Britain’s Iron Lady seemed her cent public opinion polls that showed usual super-confident self. Anthe Conservatives well ahead of Labour nouncing her decision to go to and the Liberal-Social Democratic Allithe polls on June 11 in search of a ance. Within four days of Thatcher’s anthird consecutive term, Prime Minister nouncement three new polls confirmed Margaret Thatcher, 61, hinted that she the strength of the Tories’ lead—the latmight even have a fourth term in est, published on May 15, giving her 46 mind. Her Conservative party’s elecper cent of the vote against 28 per cent tion manifesto, she said, would chart for Labour and 25 per cent for the AlliBritain’s course “up to the next centuance. If the polls prove reliable, Thatchry.” And, she added, “I hope to go on er could form a new government with a and on because I believe passionately reduced but still comfortable 80to 90in our policies and I believe they are seat majority in the 650-seat House of right for Britain.” Commons, where she currently holds The decision to go to the polls 13 391 seats. months before the expiry of her fiveFollowing the announcement, Labour year mandate was made at Chequers, Leader Neil Kinnock, 45, appealed to the Prime Minister’s official 15th-centhe Prime Minister not to campaign tury country residence, 72 km from with “spite and smears” and to focus London, on May 10. While her huson the issues. “This election is about band, Denis, celebrated his 72nd birthsaving our country from industrial deday by putting golf balls on the lawn, cline, social division and the destrucThatcher met for four hours in the tion of community services,” he said, Great Parlour with her “A Team” of citing the opposition’s main criticisms six senior ministers. Staring down at of eight years of Thatcherism. In the the gathering was a portrait of Sir three-week campaign, the Tories are Robert Walpole, British prime minisexpected to propose drastic changes in ter from 1721 to 1742 and the country’s Britain’s “cradle-to-grave” welfare syslongest-serving political leader. The tem. Their plans will likely include the next day Thatcher went to Buckingvirtual elimination of low-rent public ham Palace to ask the Queen to dishousing and a radical overhaul of the solve Parliament on May 18. troubled National Health Service. Thatcher’s decision to go to the Thatcher is likely to receive a boost polls—which if successful will make her from recent statistics showing reduced the only British prime minister in this inflation and falling unemployment. Alcentury to win three elections in a though there are nearly three times row—hardly came as a surprise. Her more Britons out of work now as when announcement capped a month of specushe came to power in 1979, figures relation. In reaching her decision she leased on May 14 show that unemployclearly hoped to take advantage of rement in April fell to 3.02 million, or 10.9 per cent of the workforce, from its 1986 peak of 3.2 million, because of the improving economy. She also will be able to point to the success of her campaign to privatize major British undertakings, which has allowed small investors to acquire an interest in formerly stateowned companies such as British Telecom and British Airways. And she could reap public relations benefits by her presence at the economic summit of seven western leaders in Venice on June 8 to 10 on the eve of the election. Like her well-publicized trip to Moscow last March, the Venice summit will be an opportunity to emphasize her stature as a world figure, in contrast to the Labour and Alliance leaders, who are littleknown abroad.
Another factor in Thatcher’s favor is the disarray of the opposition. For much of the past three years Labour has been beset by public squabbling between its left-wing and moderate factions. And both Labour and the Alliance have undergone a crisis over their defence policies: the Liberals and Social Democrats are at odds over whether Britain should maintain an independent nuclear deterrent. And after fierce internal wrangling, Labour is committed to a highly controversial policy that would abolish Britain’s deterrent and remove U.S. nuclear weapons from Britain.
Politically, the Tories were buoyed by a strong showing in local council elections on May 7. Then, on the economic front, bank interest rates fell to nine from 9.5 per cent. Last week, when Thatcher announced the early election, prices soared on the London Stock Exchange and the Financial Times index topped the 1,700 mark for the first time.
But while Thatcher seems to be riding the crest of a wave, many observers say that a Conservative landslide is not a foregone conclusion. Of the 650 constituencies, a significant number were won by the Tories in the last election by a small enough majority to be considered marginal. Two of those seats are held by Thatcher cabinet ministers—Trade and Industry Secretary Paul Channon and Scottish Secretary Malcolm Rifkind.
Overconfidence among the Tories and the traditional capriciousness of British voters could work against her. So could what Anthony Bevins, political editor of The Independent daily newspaper, calls the “that bloody woman” factor —a reference to Thatcher’s assertive personal manner. Declared Bevins: “She has the appearance of very great confidence, and that might get up the noses of some people who don’t like her style. British elections are always full of surprises.”
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.