One of the most formidable figures of the twentieth century, Margaret Thatcher, was a divisive and polarising force in British politics – some say she saved us from economic ruin, while others blame her for unemployment and generations of poverty. For better or worse, the Iron Lady, (as she’s known in political parlance, and not just thanks to that Meryl Streep film), changed the United Kingdom with a massively modernising, capitalist programme. Thatcher also dramatically shifted the direction of politics, not just in 1980s Britain but across the world, its effects still seen and debated today.
But in doing so, she sharply divided her country and for many, despite her lasting personal and political achievements, she will always be a controversial character. Marmite Thatcher, my parents called her. An exceptional leader, by 1990 Thatch was deeply unpopular and was deposed by an internal coup by her own Conservative party, despite never having lost a general election. She remained the UK’s only female PM until Theresa May was inexplicably anointed following Britain’s Brexit horror of 2016.
Following her shock replacement by the decent but dull John Major in November 1990, she saw out the rest of the parliament as a backbench MP, and during March 1992, in the midst of Major’s marathon six-week election campaign, and The Queen‘s annus horriblis, Thatcher was often seen out in public campaigning to help those MPs who had supported her.
Among them was Anthony Favell, Tory MP for Stockport in Greater Manchester (or Cheshire if you want to get historical) from 1983 to 1992, who picked her up from Marple Bridge – where she had been attacked by an angry woman armed with a ferocious bunch of daffodils. The former PM was thwacked by the florists’ finest as she completed her Spring walkabout. The flower-wielding voter was held back by Thatcher’s security team, but the Iron Lady took it in her stride. Coshed but somewhat slightly unfazed, she maintained a dignified composure with not a hair on her well-coiffured head out of place (Mrs T. backcombed her hair to hide the horns, alleges Jo Brand).
In fact, the Thatch didn’t even mention the incident once she was ushered into her car, as Favell recalls:
“It was just the two of us in the car and she told me ‘I would have won this election’. When I asked her why she said because she would have gone into Baghdad during the first Iraq war. Looking back on it, it is amazing to think what a difference it would have made if we had unseated Saddam Hussein then – it would have changed the course of history. She had a lot of foresight. She never listened to what people said or thought – she did what she thought was right. I think the people of Stockport liked what she had to say.”
Thatcher’s appearance did little to save the MP from the dumper though. Favell lost the seat, but it was MT who was the first person to commiserate him. “She went to the trouble of finding my home number, and rang me at 7am the following morning.” Love her or loathe her, for Thatch, loyalty was everything. Outstanding.
For the record, although I was fortunate enough to meet Margaret Thatcher (three times in the 1990s, and John Major once), alas, I was too young to vote for her, and 1992 was the first time I was able to cast my preference in a General Election. I voted Liberal Democrat.
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