Mrs Margaret Thatcher is the new leader of the Conservative Party—the first woman ever to lead a political party in Britain.
In the Party's second ballot this afternoon she had 146 votes, 7 more than the crucial figure of 139 that she needed for an outright win.
Here's how the Conservative MPs voted:
Mrs Thatcher … . 146
Mr William Whitelaw … . 79
Mr James Prior … . 19
Sir Geoffrey Howe … . 19
Mr John Peyton … . 11
There were 2 spoiled papers.
Here's our political correspondent David Rose: [end p11]
There's clearly been a snowballing of Conservative MP's votes behind Mrs. Thatcher, at the expense of the other four candidates. After the amazing happenings of the past week, a significant number have decided to settle the issue today without going on to further agony in the shape of a third ballot on Thursday.
Mrs. Thatcher got 7 more votes than she needed to become outright leader today, and a substantial 67 more than Mr. Whitelaw. Sonehow Mr Whitelaw's campaign never got started, and the assumption that he would inherit all Mr Heath 's votes and more, has been proved quite wrong. By contrast, Mrs Thatcher has looked a winner ever since her victory last week, and her campaign, her bandwaggon has never stopped rolling—indeed, it's apparently gone from strength to strength.
If Mr. Whitelaw was a badly beaten second, the rest of the field came nowwhere, with only 49 votes between them. It looks as if some of their supporters have deserted them in order to produce a quick result. MPs have not been worried whether the Party was ready for a woman leader— [end p12] perhaps the soundings from the constituency association around the country which came out two to one in Mrs. Thatcher's favour—have convinced them that her sex would be an electoral bonus, rather than a liability. [end p13]
Is the result as you expected, or have you done better than you thought?
Well, you know we were always very cautious. It's a little bit better than we thought, but we knew of one or two votes who changed later, and we're very very thrilled, because it's such a decisive result. We can go forward now.
When do you expect to announce your shadow cabinet?
Well, I was going to ask you if the party's going to take any major difference in direction under your leadership, which people have been asking about.
Well, give me a little time. The first thing I must do is to arrange a new shadow cabinet, but I hope that for the time being everyone will stay in their present positions, until we've had time to make changes.
Mr. Whitelaw's great cry was that he was the unifier of the party—do you think you can be a unifier and a healer, after all this … .?
Oh, my goodness me, after having the constituency associations with us just before the ballot, and then having such a decisive ballot, I hope there'll be no question now but that we shall go forward as a united party.
And you think you can do that—do you want to do that?
I believe so.
In other countries, Mrs. Thatcher, when people back the losing candidate, those supporters of the losing candidate lose out—there are purges, and things like this—will that happen in the Conservative Party?
Good heavens, no. You'll remember when we had the differences between Mr. Macmillan and Mr. Butler for the leadership. After that. After Mr. Macmillan was chosen, we went forward as never [end p14] before to the biggest victory, because once the decision had been taken everyone united and said we've more common ground than we have differences between us.
What about Mr. Heath's close associates in the past—are you going to use their talents?
We're all Conservatives. I shall use people and appoint people on the basis of merit, and also we must see that the geographical areas are represented, with merit and geography and a wide spectrum of opinion within the party will be the basis upon which I will form the new shadow cabinet. [end p15]
Mrs Thatcher will become Opposition leader officially as soon as Mr Humphrey Atkins, the Conservative Chief Whip has written to Mr Wilson telling the Prime Minister of her election. There's tremendous interest at Westminster over the composition of her first front-bench team, which she can be expected to announce within the next month.
Will she offer jobs to Mr Heath and Mr Whitelaw? Will they accept? For sure, Sir Keith Joseph, her most senior supporter can expect a key position, and many think that Mr Edward Du Cann, the chairman of the Conservative backbenchers committee, will also be given a senior post.
Mr Heath came in to the Commons at noon today to vote. Later in the afternoon he heard the result at his London home and issued a statement saying, “I offer my warmest congratulations to Mrs Thatcher on her election and wish her every success.” [end p16]
Mr. William Whitelaw who Mrs Thatcher beat so decisively said this evening: “I congratulate her on her victory. She will have my full support and I am sure the party will unite behind her.”
Mr James Prior said he offered his warmest congratulations to Mrs Thatcher on what he called a very remarkable achievement.
Sir Geoffrey Howe said: “She can count on my wholehearted support in leading a united opposition and in offering the country a positive Conservative case.”
