The Fall of Thatcher - a squalid coup
When discussing the fall of Thatcher there is, like anything, a spectrum of opinion. For a few it was overdue and triggered by reckless behaviour with colleagues.
For the majority it was an unfortunate series of events that needed to happen – but should have happened in a less traumatic fashion. And for a number of loyalists it was a great betrayal. Charles Powell, Margaret Thatcher’s foreign affairs adviser and friend is firmly in the latter camp.
Talking to me, he says he wouldn’t quite call the move against her a squalid coup – before describing it as exactly that. It’s an event he will never forget. He was with her in Paris when she got the call saying Heseltine had won enough votes to force a second round – and from the look on her face could see she knew it was all over. Three election victories, eleven years of highly successful government – blown away over parochial party disputes.
It's a view that stems from his deep sense of history. This was the longest serving premier, he points out, since Lord Liverpool. The world was undergoing seismic change with the end of cold war – a victory for the West in which Thatcher had played a key part. Many have argued Margaret Thatcher should not have gone to Paris during the leadership election for a conference to mark the end of the East-West clash that nearly resulted in global annihilation. For Powell the very thought that Thatcher should have missed such an event to instead beg for votes from MPs is anathema. Powell is the official with a sense of the big picture. It leaves no room for the overriding concern of MPs – laid out to me by John Wakeham – to save their seats. His boss felt the same way. It proved a fatal – and surely flawed – perspective for a politician.
As foreign affairs adviser, he stresses how Europe was not the big issue of the day. The cold war dominated – a point worth stressing when Thatcher’s fall is too neatly slipped into the narrative of Tory split over the EU. And like John Gummer - he is certain she would have voted remain in any referendum. And as a friend, he concedes the exit was devastating. She never had a happy day again in her life, he says. No doubt this melancholy would have occurred whatever form her exit took - given her addiction to affairs of state. But the brutal eviction hammered the bruise – leaving a pain her friends clearly still feel keenly.