famous 'There is no such thing as society' remark to Woman's Own was almost the exact opposite of atomised individualism. She was talking about how society was composed. 'There are individual people and there are families,' not some other thing on which we could dump our responsibilities. Therefore our social duties were absolute.

This was not Tory Anglicanism, though Mrs Thatcher had a tenderness for the Authorised Version of the Bible and in later years was a regular at the chapel of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. It was, both in the ecclesiastical and in the modern sense of the term, 'non-conformist'. It produced what Dr Filby well describes as a mastery of the 'congregational side of politics': the warm relationship between minister and flock (the party faithful who loved her), the insurgent zeal which made her preach the gospel in and out of season.

This made it more powerful as what the author calls a 'values project' than that of the leadership of the Church of England, most of which was ranged against her. …

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