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WikiLeaks cables reveal ‘frightfully English’ Thatcher

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-04-09

US diplomatic cables from the 1970s published on a new WikiLeaks site on Monday document the early stages of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's "special relationship" with Washington. But it wasn't love at first sight.

Hours before Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, died after suffering a stroke on Monday, the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks announced the publication of more than 1.7 million US diplomatic and intelligence cables from the 1970s.

The latest trove of documents offers detailed insights on the rise of Britain’s Iron Lady as viewed by diplomats across the pond.

By the end of her 11 years at 10 Downing Street, Thatcher was to develop a remarkable friendship with her US counterpart in the White House. But during the early days of Thatcher’s rise to the national stage, officials at the US Embassy in London were not exactly enamoured by the rapidly rising British politician.

In February 1975, as then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger prepared to meet Thatcher, the US Embassy in London sent a classified diplomatic cable on “our initial impressions of Britain’s newest political star”.

They were not entirely flattering, to say the least. “Unfortunately for her prospects of becoming a national, as distinct from a party, leader, she has over the years acquired a distinctively upper-middle-class personal image,” read the cable.

The worst though, was still to come. “Her immaculate grooming, her imperious manner, her conventional and somewhat forced charm, and above all her plummy voice stamp her as the quintessential suburban matron, and frightfully English to boot,” the US diplomatic cable dismissed.

‘She has demonstrated skill and sureness’

At that time, Thatcher had just won the Conservative Party leadership race, a position that thrust her on the national stage, making the party’s first female chief a subject of interest among foreign governments.

But if the February 1975 cable was sceptical of Thatcher’s potential as a national leader, the picture had radically changed a year later.

In a March 1976 cable, the US Embassy in London was forthright about the new Conservative Party leader’s track record. “Margaret Thatcher has had twelve good months as leader of the Conservative Party,” the cable noted. “She has demonstrated skill and sureness in reinvigorating the party, consolidating her position as leader, and, after a slow start, improving her own performance and that of her Conservative colleagues in parliament,” before concluding, “…she is a credible potential prime minister.”

‘Kissinger cables’ in an accessible form

The newly published US diplomatic documents - commonly called the “Kissinger Cables” - date from 1973 to 1976, and include communications which were sent by or to the powerful US secretary of state.

UK reacts to Thatcher's death
While the cables were not classified and have been available at the US national archives, the latest release is part of a WikiLeaks effort to digitize documents and make them easily accessible in a searchable form on what it calls the Public Library of US Diplomacy or “Plus D”.

According to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the documents were analysed and assembled over the past two years at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has sought refuge in a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces sexual offences charges.

‘Her reaction was somewhat naïve, even girlish’

The cables provide an insight into Thatcher’s relationship with the US, which would mark the foreign policy of her premiership.

An October 1975 cable on Thatcher’s visit to the US and Canada noted that the “ambitious trip” was designed to broaden “her base of expertise in foreign affairs” and remedy “a deficiency in her background”.

The cable went on to summarize the speeches Thatcher delivered in various US cities, noting that, “Mrs. Thatcher in reality had very little new to tell America. A review of her American speeches shows that they are typical Thatcher products involving a mix of statistics…glitteringly delivered, with occasional pungent turns of phrase.”

The most caustic comments, however, were by the undisclosed author of the cable, who produced a scathing account of Thatcher’s evidently enthusiastic response to American hospitality. “Her reaction was somewhat naïve, even girlish,” the cable noted, “she interpreted hospitable gestures of Americans as personal (i.e., for herself) rather than official welcome extended by Americans to leaders of all political parties in Britain.”

It was an early indication of what would become Thatcher’s unapologetic penchant for American hospitality. Six years later, when Ronald Reagan became US president, the “quintessential suburban matron” from across the pond displayed an almost girlish fondness for the Reagan brand of personal charm and for his uncompromising free market principles. Together, they presided over a “special relationship” that saw the end of the Cold War. For a woman who began her political career with a deficiency in foreign affairs, it was a rapid rise to the international stage.

Date created : 2013-04-08

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