The Fall of Thatcher - in the middle of war

John Wakeham spoke to the competing demands of politics. As Margaret Thatcher was fighting for her political life - he was head down overseeing the privatisation of electricity. It’s perfectly possible for busy minister to not really know what is going on at court.

Tom King found himself in a similar position in November 1990 on an even larger scale. In the pivotal days of the move against Thatcher, he was in the gulf overseeing a mass deployment of British forces for Operation Desert Shield. He could not have been further mentally from the political drama unfolding.

The remorseless nature of the business of state is perfectly represented by his role at the cabinet meeting where Thatcher resigned. Once the formalities were over - he had business to present - namely the latest on the preparations for war. Item one on the agenda - the end of an eleven year long premiership; item 2 Tom King and Desert Shield. The queen is dead, long live……

He was not a major player in the drama - but did offer advice the Iron Lady might have been wise to heed. He suggested a pre-announced departure. Tony Blair did just that - and in so doing perhaps ensured a smooth transition to his long time foe Gordon Brown.  It would King reckons, have taken much of the poison out of Thatcher’s demise. A more orderly leadership contest would have followed. But compromise options were not to Thatcher’s taste.

His reminiscences also speak of the gentle side of the Iron lady. She was incredibly attentive to the personal situations of ministers - in King’s case, the strain put on his family by the risks of running the Northern Ireland office in the midst of the troubles. It gives the lie to the myth Thatcher only embodied the male qualities of leadership

Her Lord Chancellor James Mackay found her similarly supportive and appears almost bewildered at this rise from Scottish lawyer to Lord Chancellor reading out a s statement of thanks from the cabinet to the resigning Thatcher - a statement prepared by the ever prescient cabinet secretary Robin Butler. A reassuring word from him helped her complete her own statement after she’d initially broken down. HIs vignette captures the pathos of the most dramatic fall from power.  

Ben Monro-Davies