Did Margaret Thatcher know the price of milk, bread, beer?
It is a standard political question to ambush a leader aspiring to be prime minister: Do you know the price of milk? It is intended to show whether the person is in touch with reality and the problems people face - not everyone manages to pass the test.
If the leader is a woman, the male-dominated British news media expects her all the more to know such prices, besides issues of policy, as Margaret Thatcher knew only too well. Her advisers gave her a helpful list of prices during the 1987 election, in case she got caught out.
New documents released by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation include one that lists the then prevailing prices of milk, beer, eggs, sugar and newspapers and the average fare on London’s Tube network.
Not surprisingly, the list begins with milk, the favourite item to throw leading lights off-balance. Across the pond, in 1992, US President George W Bush admitted he did not know the cost of a gallon of milk, and in 2007, presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani didn’t know it either.
Thatcher was given the list in 1987, but in more recent years, leaders are known to try to be up to speed on the latest on television and trends in music, in case they are asked about such matters in high-pressure live television debates.
Among the documents released was Thatcher’s 1976 recipe for what she called Mystery Starter, whose ingredients included “1 flat teaspoon of curry powder”. Some who tried it were left perplexed.
Food writer and chef Rosie Sykes wrote in The Guardian: “Having knocked it up myself, the biggest mystery I could find was: why would one concoct such a dish? It makes for a very uninspiring cream-coloured mousse, a dish with a tiny bit of spice as an end note. Soft and unchallenging, it would no doubt appeal to lovers of boarding-school food.
“On the plus side, it is the kind of thing Lady T could have knocked up in her nightie at 5am if she knew she had people round for dinner that evening, since it takes five minutes to make but several hours to set.”
The tranche of documents provides new insights into one of Britain’s iconic prime ministers, who was in office from 1979 to 1990. The first woman in the post, Thatcher was known as the Iron Lady for uncompromising politics and style.