Margaret Thatcher Resigns
It was one of those moments you won't forget, a later generation's version of "where were you when Kennedy was shot?" After more than 10 years as Prime Minister , and with her promise to fight on despite Michael Heseltine having gathered enough votes to force a second round in the Conservative Party leadership contest, everyone expected a bloody battle for the Premiership. It never came, at least not with the incumbent running.
Margaret Thatcher was perhaps the most hated and adored Prime Minister of modern times: she had turned back the sometimes tragic-comic tide of uncontrolled union power in the early 80s, won the Falklands War (though many would argue governmental failings sent signals to the Argentine government that prompted the invasion in the first place), and become once again America's closest ally. She also presided over a rapid decline in manufacturing industry that was brushed off by too many as nothing to worry about. And Thatcher's government had won against the miners in what at times seemed like an almost engineered dispute.
It was Europe in the end that brought about her demise as Premier, her continual reluctance to be a part of the changes in Europe annoying and then alienating key figures in the Conservative Party. Her attraction was always westwards to Washington, rather than to Brussels.
Earlier in the year Sir Anthony Meyer ran against her as little more than a stalking-horse candidate, losing easily, but still demonstrating in the discussions in public and more so in private that there was discontent with her leadership ˆ her combative, aggressive, and somewhat less than collegiate leadership that while pushing through her policies created a phalanx of capable opponents eager to see her lose power.
Though it was Michael Heseltine, in what some have called the battle of the blonds, who took the bold step of standing against her that November, it was the dignified but piercing speech in the House of Commons by Geoffrey Howe on November 13 , following his resignation as Deputy PM two weeks before, that was the signal for open conflict.
Even with internecine war going on in the Conservative Party, few thought she would bow out before the second round of the leadership contest. But behind closed doors her senior cabinet colleagues persuaded her that it would be better for the party were she to go; or perhaps threatened not to support her were she to continue; or both.
Thus having informed the Queen and her cabinet of her decision that morning, Mrs Thatcher had an announcement released at 9.34 on November 22 saying she would resign as PM as soon as a new leader was elected by her party. That process took some time, but as far as the word in homes, at work, and in the pubs of Britain that day was concerned, Thatcher had gone.
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