Wonderful, says Thatcher
“Wonderful!” That was Mrs Margaret Thatcher's reaction to the news of the close voting in Barnet Council's marathon education debate on Tuesday.
Mrs Thatcher, speaking only a few hours after her sensational defeat of Mr Edward Heath in the Tory leadership poll, said she hoped that the number of councillors voting against a total comprehensive school system would increase.
Her victory over Mr Heath left her feeling “very pleased” —and “cautiously confident” about the outcome of the second ballot on Tuesday. “This was only our first hurdle,” she added. “There are others to take, and we'll take them as they come.”
One of the first congratulatory telegrams she received was from Councillor Jimmy Sapsted, divisional chairman of the Conservatives in her Finchley and Friern Barnet constituency.
He said: “It's a wonderful result and Finchley is highly delighted. We are overjoyed. We didn't think it was on in the first round. Now we look forward to her winning in the next.”
One of her active campaigners in the House of Commons is Mr John Gorst; Conservative MP for Hendon North. His comment: “I am absolutely delighted with the result. I will vote for Mrs Thatcher again.”
Mr Gorst joined Mrs Thatcher at her victory Press conference and at a champagne party at the home of one of her campaign managers, Mr Airey Neave, MP.
Mrs Thatcher, who is to be guest of honour at Barnet's civic banquet at the Dorchester on March 15, explained why she contested the leadership when she spoke to a meeting of Finchley and Friern Barnet officers on Friday.
She told them: “Some people, in the Press and outside it, have not hesitated to impugn my motives, to attribute to me political views which I have never expressed and do not hold, and to suggest that the idea of a woman aspiring to lead a great party is absurd—a strangely old-fashioned view!”
Mrs Thatcher said she thought Conservative supporters in the area had a right to know why she allowed herself to be nominated as a candidate, and added: I hesitated for some time before agreeing to stand.
“It was obvious that I should be accused of disloyalty to Mr Heath, of splitting the party and of unseemly personal ambition.”
She explained that to become a Conservative MP she and all her colleagues had to be formally readopted as candidates before every election. The constituency association could confirm or reject her as they pleased.
Since 1965 there had been four General Elections and the Conservative membership of the House of Commons had changed substantially.
Yet since 1965 there had not been an election for the leadership of the party—nor any provision for one.
Mrs Thatcher said that it was therefore not surprising—particularly since the party had lost three out of the four elections—that there should have been a widespread demand for a procedure for Mr Heath to submit himself for re-election.
“Whatever the result, the party could then sink its differences and unite in support of its chosen leader.
“This feeling among many of my colleagues appears all the more reasonable when you realise that the leader of our party in opposition personally appoints—without any procedure for election or confirmation by Conservative MPs—the whole of the Shadow Cabinet and those who control the party machine at Central Office.
“When Mr Heath recognised the strength of this feeling, he very properly set in train the procedures for a leadership election. A number of my colleagues asked me to stand as a candidate and assured me of a considerable volume of support. I therefore allowed my name to go forward, since it seemed right that their views should be represented.”
Mrs Thatcher went on: “For past errors, in government and opposition, I accept my full share of collective responsibility. But I hope I have learned something from the failures and mistakes of the past and can help to plan constructively for the future.
“In the desperate situation of Britain today, our party needs the support of all who value the traditional ideals of Toryism: compassion and concern for the individual and his freedom: opposition to excessive State power: the right of the enterprising, the hardworking and the thrifty to succeed and to reap the rewards of success and pass some of them on to their children: encouragement of that infinite diversity of choice that is an essential of freedom; the defence of widely distributed private property against the Socialist State; the right of a man to work without oppression by either employer, or trade union boss.”
The feeling that Britain was set on a course towards inevitable Socialist mediocrity must be halted and reversed. That was the priority task, whatever the outcome of the Leadership ballot.
Mrs Thatcher wrote to Councillor Sapsted at the weekend and told him— “and through you our supporters” —that she believes the Tory party must develop to win the next election and provide leadership for the nation.
Despite the shock of election defeats, Mrs Thatcher wrote, she was convinced the opportunity had never been greater for Conservatives to project their principles and beliefs.