I've avoided much of the Thatcher coverage, not because I have particularly strong feelings either way (in short, I agree with Hugo Young that the changes she wrought were, on balance, more good than bad). But one of the best pieces I have read was a personal recollection from Ferdinand Mount, a former aide to Thatcher who went on to become a journalist and author. It's unashamedly affectionate but Mount is a perceptive observer and a good writer, and he gives us a vivid sense of the Thatcher presence.
He also makes you think about how important was Thatcher's attention to the minutae of her job. Politics is often presented as if it's all about the exciting stuff: big ideas and strategic maneuvers. But much if not most of it is about attention to the dull detail, as this government has repeatedly discovered to its cost.
One of the things I admire about Thatcher is that she grasped the importance of the mundane. She's often presented as a "visionary" leader and she certainly had one or two big guiding philosophical principles (she was a classic hedgehog in that respect). But she wasn't really interested in political philosophy. She was interested - tenaciously, ferociously interested - in the details of everyday life: from the hem of a dress (her mother was a dressmaker), to the price of milk, to how people paid their rent.
This translated to a vice-like grip of the kind of policy details that other politicians would find boring or beneath them and leave to civil servants (which would leave them terribly exposed if they were picked on in cabinet or ever found themselves sitting next to her in the Commons dining room). Actually she was less of a visionary than a geek (chemistry at Cambridge [UPDATE - talking of detail, it was Oxford, as Erin points out]) - a geek with attitude.
In an increasingly complex world, we need more geeks in power; more politicians who enjoy sweating the details. For all that I remain an admirer of Tony Blair, I kind of wish it had been Thatcher chivvying the Americans, during the build-up to the Iraq war, for details of their post-invasion plans.
Anyway, here's Mount, who manages to make you think a little differently about not one, but two of the great world leaders of the last century in one unprepossessing paragraph:
When I came to work for her again 20 years on, as head of her policy unit, I am afraid I took an unholy delight in watching her chew up a junior minister who had not done his prep and could not explain the difference between the powers and the duties of a drainage authority. Curiously, the only time I ever met Ronald Reagan, he talked in mind-numbing detail about an equally down-to-earth subject: garbage disposal in California. The alliance between this odd couple, one a humourless workaholic, the other a notoriously relaxed charmer, was not only based on ideology but on attention to the realities of life.