Saturday, March 17, 2012

 

How Falklands War Possibly Saved Thatcher from Implosion of Conservative Party

Having lived through the period I was fasscinated to read some of the revelations from Thatcher's papers. The Labour governments of the seventies had not exactly filled the party's supporters' hearts with joy but the election of the 'last hope of stern and unbending Toryism' in the form of Thatcher had been a step too far even for the most fervent left of centre supporters of democracy I recall all the 'I told you so' comments from colleagues at Manchester University Dept Government who were convinced her hard right economic policies would meet embarrasssing U turns just as soon as reality bit.

The papers show that, in these early euphoric days for the SDP, not only were there a group of 25 'wets' prepared to vote against 'deflationary measures' in the 1981 autumn budget statement, a group which predicatably perhaps included Julian Critchley and Stephen Dorrel, but another group of 20 including Brian Mawhinney, St John Stevas and, more predictably, Ted heath who were palnning a mass abstention on the vote.

Ian Gow, Thatcher's parliamentary private secretary and political confidant, swiftly organised a counteroffensive with the Treasury ministers Geoffrey Howe and Leon Brittan, seeing each of the dissidents in turn. But in an indication of the poisoned atmosphere within the highest reaches of the Tory government of the time, Gow went behind Jopling's back to accuse him in a note to Thatcher of both overplaying the potential rebellion, and more seriously, of "not being one of us":

"Michael, though an outstanding chief whip, does not share our conviction. Like the original 25, he, in his heart, favours reflation and foresees the deepest difficulty for our party if the budget is not reflationary. I take the opposite view. In my opinion, the gravest danger for our country is if we follow our predecessors, and lose our nerve," he told her.


Typically loyal sentiments from an ultra loyalist Thatcherite but clear evidence of how parlous was her situation as those crucial months were neghotiated. Would she have survived had these forces continued un assisted by externa;l events? Impossible to say, but who would have thought that the probale saviour of Thatcher and her historic government was a neo-fascist general some 8000 miles away in Argentina?

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