She was referred to as the Iron Lady, but Margaret Thatcher liquified into floods of tears on the day she left Downing Street thirty years ago, on 28 November 1990.
At that time, I was a political reporter for the Today paper and the events leading up to that emotional day were the most remarkable during my nearly 40 years of reporting on politics.
I was among the reporters in the courtyard of the British embassy in Paris when Mrs Thatcher reacted to the outcome of the first tally of the Tory leadership contest which sealed her fate.
As we waited for the outcome, huddled around a little transistor radio, we held a sweepstake on the ballot numbers to pass the time. The numbers were 204 for Mrs Thatcher and 152 for Michael Heseltine with 16 abstentions, not enough to secure triumph for her.
” I verify it is my intention to let my name go forward for the 2nd ballot,” she declared, after her powerful press secretary Bernard Ingham pushed the BBC’s John Sergeant out of method during a live broadcast as her entourage walked down the embassy actions towards us.
However she didn’t contest the second ballot and simply over a week later on it was all over and John Major had actually succeeded her as prime minister, having actually beat Mr Heseltine and Douglas Hurd in the second round.
A couple of days after the drama of the embassy courtyard, I was one of the political correspondents patrolling the passages of your house of Commons on the evening her cabinet trooped into her workplace one by one and informed her the video game was up.
A few of her loyalist cheerleaders who advised her that night to eliminate on are still in the Commons, consisting of Sir Edward Leigh and Sir Christopher Chope. Her then political secretary, John Whittingdale, is a minister in Boris Johnson’s government.
A number of days before the 2nd ballot, I went to 11 Downing Street to interview Mr Major, then chancellor. He was Mrs Thatcher’s candidate. She was figured out to stop Mr Heseltine from prospering her.
Mrs Thatcher’s last day in office was a Wednesday. In her memoirs, The Downing Street Years, she explained how the tears started simply after 9am when she bid farewell to No 10 personnel prior to her last audience with the Queen.
” Some were in tears,” she wrote. “I tried to keep back mine, however they flowed freely as I strolled down the hall past those praising me on my escape of workplace …”.
Prior to going outside she stopped briefly to collect her ideas with her devoted aide and confidante Cynthia Crawford. More tears. “Crawfie wiped a trace of mascara off my cheek, proof of a tear which I had actually been not able to inspect,” Girl Thatcher composed.
She went outside and, again tearfully, stated: “We’re leaving Downing Street for the last time after 11-and-a-half terrific years and we’re happy to leave the UK in a quite better state than when we came here.”.
She waved and got into the automobile with her ever-faithful spouse Denis and a professional photographer caught the haunting, mournful image of her keeping an eye out of the automobile window that everyone keeps in mind from that historical day.
It had been a tumultuous – and her admirers would say marvelous – 11 years: three general election success, a purge of the Tory “wets”, council home sales, taming the trade unions, privatisation, the Falklands war, the Brighton bomb, the miners’ strike, the poll tax.
It was Mikhail Gorbachev who called her the Iron Lady. Ronald Reagan said she was a “political soulmate” and French President Francois Mitterrand said of her: “She has the eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe.”.
Her incredible demise can be traced back to 2 prominent resignations, by Sir Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson, prompted by a downturn in support for her and the Conservative Party, partially due to the unpopularity of the survey tax, or community charge as she called it, and a split over Europe that still divides the Tories.
Sir Geoffrey gave up after Mrs Thatcher humiliated him by demoting him. As soon as a close ally of Mrs Thatcher, the quiet and normally mild-mannered Sir Geoffrey ended up being the whispering assassin.
In early November, the under-pressure prime minister had actually stated in her Lord Mayor’s Banquet speech: “I am still at the crease, though the bowling has actually been quite hostile of late. And in case anybody questioned it, can I assure you there will be no ducking the bouncers.”.
The following day, when word spread around Westminster that Sir Geoffrey was to make an individual declaration in the Commons, there was little enthusiasm among political correspondents collected in the Members’ Lobby.
This, after all, was a political leader not known for his inspiring oratory, with his previous Labour opponent Denis Healey having explained an attack from Sir Geoffrey as “like being savaged by a dead sheep”.
But upstairs to the Press Gallery we reporters all treked and we were rewarded by Sir Geoffrey’s blistering riposte to Mrs Thatcher’s Guildhall speech. The dead sheep ended up being a roaring lion.
Explaining his treatment by Mrs Thatcher, he said: “It’s rather like sending our opening batsmen to the crease just for them to discover that before the very first ball is bowled, their bats have actually been broken by the team captain.”.
From my seat in the gallery on the Opposition side of the Commons chamber, looking straight at the federal government front bench, I saw Mrs Thatcher visibly wince a couple of times.
” The time has come,” Sir Geoffrey continued, “for others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for possibly too long.”.
It was the hint for Mr Heseltine to launch his challenge. The seeds of Mrs Thatcher’s failure had been sown in 1986, when he stormed out of Downing Street and resigned from the cabinet.
Noise familiar? There are similarities in between the ousting of Mrs Thatcher – the Tories’ very first woman prime minister – by her male coworkers and that of Theresa May by her male associates nearly thirty years later on.
Both females prime ministers left Downing Street in tears. And both were forced out in a coup triggered by distinctions over Europe.
The challenger in both cases was a blonde assassin who had quit the cabinet and become a king over the water outlining the prime minister’s failure.
Mr Johnson succeeded where Mr Heseltine failed, losing out to Mr Major and prompting among the most estimated political clichés of all time: “He who wields the knife never uses the crown.”.
Mrs Thatcher’s death unleashed a ferocious Tory psychodrama over Europe which reached its climax with the EU referendum in 2016.
Since 1990, her disciples have actually declared war on her followers as Tory prime minister – Mr Major, David Cameron and Mrs Might, in a continuing civil war with huge effects for the Conservative Celebration and the nation.
Opinions are divided about whether Mrs Thatcher would have backed Brexit. Her main biographer Charles Moore says yes, her private secretary in No 10, Charles Powell, states no.
Lord Moore, just recently made a peer by Mr Johnson, claims she planned a referendum in 1991 on a single currency. But Lord Powell stated that in her time as prime minister she never ever contemplated or discussed leaving the EU.
In Harold Wilson’s referendum on Common Market membership in 1975 she had campaigned for Yes. Yet her views towards the EU hardened throughout her 11 years in power as an outcome of lots of battles with European leaders.
In her last weeks as PM, there were minutes of terrific theatre in the Commons.
I was in my Press Gallery seat when she shouted “No, no, no!” in a riposte to a Brussels power grab and dash towards a single currency by European Commission president Jacques Delors.
Then, in the no-confidence dispute on the day she resigned, she responded to a heckle from Labour’s Dennis Skinner by informing him with gusto: “I’m enjoying this!”.
Two years earlier, in a speech in the Belgian city of Bruges that offered its name to a Brexiteer Tory pressure group, Mrs Thatcher said: “We have not effectively rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a brand-new supremacy from Brussels.”.
Now, 30 years after she left Downing Street, the Tories are still bitterly divided over Europe.
Her memory lives on, too, with her image holding on the wall of practically every Conservative association office throughout the land.
And she is still loathed by many on the left for the miners’ strike, privatisation, spending cuts and curbs on trade unions.
In 1987, she said controversially: “There is no such thing as society.” And previously this week, Rishi Sunak closed his costs evaluation declaration in the Commons by echoing her words.
The state can not “mandate or distribute” a thriving society, said the ambitious chancellor who wants to be the next Tory prime minister. It must “come from each people”.
Like her memory, Mrs Thatcher’s legacy truly survives on.