Few regrets over the purge of dissenters: Margaret Thatcher's recollections of a turbulent decade at the helm of the Conservative Party and Britain are published today: Removing the 'Wets'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
MARGARET THATCHER'S purge of dissenters was a feature of the reshuffles of the early 1980s, in which she removed or demoted 'wets' who had opposed her economic policy, along with the slightly different ones after the 1983 and 1987 elections.

In 1983, Francis Pym had suggested that 'landslides on the whole don't produce successful governments'. And John Biffen had talked in the middle of the 1983-87 term of the need for a 'balanced ticket'.

January 1981: She says she was sorry to lose Norman St John Stevas but he had made his own departure inevitable. Despite a first-class brain and a ready wit he had turned indiscretion into a political principle, she wrote. He made jokes at the expense of government policy which 'moved smoothly' from private conversation to Commons gossip to the front pages.

September 1981: Ian Gilmour gets 'huffy' when told of her decision. He had left Downing Street and denounced government policy to the television cameras as steering full speed ahead for the rocks. She calls this 'a flawless imitation of a man who has resigned on principle'. Of Christopher Soames, he was 'equally angry - but in a grander way'. She recalls having gained the impression that he felt the natural order of things was being violated and that he was, in effect, being dismissed by his housemaid.

Another was Jim Prior, who was shocked to be moved from Employment 'where he had come to consider himself as all but indispensable'. The press had been rumouring his resignation, so she had called his bluff and offered him the post of Northern Ireland Secretary. He had asked for time to consider and, after some agonising, accepted.

June 1983: By following Peter Carrington with Francis Pym, she says, she 'had exchanged an amusing Whig for a gloomy one'. She maintains Pym and her disagreed on the direction of policy, in their approach to government and about life in general. But he was popular in the Commons which, she says, always warmed to a minister 'who is believed to be out of step with the government which is often mistaken for independence of mind'.

June 1987: The balance of the new Cabinet ruled out consolidation and John Biffen left. Although he agreed with her about Europe and had sound instincts on economic matters, he had come to prefer 'commentary to collective responsibility'.

Comments