Is Theresa May really the next Margaret Thatcher?
Tory MP says party risk repeating mistakes made in ousting of Iron Lady exactly 28 years ago this week
Tory Brexiteers seeking to topple Theresa May are being urged to learn from the devastating effects of Margaret Thatcher’s resignation on their party.
Former chief whip Andrew Mitchell has issued a stark warning to the Conservatives after drawing parallels between the ousting of the Iron Lady and the current bid to secure 48 MPs’ letters of no confidence in May, reports The Times.
“It will end making us look like we’re hunting the prime minister down as happened with Margaret Thatcher. It will do the party untold damage in the eyes of the public,” he said.
This Thursday marks the 28th anniversary of Thatcher’s resignation. Her cabinet members had refused to back her in a second round of leadership elections “after a string of serious disputes over Britain’s involvement in the European Union”, the BBC reported at the time.
Less than 24 hours before she quit, Thatcher vowed to “fight on and fight to win” despite failing to get the required majority in the first round.
Similarly, May has vowed to stay in office and push through her Brexit plans, despite multiple ministerial resignations and a no-confidence letter from Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg.
As pressure mounted last week, the prime minister insisted: “I believe in every fibre of my being that the course I have set out is the right one for our country and all our people. Am I going to see this through? Yes.”
Her defiant statement “bore similarities to a famous speech delivered by Baroness Thatcher, when she was under similar pressure to back down in 1980 after a period of economic turmoil”, says the Daily Express.
Indeed, May’s “survival weapon is an argument once favoured by Margaret Thatcher: TINA, or ‘there is no alternative’”, says Sebastian Payne in the Financial Times.
However, Tory peer Norman Tebbit says the comparison between the two women “flatters Mrs May without good reason”.
Thatcher faced the invasion of the Falklands Islands, the miners’ strike, a bombing of the Grand Hotel Brighton, and high levels of unemployment, yet still became the longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century, Tebbit writes in The Daily Telegraph.
“Mrs May’s record hardly compares,” he says. The downfall of Thatcher was down to “the inexorable parliamentary arithmetic of a long premiership and the vainglorious ambition of Michael Heseltine”, while “if Mrs May falls, it will be over principle, not personality”, Tebbit continues.
But former Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler argues that it was Thatcher’s stubbornness, particularly on the poll tax, that prompted her colleagues to get rid of her.
“The same fate awaits Mrs May,” writes Esler in an article for news site The National. “If she won’t change her mind about Brexit – and that seems unlikely – her time as prime minister might soon be up. And unlike Mrs Thatcher, who had ten years of transforming Britain as her legacy, Mrs May’s political epitaph might well consist of three words: ‘Tried Brexit. Failed.’”