Kwasi Kwarteng explains how Thatcher saved her premiership in 1981by Jonathan Derbyshire / October 17, 2015 / Leave a comment
“Thatcher’s Trial”, a new book by the Conservative MP Kwasi Kwarteng, is about a “leader beset by troubles.” In February 1981, faced with the threat of a nationwide strike by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Margaret Thatcher’s government withdrew its plans to close 23 pits. After David Howell, the Energy Secretary, announced a range of concessions to the NUM, one of Thatcher’s advisers, John Sparrow, wrote to her with the following warning: “You will be aware of the disappointment and, in some places, bitterness that have caused by [the] decision to retreat in the face of the NUM.”
As Geoffrey Howe prepared that year’s budget, many seasoned observers thought that Thatcher’s government was on borrowed time. Yet, by September 1981, she felt secure enough to remove from the Cabinet two prominent “Wets” (non-believers in the Thatcherite experiment), Ian Gilmour and Lord Soames. Kwarteng’s book examines the six months between the budget and the reshuffle—six months which, he argues, defined Thatcher as a leader. When I met Kwarteng in Westminster earlier this week, I began by asking whether he thought Thatcher’s temperament, which he rightly describes as “Manichean,” was one of the major causes of the grave political peril in which she found herself in early 1981.