My first baptism of fire following my takeover of an ailing Quartet Books in July 1976 happened thirty-five years ago, in 1978 – three years after Mrs Thatcher gained leadership of the Conservative Party, and a year before her election as Britain’s first woman’s prime minister.
The publishing of Mrs Thatcher’s Bag was conceived in the public interest and as a reaction to a wave of adulation that reached messianic proportions. Its intent was to create a satirical parody of her particular brand of political fundamentalism (then a more friendly word than now), which was already dividing political attitudes in the UK into two very clear camps: those who thought her dynamic, potent and brave, and those convinced her conviction in politics were destructive, extreme and all would end in tears. Given the provenance of most of Quartet’s staff and its radical reputation there was little comfort for those who loved her. But few of us could realise then how iconic she would become or what a vivid champion she would be for the poujadist remnants of Great Britannia. Love her or hate her, she was a formidable defender of her class. No wonder it was a handbag that we chose to contain among other things, a guide to managing, a mask and cut-out doll, a poster adorned with her pearls of wisdom and a flexi disk with both her song and that of the Silent Majority.
On publication the handbag caused a torrent of public indignation among the Tory faithful, and placed me in an unenviable position of being cast as a renegade with a left-wing bias which was not the case. I lost many a friendship for a time until the dust eventually settled – and the old English tradition of fair-play emerged when my so called sacrilege was not as it seemed to be.
Things have moved on since then, but Mrs Thatcher’s Bag remains contentious – and is worth regarding in a different light by a new generation whose views are certainly not as rigid as those who worshipped at her altar in a period of radical political change.
The Story of Mrs Thatcher’s Bag, published this month, deserves a much wider circulation than the original – for it packs humour as well as a useful guideline for future politicians whose inflated ambitions might overshadow their true capabilities.
Buy The Story of Mrs Thatcher’s Bag and find out for yourself. You cannot afford to be without it. In a period of political turmoil it might prove the tonic one needs to elevate our spirits in a world gone mad with platitudes and lacking self-parody.
The story of the Bag is a compulsive book to read. It sheds light on how the establishment works and how when it suits its purpose dispenses with its sense of humour once a great British tradition.