(1) BBC Radio News Report 2200 5 December 1989
[Material paraphrased]: Never doubt MT would win. The question is how many MPs would abstain or vote against her. In the end 57 refused to back her, embarrassing and sufficient for Labour to argue MT is weakening in her party as in the country so that more serious challenge next year cannot be ruled out. MT spoke outside No.10 tonight showing she thought the contest had been a troublesome distraction.
That leaves us free now to concentrate on the real issues of the times—getting inflation down, creating more wealth, spreading it ever more widely through ownership and better social services.
[Material paraphrased]: PM spoke of foreign policy and left no sign her tone or policy would change, despite the warning from rebel Conservatives.
(2) The Times, 5 December 1989
Clear-cut win as 314 vote for Thatcher
Mrs Margaret Thatcher last night hailed her ‘splendid’ victory in the first Conservative leadership election since 1975.
Mrs Thatcher, who received the votes of 314 MPs, said it showed she had the “overwhelming support” of Tory MPs and the party in the country.
And Mr Kenneth Baker, the party chairman, said: “The Conservative Party has decided it wants to be led into the 1990s and the next election by Margaret Thatcher.” The vote had cleared the air. “The leadership question is now settled,” he said.
But the Prime Minister was not unscathed by the first contest since she replaced Mr Edward Heath, Sixty MPs expressed reservations about her leadership by either voting against her or abstaining in the contest forced by Sir Anthony Meyer.
Returning from Buckingham Palace after her regular audience with the Queen, Mrs Thatcher told reporters that the result was a “splendid answer” to the challenge mounted against her.
But it was clear that she had suffered a jolt to her leadership and one which senior MPs predicted last night would have to be taken seriously in Downing Street, Senior colleagues are expected to advise her to listen carefully to the concerns of MPs on such issues as the European Community, the health service and the poll tax. Many MPs expressed the view that Mrs Thatcher would have to soften her stance on the EC, the main reason put forward by Sir Anthony for standing against her.
Mr Michael Heseltine, who was said by close colleagues to have been one of the three MPs who did not vote, maintained the pressure last night with a speech in which he dismissed the view that closer European integration was a “sell-out of sovereignty.”
He told the British Institute of Management. “So long as the economic powerhouse of Western Europe is the Community, the only way to pursue our interests is as a full member of it.”
Mr Cranley Onslow, chairman of the 1922 Committee, announced the result to MPs in Committee Room 12 of the Commons at 6.25 pm. The voting was: Mrs Thatcher 314, Sir Anthony Meyer 33; spoilt papers 24; non-voters 3. One abstainer was too ill even to vote by proxy.
Mrs Thatcher's campaign manager, Mr George Younger, had hoped to keep the number of dissenters below 50 but he hailed the result as a resounding vote of confidence: “It is a marvellous result; 85 per cent of MPs voted for her. It will strengthen her authority for some time to come.”
But one leading backbencher said that considering the pressure on MPs to vote for Mrs Thatcher, the number of abstentions was surprisingly high. He described it as “the tip of the iceberg”. Some MPs took the view that if the government has another difficult year, a contest involving a more serious contender next year could not be ruled out.
Sir Anthony, MP for Clwyd North-West, said he was flattered that as many as 33 MPs voted for him.
Throughout the day an excited election atmosphere gripped Tory MPs. When the “polling station” opened just before 10 am, 17 MPs were waiting and within three hours about half of those entitled to vote had filed in. Sir Anthony was among the first.
Many MPs declined to tell waiting reporters how they voted but Cabinet members, including Mr Nicholas Ridley, emerged saying they voted for Mrs Thatcher.
The Prime Minister went straight from the Commons chamber after Question Time to vote. Asked if she was confident of the outcome, she replied “Yes, yes”, although she crossed the fingers of both hands and held them up.
Mr Edward Heath went in shortly after her, having declared on BBC Radio at lunchtime that he was not going to abstain. He said he would use his vote in the way he felt best for his party and his country. Afterwards, when asked if it was a moment worth waiting for, he said: “I always accept my responsibilities.”
The first arrival was Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, the flamboyant MP for Perth and Kinross who had also been the first to vote for Mrs Thatcher in both the 1975 ballots.
Sir Nicholas was contemptuous of the contest, saying: “It is extraordinary that when you have the most successful Prime Minister in history, that a whole lot of legless, barking dogs should attempt to dent her authority.”
