Explaining the downfall of Margaret Thatcher

The fascinating BBC series Thatcher: A Very British Revolution, just shown again, highlighted the way in which Margaret Thatcher lost office.  There are essentially two explanations.

One is that she was brought down, as Charles Powell put it, by ‘tearoom rebels’ in the House of Commons.  That was a splendid way of expressing it.  As readers will know from an earlier post, this very much fits with the analysis I have advanced and reinforces what I have argued about the importance of informal space in legislatures.  Party leaders neglect the tearooms, dining rooms and corridors of the House of Commons at their peril.  When she was challenged for the leadership, Margaret Thatcher failed to spend time rallying supporters and waverers in the tearoom and corridors.  Michael Heseltine, in contrast, was – as Ken Baker noted – everywhere.  He and his supporters invaded the informal space.  Had Margaret Thatcher spent time there rallying supporters, she may well have won clearly on the first ballot.  Once she was four votes short, her campaign was holed below the waterline.

A contrasting view is that she was brought down by a Cabinet coup, her leading ministers getting together to agree to tell her that she would lose if she persisted.  The journalist Alan Watkins advanced this argument in his book A Conservative Coup: Fall of Margaret Thatcher.  It was a view that came to be shared by Margaret Thatcher herself.  Alan Watkins was quite rude when I argued that he was wrong and that she was doomed already because of the outcome of the first ballot.  Even if she had persisted and won a majority on the second ballot, she was already fatally wounded.  In effect, the ministers were simply speaking truth unto power.

The key arena was not the Prime Minister’s office, but the informal space in the Palace of Westminster.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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2 Responses to Explaining the downfall of Margaret Thatcher

  1. maude elwes says:

    The teaching of historical ‘facts’ regarding Prime Ministers by tyrannical educators must be scrutinised closely, as the objective is no longer to inform on our path through history to enable acknowledge of where we presently are. It is to denigrate and destroy us as a people. This view of Margaret Thatcher, as she didn’t suffer from our modern disease called political correctness, will not stop at the level addressed here.

    It’s time the universities were assessed for impartiality. And if they don’t meet appropriate standards in intelligent unbiased education, rather than via infested political dogma, they can no longer qualify for state funding or support. We should not be giving one penny of tax payers money to organisations specialising in ‘anti nation’ who provide distorted learning!

  2. maude elwes says:

    It could be said, as she was female, she was not clubbable. Therefore, at a disadvantage

    However, she started out with a wonderful approach to the economy. Ordinary folk able to increase their lifestyle comforts and security in a way they had not been able to do for decades. However, that fizzled out abruptly and left a lot of people with enormous financial dept as their new found business practice was destroyed and companies closed. Mortgages foreclosed with massive losses to individuals who had trusted in the political process continuing as it began. That is what created the end of Ms Thatcher. The people lost faith…. And of course the later Glass Steagall Act repeal finished off the good life for ordinary Joe. A return to those heady days never got a foothold since.


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