28th November 1990. Decline and Fall.
Poll Tax riots and Geoffrey Howe’s resignation speech, finally cost Margaret Thatcher her Premiership.
Thatcher at 40%, had the second lowest average approval of any post-war Prime Minister (PM) and she was always less popular than her Party. By September 1990 the Tories were trailing Labour by 14%.
Two months’ later she formally resigned Today, leaving No 10 Downing St. in tears after John Major had been elected the previous day.
Thatcher couldn’t see herself as others saw her, as a bossy, interfering woman, keen to put down colleagues and dividing and ruling: remember Dries and Wets?
Serious splits had opened when Defence Secretary, Michael Hesletine walked out of Cabinet in January 1986 when his opinions were ignored, and Chancellor Nigel Lawson resigned in October 1989 over undue influence of Thatcher’s economics guru.(1)
Then came the first challenge to her leadership from ‘Stalking Horse’ Sir Anthony Meyer in 1989 and though roundly defeated it opened the way for others.
Her day of reckoning came on the 13th November 1990 when the mild-mannered Deputy PM, Sir Geoffrey Howe the last of the 1979 Cabinet, announced in the Commons his reasons for resigning, with a stinging speech against Mrs. Thatcher’s autocratic style and hostility to Europe.(2)
Using a cricketing analogy he spoke about being ‘sent out with a broken bat’.
The next day Michael Heseltine challenged her for the leadership, but Thatcher won on a first vote but not by enough according to complex rules.
In Paris at the time, she was seen anxiously looking at her watch when she heard she had not won sufficient votes in the first round to win outright.
Thatcher said she would ‘fight on to win’, but after consulting a ‘shamefaced Cabinet’ she realised she wouldn’t win on a second ballot, and decided to stand down on the 22nd November.
She later described her displacement as ‘treachery with a smile on its face’.
It was her failure to carry her Cabinet with her on her hardening line on Europe, which began the events which finally led to her downfall.
Events since then have confirmed her stance against closer ties with Europe to be correct.
(1) On 9th January 1986.
(2) Howe was for joining the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) which later proved a disaster for John Major her successor.
Ref: bbc.co.uk/On this Day/Pic Image.