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.