Press Conference after winning Conservative leadership (Grand Committee Room)
|Document type:||public statement|
|Document kind:||Press Conference|
|Venue:||House of Commons Grand Committee Room|
|Source:||(1) The Times, 12 February 1975 (2) Financial Times, 12 February 1975 (3) Yorkshire Post, 12 February 1975|
|Journalist:||(1) David Wood, The Times, reporting (2) Richard Evans, Financial Times, reporting|
|Editorial comments:||Around 1700-1715. MT asked that there should be no cameras or microphones, probably because the press conference was taking place within the precincts of the House of Commons. ITN broadcast news of her victory in a newsflash at 1611. MT used the same opening statement at a second Press Conference held a few minutes later at Central Office.|
|Themes:||Autobiographical comments, Autobiography (marriage and children), Parliament, Conservative Party (organisation), Defence (general), General Elections, European Union (general), Foreign policy (general discussions), Labour Party and Socialism, Conservative Party (leadership elections), Northern Ireland, Women, Famous statements by MT|
Mrs. Thatcher emphasises need for conciliation and party teamwork in interest of nation
Mrs Thatcher was at pains last night to emphasize, not the differences of policy and style she had brought out during her leadership campaign but party unity and business as usual. She was moving back towards the centre of politics, she made clear at a press conference at the House of Commons.
She underlined her hopes that present members of the Shadow Cabinet, appointed by Mr Heath and including her four challengers, would agree to serve under her.
"To me", she said, "it is like a dream that the next name in the lists Macmillan, Home, and Heath, is Margaret Thatcher. Each has brought his own style of leadership and stamp of greatness to his task, and I shall take on the work with humility and dedication."
Having thanked her campaign managers, particularly Mr. Airey Neave and Mr William Shelton, she added: "It is important to me this prize has been won in open electoral contest with four other potential leaders. I know they will be disappointed, but I hope we shall soon be back working together as colleagues for the nation in which we all believe.
"There is much to do, and I hope you will allow me time to do it thoughtfully and well. Finally, can I pay tribute to the chief whip and staff and Robert Carr for the marvellous way they have carried on during this period of uncertainty?"
Questioned, Mrs Thatcher said that her immediate task was to get a new Shadow Cabinet and to consult them. Each person was responsible for his own duties, and "obviously we must consult about areas of research". There was much to be done in the economic sphere and also politically to win back some of the industrial areas of the Midlands and the North. "That will be quite a lot to be going on with."
She said he had asked the Shadow Cabinet to stay for the time being. "I cannot act hastily; we shall make haste slowly", she added: "My problem is that there is so much talent."
It is known that Conservative Central Office is confused. Questioned on changes, Mrs Thatcher diplomatically answered that she was not yet party leader, only Leader of the Opposition.
One of the criticisms within the 1922 Committee about Mrs Thatcher is that her pre-occupation as a politician with domestic affairs gives the impression that she has none of Mr Heath's firm views about foreign policy and defence. She confessed: "I am not expert in every subject", but fortunately she did not need to be because it was for the shadow ministers she chose to be the experts in their own particular subjects. She would have to pick it up "quickly". Characteristically she added, with a certain edge, that "those who are so good on foreign affairs are not so good on domestic affairs".
Was she a deeply convinced European? "I should hope to play a part in it", Mrs Thatcher answered. "Of course, I hope other people will perhaps take the main burden, because it will be within their particular ‘shadow’ responsibility. It is not my job to eclipse my ‘shadows’."
She said she would maintain bipartisan policy in Northern Ireland.
Replying in advance to critics in the 1922 Committee who ask whether Sir Keith Joseph would be chosen as her shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, she said: "I have a lot of thoughts, but I am not going to share them for the moment."
Mr Whitelaw, her main challenger, would continue in the Shadow Cabinet, she said firmly. But "this does not mean to say I have decided what are the precise jobs. I was careful to avoid counting chickens before they were hatched. I have not had time to consult them. I hope and assume they will (serve). For the time being I have made it clear through the usual channels (that is, the Whip's Office) that I hope everybody will stay in position, perhaps not their present position, but we shall continue to be colleagues. I should not like them to read anything in the press before I have had time to consult them."
One questioner asked her if she would provide more openings for women. She replied: "The first thing we have to do is to get more women into Parliament, and then we shall be less conspicuous."
Did the Conservative Party need shaking up? "I think we need a new look and a new sense of purpose and direction from time to time. We all do, whatever our jobs. The press do." She paid tribute to " [ Edward Heath] Ted's 10 years of leadership, particularly his fantastic efforts to get us into Europe, which succeeded".
Asked how she felt about facing Mr Wilson in the Commons, Mrs Thatcher answered: "About the same as [ Harold Wilson] he feels about facing me." She said there was a very wide spectrum of views within the Conservative Party and "if I have a style of leadership it is to get people from the geographical areas represented, and people of all opinions in the party and all who have merit and suitability."
