Margaret Thatcher diary research

For those of you who don’t know about me or my research interests, please have a look at the updated About page for more details.

It is over two years since I blogged about my work. Time certainly flies. I will spare you the details – suffice to say, I have since completed my PhD, spent a year working for Information Services Division in a statistical governance role (with some user research), and am now back in academia as a research associate at the University of Glasgow.

I am currently working on an ESRC funded project with Professors Neil Rollings (Economic and Business History) and Mark Tranmer (Quantitative Social Sciences). We are studying the historical appointment diaries of politicians and senior civil servants using quantitative methods. You can read a detailed abstract on the project here.


book business calendar close up
Photo by Pixabay on

In essence, the research focuses on three case studies; the first of these is the appointment diaries of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Using the Relational Event Model, we are analysing meetings with key contacts (e.g. business representatives, journalists) to uncover significant relational patterns in the data. Still at the formative stage of the work, we are considering the insights we can generate using this approach, such as:

  1. Margaret Thatcher’s leadership style, and how it developed over time.
  2. Event sequences before and after external ‘shocks’ – e.g. the Falklands War.
  3. The nature of interactions between the Prime Minister and key individuals (e.g. special advisers) and/or groups (e.g. the CBI).

At the moment, these aims are quite broad. To narrow them down we are working on a pilot which focuses on meetings between the Prime Minister and her cabinet colleagues between 1979 and 1984 – i.e. when she assumed power until the year after her first re-election.

So why cabinet ministers, and why this time period?

Firstly, it seems like an obvious start from the historical viewpoint. Although I am not an historian, this period heralded significant change in the UK (and international) political, economic, and social context – and Thatcher’s administration was at the vanguard of this change. Notably, though, many in her first cabinet were hostile to her proposed economic policies. As such, studying the evolving dynamics of the relationships between the Prime Minister and her colleagues could yield interesting new insights on her early years at the helm of government.

Secondly from a practical viewpoint, focusing on cabinet ministers provides a clear network boundary to narrow the scope of the research and simplify the coding process. To this end, there are a limited number of ministers at any given time (21 and 22 during the time in question), and no ambiguity about who qualifies as a cabinet minister – it is a matter of public record.

So, this is roughly where we are just now – tentatively moving into the analysis phase. My plan is to use the blog to talk about the project every few weeks, giving updates and commentating on various aspects of the study – method, findings, and anything I think is worth sharing.

If you’d like to get in touch about this work then please see the contact page for details.






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