Former key aide reflects on rule of Iron Lady
Robin Harris concedes there are parallels between his background and Margaret Thatcher's. Both, for one, are the offspring of successful local businessmen. Mr Harris' father was one of the Harris Brothers, a successful Cornish business involved in coal and ship breaking. Mrs Thatcher, famously, was the daughter of Lincolnshire greengrocer.
The comparison might be imprecise. The Falmouth Harris family were perhaps better off than the Grantham Thatchers. Their origins were relatively humble compared to many others in the Conservative Party, dominated by privilege and old money rather than entrepreneurs.
"The traditional Conservative leader is someone rather like David Cameron," Mr Harris said. "They've been to Eton, like Macmillan or Douglas-Home. She was not the first grammar school educated leader. Ted Heath was, and he was more working-class. But she placed a huge importance on had work, and if you made the effort you could get on. She wanted to make society like that."
It is perhaps why the two connected. Mr Harris is a former Thatcher speechwriter, ghostwriter, adviser, organiser and supporter. In her memoirs, which he helped pen, Britain's first female Prime Minister calls him "indispensable".
Next week, the former political adviser – he helped draft the 1987 Conservative Party manifesto – will enjoy something of a homecoming (though he moved back to the area recently). He will speak at the Splash literary festival in Falmouth about his book, Not For Turning: The Life of Margaret Thatcher.
The biography, which he began in 2005 but released only after Lady Thatcher's death earlier this year, marries first-hand accounts from the subject with Mr Harris's own recollections as a key aide during the second half of her premiership. It is an enjoyable read, pro-Thatcher without being fawning, detailing her early political ambitions to union-breaking, the Falklands conflict and her mental decline in old age.
Mr Harris makes no bones of his affection for her. "I am sure she is the only great post-war Prime Minister," he says. "That is more important than whether she was a woman Prime Minister. She even used to joke she was the first scientist Prime Minister. I admired her because she changed Britain for the better. That's not saying it is a perfect country but it's better now than life before 1979."
The book is no Thatcher whitewash. Detailing her mishandling of school food budgets when Education Secretary, earning her the "Milk Snatcher" moniker, underlines the point. She could complete complicated arithmetic in her head, but she was no intellectual, he reports. She could also be unforgiving to her Cabinet when Prime Minister.
He said: "She had some weaknesses. She worked too hard. She got very little sleep, very little relaxation. And she could be a bully. If you were a wet, weak or a wimp you would not be very well treated. She was very kind to people who were serving her. But if you were a minister who showed some weakness she could be very excessive in her attacks."
Of course, Margaret Thatcher polarised opinion. As you would expect from a keen supporter and confidante, Mr Harris writes how she got the big decisions right, even if they had "terrible rows".
Her greatest qualities came to the fore when Britain needed to be taken by the scruff. Spiralling inflation, trade union strikes, the Argentinian military government occupying the Falklands and end of the Cold War.
"Her main strengths were moral strengths," he said. "She had enormous reserves of courage. When unemployment hit three million. When taking on the unions. With the Falklands. She would worry about it but she never wavered."
So how should we regard the "Iron Lady"? Mr Harris argues she still casts a shadow over British politics.
"Her legacy is her economic legacy. No one is going back to socialism. People now realise that it is private enterprise that creates wealth, not the state. In a way she changed the Labour Party more than the Conservative Party. She created the conditions for New Labour."
Whether we are all "Thatcherite now", as David Cameron recently noted, is a moot point. "When he became leader he tried to distance himself from her. When she said there was 'no such thing as society' – which she didn't quite say – he said there was. He didn't think the economy was very important at all. But then the 2008 banking crisis changed that and he realised he needed an economic strategy."
Robin Harris is at The Poly, Falmouth, on Monday at 3pm. Visit falmouth.co.uk for details.