After commenting that she was ready to face another leadership election in November, under the Home committee's procedure, she added that immediately after hearing of her success she telephoned to her husband, Derek , [sic]> but he had already heard the news from the "tapes". Her son and daughter still had not been told.
Mr Whitelaw commented after the declaration of the ballot: "My colleagues have made their decision. They have elected Mrs Thatcher decisively. I congratulate her on her victory, and she will have my full support. I am sure the party will unite behind her."
Sir Geoffrey Howe, QC, another candidate, issued a statement, which said: "I extend my warmest congratulations to Margaret Thatcher. She can count upon my whole-hearted support in leading a united Opposition, and in offering the country the positive Conservative case for the free society."
Mr John Peyton said: "I wish her well. I believe in very vigorous opposition, and Margaret Thatcher's way of handling the Finance Bill is close to my idea of how we should conduct Opposition."
Mr Heath in a message from his home in Wilton Street, Belgravia, said: "I offer my warm congratulations to Mrs Thatcher on her election as leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Commons and wish her every success."
That message crowned Mrs Thatcher's extraordinary achievement. The 1922 Committee has surprised itself and, until the last day or two, surprised Mrs Thatcher. They now have to discover one another in the spirit of liberation that yesterday's election has created.[fo 1]
(2) Financial Times, 12 February 1975
New leader seeks to heal wounds and hasten slowly
A Triumphant Mrs. Thatcher, having been elected the first woman leader of a major political party—and potentially Britain's first woman Prime Minister—maintained her remarkably cool composure at a packed Press conference in the Commons Grand Committee room.
She admitted it was "like a dream" to have her name in the line of Tory party leaders after Harold Macmillan, Sir Alec Douglas-Home and Edward Heath. But she parried with tact and humour all leading questions about the future direction of Conservative policy and the composition of the "shadow" Cabinet.
Her whole emphasis was on reconciling the supporters of the various leadership candidates and on healing any damage done by the two contests.
She hoped that all candidates in yesterday's second ballot would continue in the shadow cabinet and she repeated her pledge to ask Mr. Heath to serve under her. But her prime intention was clearly not to be hustled into any premature decisions.
Flanked by her two leading campaigners, Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon) and Mr. Bill Shelton (Streatham), Mrs. Thatcher read out a brief opening statement thanking her supporters.
"To me it is like a dream that the next name in the line after Harold Macmillan, Sir Alec Douglas-Home and Edward Heath is Margaret Thatcher," she declared. "Each has brought his own style of leadership and the stamp of greatness to his task and I shall take on the work with humility and dedication."
It was important to her that the prize of the leadership had been won in open electoral contest with four other potential leaders. "I know they will be disappointed, but I hope we shall soon be back working together as colleagues for the things in which we all believe.
"There is much to do, and I hope you will allow me time to do it thoughtfully and well."
She said the immediate task was to get the new shadow cabinet in position and to consult with them—she will chair to-morrow's meeting of the shadow cabinet for the first time. She emphasised that each member of the team would be responsible for his own duties and she had no intention of interfering unduly.
Asked what her policy priorities would be she said it was too early to specify in detail, but a good deal would have to be done in the economics sphere and politically to win back the industrial areas of the Midlands and the North.
But before policy decisions could be taken there were a lot of people to be consulted. "We shall try to make haste slowly," she said. "My present problem is that there is so much talent to choose from."
She rejected the view that her political experience was too narrowly based, particularly in the foreign affairs and defence field. Mrs. Thatcher argued that for the last ten years the party had had the ideal Foreign Secretary in Sir Alec Douglas-Home, but this had meant that others were not able to gain practical experience in this field.
"I am the first to understand that I am not an expert in every subject, but fortunately one does not need to be as the shadow cabinet has experts in their own particular subjects."
With her economic and legal training she had become reasonably adept at picking up information on new subjects. She added that some of those who were good at foreign affairs were perhaps not quite so expert on home affairs and education.
Asked if she had beaten the Tory establishment by defeating Mr. Whitelaw she commented: "I beat four chaps in open electoral contest. I just think MPs liked me a little bit."
Mrs. Thatcher was pressed hard on her shadow cabinet dispositions, particularly the "shadow" Chancellor of the Exchequer. She admitted she had a lot of thoughts on the subject "but I am not going to share them at the moment."
She admitted that policy changes might be necessary once she had had time to consider them with her new team. "I think we all need a new look and a new sense of purpose from time to time. We all do."
But she did not wish to be critical of the past in any way and she paid tribute to Mr. Heath's ten years of office, particularly his successful efforts to get Britain into Europe.
