Charles Moore: Margaret Thatcher's resignation ... A career that did not die in vain





[Charles Moore covers politics with the wisdom and insight that come from having edited The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator.]

Twenty years ago this morning, having slept on the matter, Margaret Thatcher got up and decided to resign. At 7.30, she rang her principal private secretary and got the process rolling.

At 9am, in a tearful session, she announced her resignation to the Cabinet. The news was put out at 9.25, and the Cabinet then turned to normal business. At 12.45, she went to see the Queen.

And then, in great British parliamentary tradition, Mrs Thatcher had to continue almost as if nothing had happened. It was a Thursday, so the then twice-weekly Prime Minister’s Questions fell that afternoon. They followed pretty much the same random pattern as usual. The first question she answered was about whether she had any plans to visit Belfast South. She would, she said, but ''perhaps in a slightly different capacity’’.

Once Questions were over, she had to speak for the government from which she had just resigned in a no-confidence debate called by the Opposition before her fall. To the delight of the House, she batted away interruptions. After a friendly tease from the veteran Labour Left-winger, Dennis Skinner, suggesting that she should now become Governor of an independent Bank of England, she agreed with him and exclaimed: ''I’m enjoying this.’’ In another great parliamentary tradition – good old British humbug – the massed ranks of those who had just assassinated her cheered her to the echo.

What was it all about? The decision to force out a party leader is normally a punishment for failure. But Mrs Thatcher had won all her three elections, and been Prime Minister for longer than anyone else in the 20th century. (She had even won the first ballot of the leadership contest, though not by a big enough margin to prevent a second.) On the fateful weekend when the votes of her colleagues had stacked up against her, she had been away in Paris, at a conference marking the victory in the Cold War which she had done so much to win. Where was the failure?..



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