Mr John Peyton said: “I wish her nothing but well.” [end p17]
(2) ITN Archive: News At Ten, 11 February 1975
MARGARET THATCHER IS THE NEW LEADER OF THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY.
SHE PROMISES TO BRING NEW FACES INTO THE SHADOW CABINET.
IRA TRUCE—NO MORE DETENTIONS WHILE CEASEFIRE LASTS.
MINERS: THE COAL BOARD MAKES TWO NEW OFFERS.
THE PRIME MINISTER WITHDRAWS A STATEMENT ABOUT MORE MONEY FOR THE QUEEN. [end p18]
The new leader of the Conservative Party is Mrs Margaret Thatcher—the first woman ever to lead a political party in Britain.
Tonight she said she'd be announcing her Shadow Cabinet “as soon as possible” and it would include “new faces and new talent” as well as experienced MPs.
Mrs Thatcher had an overall majority in the Party's second ballot. She scored 146 votes—7 more than the figure of 139 that she needed for an outright win.
The Conservative MPs voted: Mrs Thatcher ------- 146 Mr William Whitelaw- 79 Mr James Prior ----- and Sir Geoffrey Howe- each had 19 votes, and Mr John Peyton had 11. There were two spoiled papers.
Immediately after her victory was announced, Mrs Thatcher went from the Commons to Conservative Central Office. Gerald Seymour reports: [end p19]
A bare ninety minutes after her election as Leader of the Conservatives, Mrs Thatcher arrived, by sports car at Central Office, the party headquarters. A few paces from the front door she met the first microphones, and gave her initial reaction at becoming the first woman to achieve the leadership breakthrough in British politics.
But she didn't linger on the step too long, and was ushered inside to meet party workers who had stayed on, to clap her and shake her hand.
Before she'd arrived many of those who greeted her had expressed their astonishment at the size of her majority in the ballot.
But the old Central Office hands were clearly delighted at the way she packed out her news conference, in a way that hasn't happened too often in the party's recent history. If she wasn't used to the attention, she didn't betray that.
Mr Airey Neave, the MP who acted as her campaign manager, was one of those who slipped back to Westminster looking more than pleased.
When Mrs Thatcher followed, she looked as though she too was well content with the day's events.
She's become accustomed to flashbulbs and are lights over the last days, but after one last session of posing called a halt … .
Pleading a need to return to the committee stage of the finance bill, … and to tell Mr Thatcher all about it. [end p20]
So she's done it—or rather they have—the Conservative back-benchers have done enough today to silence for a long time those critics who accused the party of being stick-in-the-mud, hidebound by tradition, or even conservative. It's perhaps a remarkable thing that in 1975, in a country full of women, and with a woman on the Throne after all, it should still be thought bold for a political party to have chosen a woman as leader. But it is thought so, by many party professionals and elder statesmen in all parties. Some of the Tory greybeards tonight are deeply apprehensive about the risk they think they've taken. And some Labour MPs, who can be pretty conservative themselves about these things, are much enjoying themselves taunting those same Tories with the fear that a woman leader will frighten off women voters and keep Labour in office for ever more—one of those common beliefs for which there seems to be no evidence at all. [end p21]
But more modern conservatives have carried the day. And if they have any doubes, they're certainly not showing them. As for Mrs. Thatcher herself, her confidence, which has been striking from the start of her campaign, now seems complete. She says she wept a little when she got the news, but by the time she faced the press an hour or so later, she was completely assured and in charge.
She promised humility and dedication in her work. There was a word of sympathy for her defeated rivals. She wouldn't say whom she means to put in her shadow cabinet— “I'm not going to be hustled,” she said—but she was asking the present Shadows to stay at their posts for the time being.
She ducked a lot of questions, but ducked them wittily. When one reporter said it would be helpful to know her attitudes, for instance, on foreign affairs and defence, she said: “I'm all for them” , with a beaming smile. [end p22]
Mrs. Thatcher's advance in her party's esteem has been steady from the moment she let it be known before Christmas that she meant to challenge Mr Heath. Some who saw her first as no more than a weapon to destroy Mr. Heath and then discard, came gradually to see her as something more. And the decisive development of the last seven days is that MPs from the left of the party as well as the centre and right have come to her support. She made this point to me in an interview tonight: [end p23]
We couldn't have got 146 votes without appealing to the left, the middle, and the right wing of the party—to all facets of opinion.
Did you aim to do that in fact, and you think you have succeeded?
Yes, I think we have. It's a very good basis on which to go forward.
