Thatcher goes after Wilson, and No. 10
THE LADY IS IN WAITING
It was “like a dream,” said Margaret Thatcher last night after she decisively won the Tory battle and became the first woman leader of a political party in Britain. But this morning comes the reality.
Mrs. Thatcher, 49 and not very experienced, must now finally shake off her Tory-lady image and become lady-in-waiting for the job Mr. Wilson manfully holds for Labour at 10, Downing Street. [end p1]
First task, she said, is to rally and consult the new Shadow Cabinet, whose style will be “that each person is responsible for his own duties.”
As the Heath men retreated into the twilight and other M.P.s however they voted fell over themselves to offer her support, these names were being conjured with:—
Mr. Edward du Cann, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, could be spokesman on economic affairs. But he is advising no change before Easter.
Sir Keith Joseph (“I am very pleased”). who once toyed with challenging Mr. Heath but then backed the Thatcher campaign, is also expected to carry greater influence.
Mr. Reginald Maudling, a former deputy leader, may be brought from the wilderness.
Mr. Edward Heath, the deposed leader, sent Mrs. Thatcher only a formal note of congratulation and is not expected to serve with her on the Front Bench.
Mr. William Whitelaw, will stay in the Shadow Cabinet but will be shifted as chairman of the Tory Party organisation while Central Office, the party headquarters, is likely to see new appointments.
A few minutes after her victory over Mr. Whitelaw was announced yesterday Margaret Thatcher sent him a note: “Willie dear … . I know how you must be feeling … . I must talk to you. What matters above all now is the party.”
Mr. Whitelaw—“My colleagues have made their decision”—sent a reply of congratulations, then went home to Chelsea for a family dinner refusing to say any more.
But on radio later he relented: “I will do anything I can to help Margaret Thatcher if she wants me. If she does not want me. I quite understand.”
The fierce light shone on black suited Mrs. Thatcher facing the Press at Central Office while a bare Commons took in the news and tried to concentrate on Ulster.
It was like a dream, the new leader explained, “that the next name in the lists after Harold Macmillan, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, and 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 and campaigners, particularly Mr. Airey Neave and Mr. William Shelton, and said: “It is important to me that this prize has been won in open electoral contest with four other potential leaders.”
Now? “There is much to do. I hope you will allow me to do it thoughtfully and well.”
On appointments: “I cannot act hastily—we shall try and make haste slowly.”
The new leader fended off questions about her alleged Right-wing stance and whether the all-male Tory Carlton Club would take her in.
How does she feel about facing Mr. Wilson in the Commons? “About the same as he feels about facing me.”
She will in fact be opposite the Premier today when he deals with the Queen's finances. But no fireworks are expected until his next Question Time, next week after he returns from his trip to Moscow.
Last night Mrs. Thatcher went on TV—pledging to help people who save—and attended a celebration party given by campaigner Mr. Shelton.
She embraced her husband and son, saying: “I've been hugged so much there's hardly anything left of me to hug.”
Husband Mr. Denis Thatcher, an oil man, said: “I'm always out of the limelight—I like it.” Their 21-year-old son Mark was “delighted” at mother's success. The twin daughter was busy with an examination.
The Thatcher life-style, already fairly elegant in Chelsea, will be enhanced by a pay cheque at £12,500 a year plus an official car and perhaps an armed guard.
In yesterday's poll all 276 Tory M.P.s voted—two papers were spoiled—giving Mrs. Thatcher an overall majority with Mr. Whitelaw trailing and Sir Geoffrey Howe, Mr. James Prior, and Mr. John Peyton nowhere.
The vote meant that Mrs. Thatcher—who admitted she wept—was leader of the Parliamentary Tory Party and officially Leader of her Majesty's Opposition. But to become leader of the Tory Party itself she has to go for approval to a joint meeting of peers. M.P.s, and constituency leaders in Church House, Westminster, tomorrow week.
This is a formality, but Mrs. Thatcher cannot tackle the party machine before then.
She will certainly be launching a major policy rethink for the Tories. She will also go out on getting-to-know-you tours all over the country, to refute complaints that she is just a pretty hat representing only South-East England.
“I think she will aim to make the party distinctive,” said Mr. du Cann. “We are going to see a new scene.”
Meanwhile Mrs. Thatcher returned to the House for a committee meeting on the Finance Bill Tory and Labour M.P.s cheered her and made gallant remarks.
The Tory lady smiled with delight. Then the leader got down to business.