Margaret Thatcher becomes Britains 1st Female PM
When all the fun of the swingometer, polls, politicking and predictions was over, the results for the May 3 general election in 1979 were clear: the country had turned away decisively from the Labour Party. The conservatives were in power with a majority of 43 seats: not huge, but enough to facilitate a break with consensus politics.
The new Prime Minister on the morning of May 4 was this country’s first female premier, Margaret Thatcher : scientist, lawyer, mother, and conviction politician. She had ousted Ted Heath in 1975, her wing of the party intent on a new direction.
Jim Callaghan , Prime Minister since Harold Wilson’s shock resignation in 1976 , had hoped to avoid going to the polls until the last minute, October 1979, foreseeing improved economic conditions by then; but the Scottish Nationalists had engineered a vote of no confidence over the 1978 Scotland Act, lost by Labour by one vote in spite of even dying MPs being brought to the lobby.
After the strike-ridden winter of Discontent in 1978-79, when rubbish piled high in the streets, and bodies waited weeks for burial because of union action, Britain wanted change. The Conservative campaign, harnessing the genius of Saatchi and Saatchi, cried ‘Labour isn’t working,’, as dole queues lengthened in a world recession.
Most incongruously Thatcher quoted from Francis of Assisi as she entered No 10 Downing Street for the first time as PM: “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.” She then proceeded to sow discord and disharmony with a series of radical measures that curbed union power, and turned back the tide of socialism (as her party would have seen it), de-nationalising utilities and various other publicly owned organisations. But like her or loathe her, few disrespect the energy and drive shown by Margaret Thatcher, and even those of the left will in quiet corners admit that in 1979 at least she was just what was needed.
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