What do you think all these people are looking for from you?
I think decisive leadership. I think perhaps crystallising the message a little bit more clearly, and going forward on the basis of a Conservative policy for all the people.
Are you more decisive than Mr. Heath?
No, we were both very decisive, but we're both very different.
Has the party chosen a fighter, instead of somebody who reconciles people of different views?
Well, Mr. Heath was a fighter. I think that I'm a fighter—you fight firmly for what you believe in.
But do you think the country has been through a bad time, of very partisan politics, and do you think Mr. Whitelaw might have been a better healer than you're going to be?
No. You don't exist as a party unless you have a clear philosophy and a clear message, and I don't think the country's been through a very partisan time from our viewpoint. The problem with the Conservative party has been that each time Labour has got in, they've given several turns to the left, and we've never been able to undo some of those turns, and people say, well, what is the future for you?
Labour have done several turns to the left?
And you're not saying the Conservatives had adopted [end p24] left-wing policies …
No, but there are some things that are very very difficult to unscramble, unless you have a very clear mandate from the people to do so, and you only get that by having a clear, positive message—not by being against things, but by being for things. I learned this at the Ministry of Education.
Do you think there are strains in the country—do you think there are differences between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have nots, which are exaggerated, and made worse by inflation, and is this something you've got to try and tackle?
Well, inflation affects different groups in very different ways—some people have benefited from it—they're, their wage and salary increases have exceeded price increases by quite a large amount. Others have suffered by it enormously. Not everyone's had wage and salary increases to keep up with price increases, and those who saved or have taken out insurance policies have suffered a lot, and it's destroyed the faith of many people in some of our traditional ways of life, in being independent, in being thrifty and saving for a rainy day, and those are things which you're made to encourage.
Have you more sympathy with people who are competent at being thrifty, at saving for a rainy day than you have with people who don't find it so easy to manage?
I believe that if people do save you should not let their savings down.
And what about people who find it pretty hard to put anything by from a very small wage?
Well, they're entirely free to spend all they earn or to save it. But you mustn't in fact let down those who put something by and then in fact find that it won't buy what they thought it would when they saved the money up in the first place.
To take one area where the Labour party in modern [end p25] politics has pioneered, and where the Conservative party has followed, are you a wholehearted believer in the welfare state?
I'm a wholehearted believer in having a floor below which no-one can fall. This was Winston ChurchillWinston's phrase. You must in fact have a floor below which no-one can fall, but above that, the sky's the limit.
Are any heads going to roll in the leadership of the Conservative party now you've come in?
Oh, heads roll, what a horrid phrase! There are a lot of young people on the back benches with a lot of talent. In our young day we were given a chance by the then leaders of the party. They've a right to expect a chance too. But any leader of a party knows he's got to have two elements—one continuity and experience, and the other new faces and new talent.
So there will be new faces in your shadow cabinet?
I hope so.
Are we going to have the list quite soon?
I'm not going to be hustled into doing anything. I want to take advice and consultations about who should do what, and I'll do that in my own good time, but as fast as possible because people are uncertain, and it's not nice not to know.
Have you a job for Mr. Heath?
Of course I shall offer Mr. Heath a job in the shadow cabinet—I said I would before I was elected, and I think we all should have done.
You will offer him a job—you won't I suppose put any pressure on him—will … .
I shouldn't dream of putting any pressure on him.
There'll be no sense of obligation that he should help you?
I think in any event he will be very very active in the European campaign this summer—this is his great achievement to British history. [end p26]
You're not going to keep him out for fear that he might dominate your front bench?
Keep … I shouldn't dream of doing that. [end p27]
Mrs Thatcher's colleagues—whatever their private feelings—defeated rivals and all—came flocking to her support as soon as the result was known—in the deepest traditions of their tightly-knit party, whose behaviour over the past couple of weeks has been utterly out of character.
Mr. Heath, from his home in Wilton Street, offered his conqueror his warmest congratulations, and wished her every success.
Mr Whitelaw, whom Mrs Thatcher beat so decisively, congratulated her too and pledged his full support. He said he'd received from her what he called “a very sweet letter” asking for a meeting tomorrow to “get the party back on the road” , as she put it. And he said he'll be meeting her tomorrow.
And from the other three candidates, more gallantry in defeat. Mr Prior offered warmest congratulations on what he called a “very remarkable achievement.”
Sir Geoffrey Howe said Mrs Thatcher could count on his wholehearted support in leading a united Opposition and offering the country a positive Conservative case. [end p28]
And Mr. John Peyton said he wished her “nothing but well.”
