The Margaret Thatcher Foundation is doing something really cool: they’re publishing all of her official papers as they become available from The National Archives. As far as I’m aware, this is the first time that a head of government’s papers have been made available like this.
The Thatcher archive provides a fascinating glimpse into Whitehall’s inner workings, and the Foundation has made it user-friendly. In addition to searching by subject, the material is also arranged by date. It’s even linked to Baroness Thatcher’s appointment diary, so you can get an idea of what was in her ministerial red boxes on any given day.
However, there are gaps in the archive. For example, there’s precious little about Baroness Thatcher’s dealings with the Queen, and what little there is tends to be rather anodyne. For example, there is an entire file relating to Thatcher’s audiences with Her Majesty, but it’s mostly routine letters between Buckingham Palace and Downing Street regarding scheduling. But there is some interesting material, including a memo from a Downing Street official regarding possible topics to be discussed at Baroness Thatcher’s February audience. I’ve long wondered what goes on during those weekly meetings (neither the Queen nor the Prime Minister discuss what was said), so this document provides a tantalizing glimpse behind the curtain.
The lack of information is a shame given the longstanding rumors that the Queen and Baroness Thatcher had a rocky relationship. Unfortunately, it will likely be some time before the full picture emerges. Many documents have been withheld under section 37 of the Freedom of Information Act, which means they won’t be released until 20 years after their creation or five years after the death of the relevant Sovereign, whichever is longer.
Gaps aside, the Thatcher archive is an invaluable resource. If you’re interested in Baroness Thatcher or the ways of Whitehall in general, you should definitely check it out.