Archive papers reveal Margaret Thatcher’s dismay at Nigel Lawson’s threat to resign

Archive papers reveal Margaret Thatcher's dismay at Nigel Lawson's threat to resign

In October of that year Mr Lawson, the chief economic architect of Thatcherism, threatened to resign over the role of Mrs Thatcher’s personal economics advisor, Sir Alan Walters, who opposed entry to the ERM.

In a fascinating glimpse into life at No.10, Mrs Thatcher records that she had her hair set between 8 and 8.30am, before meeting Mr Lawson at 8.50am.

Her record of what took place, written shortly after and added to some time later, states: “The reason for his [Lawson’s] visit – which he had considered very carefully was that unless I agreed to sack Alan Walters, he would hand in his resignation as Chancellor.

“This seemed to me an absurd, indeed reprehensible proposition. Alan was a trusted consultant & Nigel a Chancellor. Nigel explained that Alan took a different view from him, his views sometimes came out in the press & this made his task intolerable . . .  In my view no one could possibly resign on the basis of such a flimsy and unworthy proposal.”

She adds: “I said go away & think again . . .  I then put the matter out of my mind.”

But Mr Lawson did resign, creating one of the most damaging crises of the Thatcher premiership.

The crisis set up the emergence of a stalking-horse candidate in an attempt to unseat her, an event Mr Collins describes as a “dry-run” for Michael Heseltine’s leadership bid the following year, which eventually forced Mr Thatcher’s resignation in November 1990.

That stalking horse was a little-known MP called Sir Anthony Meyer, and though Mrs Thatcher won the ballot against him with 314 votes to 33, the archives reveal there was deep disquiet among her advisors about the result.

On Downing St headed paper Mark Lennox-Boyd, her Parliamentary private secretary, writes to her on December 8, 1989: “There were 60 abstentions, and say 50 reluctant supporters. It is obviously the case that if another 50 of your supporters become reluctant, your position becomes untenable.”

In a separate typed note her former Defence Secretary, George Younger MP, adds presciently: “The result is not as good as the figures. Many voted with varying degrees of reluctance for the Prime Minister. They cannot all be relied upon another time.”

*Lady Thatcher’s private papers, owned by the Margaret Thatcher Archive Trust, are held at the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge and are being selectively published online by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation at www.margaretthatcher.org

Thatcher warned Poll Tax would hit household finances 

Aides issued private warnings to Margaret Thatcher about the dire impact the Poll Tax would have on the household finances of thousands of ordinary people, her private papers reveal.

The flat-rate tax on every adult regardless of the size of their property was one of the most controversial policies of the last years of Mrs Thatcher’s premiership, contributing in the eyes of many to her eventual downfall in November 1990.

The Prime Minister was told on several occasions during 1989 that the imminent introduction of the Poll Tax, properly known as the Community Charge, would have a serious effect on voters.

An analysis of her own constituency in Finchley sent to Mrs Thatcher in July by Mark Lennox-Boyd, her Parliamentary private secretary, showed that two person households on Ballards Lane, where her local party had its offices, would be an average of £172 a year worse off.

The analysis showed the losers would lose much more than the winners would gain.

A secret report sent to Mrs Thatcher while she was at Balmoral in September that year showed that in the ten most marginal seats in the country losers under the Poll Tax would outnumber gainers by 4 to 1 and in some cases 7 to 1.

Kenneth Baker, the Conservative Party chairman, told her: “It fear that it makes rather bleak reading. It is the worst position, but it’s the one we will be defending in the Spring, unless we do something.”

Magazine readers voted Thatcher President of Europe

In the light of the divisions over Europe which continue to dog her party there is a delicious irony to one letter received by Margaret Thatcher in 1989.

In December that year the Radio Times wrote to the PM to remind her that the readers of TV listings magazines across the continent had voted that should there ever be a President of a United Europe she would be their preferred choice.

In the poll run by the magazines, with a combined circulation of 19 million, Mrs Thatcher received 187,300 votes to the 157,400 received by Germany’s Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the 154,500 polled by France’s President Francois Mitterrand.

‘Sexist’ interview

Margaret Thatcher’s allies rallied round her to denounce a television interview of her as “sexist”.

Brian Walden, a former Labour MP turned broadcaster, had been regarded as sympathetic to the PM, but during an interview in October 1989 he asked Mrs Thatcher if she feared coming across as “‘slightly off her trolley’, authoritarian, domineering, refusing to listen to anyone else”.

Lord Hanson, the businessman and one of Mrs Thatcher’s confidants, wrote to her calling Walden a “rude, arrogant and stupid man”, while Bruce Gyngell, the head of TV-am, described him as “extremely sexist”.

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