On this day: Margaret Thatcher steps down

November 22 1990: the end of the Thatcher era


Britain’s first female prime minister announced that she would not continue to fight Michael Heseltine in the battle for the Conservative Party leadership.

She had been battling a divided party for some time, and despite successfully facing off a backbench challenge from Sir Anthony Meyer nearly a year earlier, she was clinging on to her political life. With the country in recession, a party split over Europe and public anger over the poll tax, Labour was rising in popularity.

The beginning of the end was perhaps the resignation, in October 1989, of Nigel Lawson after six years as chancellor.

One of several Jewish politicians in Thatcher’s government (others included Malcolm Rifkind, Keith Joseph and Leon Brittan), he clashed with the Prime Minister over taking Britain into the Exchange Rate Mechanism and her use of independent advisors.

At the beginning of November Geoffrey Howe resigned, and despite Thatcher stating “I assure you there will be no ducking the bouncers” just a week later Michael Heseltine mounted a bid to replace her. With no overall winner at the first ballot, she announced that she was withdrawing her candidacy, so ending 11 years in power.

Undoubtedly one of the most polarising leaders in British history, according to Nigel Lawson, the former Finchley MP felt an affinity with the Jewish community.

He told the JC recently that her Cabinet included so many Jewish members, because “she was completely untouched by antisemitism. She took individuals on their own merits and recognised ability where she found it."

Yehuda Avner, the former Israeli ambassador to Britain, also recalling her “confiding to then Prime Minister Menachem Begin her fervent admiration for the Jews.”

She added: “It has to do with my Methodist upbringing. Methodism, you see, means method. It means sticking to your guns, dedication, determination, reverence for education — the very qualities you Jews have always cherished.”

What the JC said: Cynics have attributed Margaret Thatcher’s espousal of Jewish causes, and even her friendly attitude towards Israel, to the presence of a sizable “Jewish vote” in her Fnchley constituency. Such a view is derided by those who know her well. Mrs Thatcher herself says that her closeness to the Jewish people grew from the moment before the Second World War when a young Austrian Jewish girl, Edith Muchavauer, appealed to her pen pal – the young Margaret’s sister for help. Edith had written to the Roberts family about the Nazi threat. When Alderman Roberts invited the girl to stay, his daughter Margaret learned for the first time some of the tragedies that Jews had encountered.

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Last updated: 1:19pm, April 8 2013