Mr. David Steel, the Liberal Whip, had a slightly barbed comment: “Nothing could be better for the Liberal Party,” he said.
Abroad, a delightful reaction from the French Premier, M. Chirac, who said Mrs. Thatcher was not well known in France, but he added: “We have nothing against women—on the contrary.”
And from Germany, a more formal comment, not from the government, but from the Opposition Christian Democrats, wishing Mrs. Thatcher “every success for the benefit of her own country and of Europe.” [end p29]
David Rose has been taking a closer look at Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, the woman and the politician, her life so far: [end p30]
As befits the first woman to lead a British political party, Mrs Margaret Thatcher is no ordinary woman. Her suburban housewife's image couldn't be more misleading, despite the immaculate tweed suits and careful blonde sets.
Someone once said that Golda Meir was the toughest man in the Israeli cabinet and much the same could be said of Margaret Thatcher in the shadow cabinet. Mrs Thatcher believes that energy, thrift and skill should be rewarded. In her case they have been. But it was almost certainly her father's example, and the rewards he won, which have reproduced in her such a formidable determination and willingness to work and learn. Alfred Roberts, Margaret's father, was a grocer who left school at twelve, but who rose to be an Alderman in Grantham, Lincolnshire. From an early age, Margaret was very close to her father; the family lived in a flat above the grocer's shop. Margaret won a scholarship to the local girls grammar school, and a bursary to Oxford where she read chemistry and became [end p31] the first girl to become President of the University Conservative Association.
She married Denis Thatcher in 1951. She was 26 and had already fought the safe Labour seat of Dartford twice unsuccessfully. Denis, a senior executive with Burmah Oil, who's ten years older than his wife, offered security and apparently, limitless patience when faced with the long absences of a wife who's racing up the political ladder.
In 1953, Mrs Thatcher gave birth to twins—Carol and Mark. Five months later, she took her law finals; she didn't fight the 1955 General Election, but in 1958 she was adopted as the candidate for the safe Conservative seat of Finchley.
She entered the House of Commons in 1959 having increased the majority to over 16,000.
After an exceptional maiden speech, one daring interviewer even asked if she thought she would ever reach the front benches. [end p32]
Well, I think we'll just try to be a very good back-bencher first—certainly until these two are a little older, I couldn't take on any more political responsibilities—these responsibilities are quite enough.
Have you been able to combine your political life with looking after a family, running a home?
Well, I mainly do the catering here—I love cooking and I do the shopping, and always a big batch of cooking at the weekend, and of course there are the parliamentary recesses, which coincide with the school holidays, so I can see quite a good bit of the children and take them out, and at half term they come up to the House of Commons and have lunch with me. [end p33]
Labour won the General Election of 1966; Mrs Thatcher's willingness to work hard, ability to absorb facts quickly and to think on her feet, won her a succession of shadow cabinet posts. In a largely disorganised opposition since the last election, Mrs. Thatcher's been by far the most effective critic of the government. She's a formidable debates. But it was as Minister of Education in Mr Heath's 1970 administration that Mrs Thatcher faced her widest criticism. Indeed, much was cruel and personal, and upset her greatly. She had to end school milk for all but the youngest children. It's now believed she opposed the decision but it was forced on her by the treasury. But as Minister she carried the can.
On the other great controversial issue of her time as Minister—the extension of comprehensive education—Mrs Thatcher certainly didn't hide her own true beliefs. So identified was she with the opposition to comprehensives, that many delegates at the national union of teachers conference in 1972 walked out on her in disgust. [end p34]
Besides education, Mrs Thatcher's political principles are hardly known. In the contest for the leadership she gained the support of the Right Wing. She believes that the money supply must be limited, like Sir Keith Joseph, who's believed to have influenced her thinking on other subjects.
But as leader, Mrs Thatcher's on her own now. There are gaps in her experience but she's shown herself a quick learner. Margaret Thatcher already has achieved more in British politics than any other woman, yet, in a sense, she's only just starting [end p35]
Finally, to recap the main event of the day—Mrs. Margaret Thatcher is the new leader of the Conservative Party. She won the second ballot of Conservative MP's by polling seven more votes then the figure of 139 she needed for an outright win.
The result was:
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher 146
Mr. William Whitelaw 79
Mr. James Prior 19
Sir Geoffrey Howe 19
Mr. John Peyton 11
So, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher becomes the first woman leader of a political party in this country.