She denied passionately that she should be considered "a right-wing lady." In her view each member of the Tory leadership had a spectrum of views. "It would be far better instead of attaching labels to regard most of us as having a bit of Left and Right in us. There are a large number of what you would call Left-wingers among my supporters.
"If I have a style of leadership it will be to get people from different geographical areas represented and from all spectrums of the party—all on merit and suitability."
She did not think her election would make any difference to the timing of the next General Election.[fo 2]
(3) Yorkshire Post, 12 February 1975
‘Just like a dream’
Mrs. Thatcher's first words at a Press conference after her election as Opposition leader were:
"To me it is like a dream, that the next name in the lists after Harold Macmillan, Sir Alec Douglas Home, Edward Heath is Margaret Thatcher.
"Each has brought his own style of leadership and stamp of greatness to his task. I shall take on the work with humility and dedication."
She thanked her supporters for the trust and confidence they had placed in her and thanked particularly her two chief campaign managers, Mr. Airie Neave and Mr. William Shelton.
"It is important to me that this prize has been won in open electoral contest with four other potential leaders.
"I know they will be disappointed, but I hope we shall soon be back working together as colleagues for the things in which we all believe.
"There is much to do. I hope you will allow me time to do it thoughtfully and well."
She went on: "The immediate thing for me is to get the new Shadow Cabinet in position.
"The Shadow Cabinet I hope, will be of a style that each person is responsible for his own duties.
"We must obviously consult about areas of research and a good deal will have to be done in the economic field[fo 3] and politically in winning back some of the industrial areas of the Midlands and the North—that will be quite a lot to be going on with."
Mrs. Thatcher, composed and at ease in a black two piece suit, was asked when she would be appointing her Shadow Cabinet.
"I have asked our present people to stay in position for the time being. I cannot act hastily.
"We shall try and make haste slowly. There are a lot of people to be consulted—my problem is that there is so much talent."
Would she be making changes at Conservative Central Office?
"I am not leader of the Party yet—I am Leader of the Opposition for the time being."
She described how she told her husband the result—only to find he knew already. She said:
"I phoned my [ Denis Thatcher] husband. By some curious happening the tapes always seems to act more quickly than the Post Office and he got it on the tapes before I spoke to him.
"He is very thrilled. My [ Carol Thatcher] daughter is still taking her exams until 5.30 p.m.—I hope she hasn't other things on her mind."
She does not expect to spend much more time leading the Opposition team on the Committee Stage of the Finance Bill.
She said: "It is not going to be possible. I hope to make a brief appearance late tonight and explain that they may not be seeing very much of me for the next few days."
She was asked about her interest in foreign affairs and defence. There was a roar of laughter when she replied, "I am all for them."
In 15 minutes flat, Mrs. Thatcher briskly dealt with the giant Press conference in the Grand Committee Room off the ancient Westminster Hall.
She ordered no cameras, no microphones, and then proceeded near perfectly to fend off a welter of questions ranging from her alleged Right-wing stance to her feelings about being barred from the all-male Tory stronghold, the Carlton Club.
As she skated through other tricky questions, Mrs. Thatcher disclosed that she would back the present bipartisan policy on Northern Ireland.
At one stage the questioning from the journalists, flagged and Mrs. Thatcher barked: "Next question—come on."
Would women have more openings in the House now that she was Leader? Mrs. Thatcher replied: "The first thing to do is to get more women in Parliament."
Another questioner asked: "What are you going to do about joining the Carlton Club?"
"I have more important matters for instant consideration," she said.
The club has two long standing traditions. These are that the Leader of the Conservative party is always a member ... and that women are not allowed to become members.
Mrs. Thatcher would not be drawn on her plans to shake up the Conservative party.
But she conceded: "We need a new look and sense of direction and purpose from time to time. We all need this whatever our jobs."
Asked how she felt about facing Mr. Wilson at Question Time in the Commons when he returns from Moscow next Tuesday, Mrs. Thatcher promptly replied: "About the same as [ Harold Wilson] he feels about facing me."
She said Press reports portraying her as a "Right-wing lady" were "quite wrong."
Her support had come from a very wide spectrum of views in the Conservative party, she insisted.
Asked if she was happy about the electoral system, Mrs. Thatcher said: "I went into the race accepting the rules in full."
If the procedures were to be changed this was a matter for the party, she said. She added that she did not feel her election would have any effect on the next General Election.
Mrs. Thatcher took over one of Mr. Heath's cancelled engagements by attending a supper meeting of the Conservative Group for Europe at the St. Stephen's Club, Westminster, last night.
She arrived during the initial drinks and was warmly welcomed by Sir Gilbert Longden, former MP and chairman of the group.
Mrs. Thatcher said she thought it important to come to the meeting as her first official function in order to underline her commitment to the European ideal.
The club, which is a Conservative stronghold, does not have women members. But Mrs. Thatcher learned that the rules will either be bent or altered to allow her to become the first woman member.