Mr Younger had also earlier described the election as an unfortunate event. “Nobody really came forward to challenge her except a self-confessed stalking-horse and I think that is a great pity.”
He admitted there were a number of issues which were causing worries, such as the ambulance dispute, mortgage rates and the poll tax. “But these are typical mid-term blues. They are not the stuff of which we are going to change the leader.”
Mr Peter Walker, the last ‘wet’ in the Cabinet, was asked after casting his vote whether he could be ‘exit-polled’. He responded: “Certainly not” and marched off.
Mr Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: “This result is bad for the country and will be bad for the Conservative Party. Everybody should now be clear. Mrs Thatcher no longer has the confidence of a majority of the House of Commons.”
(3) BBC Television Archive: OUP transcript
Michael Buerk, BBC
[Material paraphrased]: Mrs Thatcher has beaten challenge to her leadership of Conservative Party. She defeated Sir Anthony Meyer in an easy victory, though not as conclusive as some of her supporters had hoped. Nearly one sixth of Conservative MPs withheld support.
Total of 374 Conservative MPs eligible to vote. MT won large majority with 314. Sir Anthony Meyer got 33. Twenty seven MPs spoiled their ballot papers or didn't vote.
John Sergeant, BBC
[Material paraphrased]: PM left Buckingham Palace after regular weekly meeting with the Queen. She didn't use the front entrance of No.10. It was her campaign manager, Younger, who arrived there confidently.
[calling across Downing Street] What do you think of the result, Mr Younger? What do you think?
John Sergeant, BBC
Mr Younger considers the vote has strengthened Mrs Thatcher's authority. She arrived at the back door. Her advisors believed it was a moment for the Prime Minister to speak, but not to be questioned.
Ladies and Gentlemen: just a brief word. I'd like to say how very pleased I am with this result, how very pleased I am to have the overwhelming support of my colleagues in the House and the people from the Party in the country.
John Sergeant, BBC
[Material paraphrased]: She said the result had been splendid. Now they were free to concentrate on real issues, like getting inflation down, the East/West relations, the European Community.
Prime Ministers have a lot of work to do, there's a great pile of it inside, and I think it would be better now if I left you and went to get on with it.
John Sergeant, BBC
[Material paraphrased]: Journalists shouted questions, but got no reply. Sir Anthony Meyer, however, was prepared to give detailed answers and said he was pleased with the result.
Sir Anthony Meyer MP
[Material paraphrased]: … I was quite surprised to get so many votes. I thought that I'd be beaten by the abstentions. Result is rather better than I'd expected and not quite as good as some of my friends were hoping for.
John Sergeant, BBC
[Material paraphrased]: Sir Anthony enjoying a last burst of publicity. Says he won't stand next year. His colleagues have been assessing the effect of his challenge.[fo 3]
Emma Nicholson MP
[Material paraphrased]: Fifty seven against you after you've been Leader for ten years is “a victory of overwhelming proportions. I'm thrilled to bits. I'm going to celebrate for her.”
Nick Budgen MP
[Material paraphrased]: Vote of 314 establishes her authority. Shows that “she still enjoys the overwhelming confidence of her supporters in Parliamet.”
One's got to realise that, quite obviously, they are people who are in the Party, disgruntled people, disappointed people, if you like, ex-ministers, and that sort of thing, and I would have thought that 85 per cent is a very, very satisfactory result.
John Sergeant, BBC
[Material paraphrased]: This not quite the triumphant victory some of MT’s supporters forecast. They thought Meyer would get only a handful of votes. But 57 voted for him or abstained, and many others said they had voted for Mrs Thatcher only with strong reservations. So in private critics of PM are saying they are pleased a warning shot has been fired. They don't rule out a more serious challenge to her next year.
(4) George Younger MSS:
PARTY ELECTION: SPEAKING NOTE
I am, of course, very pleased indeed with the overwhelming support for my continued leadership from my colleagues in the House of Commons and the wider party.
I would like to thank those who gave me their support, and particularly George Younger and his colleagues who have worked so splendidly for me in this election.
All of us can now concentrate on the real tasks in front of the government – to get inflation down, to spread prosperity and ownership ever more widely, and to create the wealth to make our social services even better. On Friday I shall be at Strasbourg to continue our efforts to build a liberal and open Europe. We will continue to be a staunch and reliable ally in NATO, and to play an active role in East-West relations in these times of great and unforeseeable change.
Prime Ministers always have a lot to do and now I am going back inside No.10 to get on with the work that awaits me.