Thursday, July 24, 2008

Did Major Conspire to Topple Thatcher?

Contemporary Historian Christopher Thompson has an interesting entry on his Early Modern History blog. He alleges that from the very start of Margaret Thatcher's troubles in the runup to the leadership election, John Major's PPS Graham Bright was determined to get his man on the second ballot. He may have been acting off his own bat... or perhaps not. Here's Chris Thompson's account...
For many years, I worked at the House of Commons in a number of capacities. I was originally based in an office in 2 The Abbey Gardens and later in No.5 Millbank. It was in the first of these that I was consulted (in the preceding week) by the new PPS to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, John Major, about how it would be sensible to vote in the first ballot for the Tory Party's leadership due to be held on Tuesday, 20th November, 1990 so that Major might enter the contest at the next stage. I told him that, to achieve that aim, he should vote for Michael Heseltine in the first ballot. Whether he did so or not, I cannot say. However, the following morning (Wednesday, 21st November) when I got to my desk in Abbey Gardens, I received two messages from Ministers, one from Gillian Shephard and a second from Robert Atkins, urging John Major to stand. I went across to the House and reached his PPS's office next to the Chancellor's in the corridor behind the Speaker's chair just before 9.45 a.m. where I duly reported these messages. While I was there, Rob Hayward and Sir Terence Higgins arrived as did Norman Lamont shortly thereafter. I particularly remember Norman Lamont saying of the Prime Minister, "She's finished." John Major telephoned twice during the half hour or so that I was present to ask what was going on and giving instructions that no canvassing was to be done on his behalf. That did not deter those present from starting to do just that. Heseltine's supporters were doing so as were those of Douglas Hurd. They were not going to be slow off the mark on behalf of John Major. Unfortunately, I then had to return to my desk. All I can say is that the accounts in Anthony Seldon's biography of John Major and, indeed, in the latter's autobiography are not quite correct although whether my testimony will ever be noticed seems rather doubtful.
It is perfectly possible that Bright went on a freelance operation and felt he was serving his boss well by doing so. But there has always been a suspicion that John Major didn't quite act in the whiter than white manner which has hitherto been accepted by historians of the time. Perhaps we shall never know.

Two other bits of Thatcher related news. The video channel has the complete Downing Street Years series and also Tory, Tory Tory on a channel called Tory TV.

Secondly, filming of a new drama of Margaret Thatcher's final days in power has started. Ian McDiarmid, James Fox and Robert Hardy star. The actors, together with Philip Jackson and Kevin McNally, will appear in Margaret as the men "who loved her and those who betrayed her", the BBC said. The press release continues...

McDiarmid, Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars, will play Denis Thatcher; A Passage to India's Fox will portray foreign policy adviser Charles Powell and Hardy, best known for All Creatures Great and Small, will play deputy prime minister Willie Whitelaw.

The drama is being made by the production company behind the recent controversial BBC4 drama The Long Walk to Finchley and focuses on the events of 1990 when the former prime minister lost the backing of her cabinet and was forced to step down. It is being billed by the BBC as an "intimate portrayal of a woman on the brink of ruin". It was confirmed in April that Duncan, who appeared in HBO and BBC Two drama Rome, would portray Thatcher.

Jackson, who appeared in Poirot, will play Thatcher's chief press secretary, Bernard Ingham, while McNally, whose credits include Pirates of the Caribbean, will portray former minister Kenneth Clarke. The Commander's Oliver Cotton will appear as Thatcher's challenger Michael Heseltine.

Other cast members include John Sessions, whose credits include The Good Shepherd, as former foreign secretary Geoffrey Howe; Doctors' Michael Cochrane as MP Alan Clark; Michael Maloney, who starred in the movie Notes on a Scandal, as Thatcher's successor John Major; The Palace's Roy Marsden as firebrand MP Norman Tebbit; Casualty's Nigel Le Vaillant as Thatcher's Conservative predecessor Ted Heath and Rosemary Leach, who appeared in comedy My Family, as the Queen. The drama began filming in London last week.


Guido Fawkes said...

So that gives me a second reason to hat Bright. He brought in the laws that stopped Acid House parties.

Liz said...

Gosh - a photo from the era before Prime Ministers' teeth...I'm sorry, I mean the teeth of the Prime Ministers of this country were painted with Tipp-Ex and wheeled out unconvincingly every time something sincere needed saying. I miss the old days.

janestheone said...

have just re-read the Major autobiography and it is clear betwen the lines, and sometimes not between the lines, that Graham Bright was acting with the full authority and encouragement of Major in just about everything he did, especially then. Incidentally Major is devastatingly attractive.

Paul Linford said...

Sounds like some brilliant casting there, particularly Jackson as Bernard Ingham and Hardy as Whitelaw.

Anonymous said...

Ask Edwina she will know from the pillow talk.

I am told he preferred Edwina on top!

Anonymous said...

There have been many rumours about Major's activities during the 1990 leadership.

It appears to me that Seldon and Major's account are accurate. Major supported Thatcher when she asked, despite her attempts to rewrite history regarding the situation with Major's tooth.

Whether or not he should have supported her, given the state of the Conservative Party under her leadership, is another matter.

Major's PPS was inevitably aware that there was considerable opposition to Thatcher and that Major would be a beneficiary when Thatcher was deposed.

There is no doubt that Bright did campaign for Major, as others did for their respective candidates. But I have seen no actual evidence that Major authorised any such behaviour, even though he was aware it inenvitably went on.

Whatever spin is placed on it, it appears that Major acted honourably throughout, and did his best out of loyalty to sustain the premiership of a Prime Minister who had lost the respect of her party.

It is a fact which is often neglected by some, but Conservative MPs deposed Thatcher as there was a wealth of talent in the party who could better run the party and the country. When Major put his neck on the block in 1995, Conservative MPs backed Major as there was no-one more able than him to run the country and the party.

Malcolm Redfellow said...

Did I miss (from my supine position on a fine eastern seaboard evening, as I prepare to down yet more of this very fine Napa Cabernet) reference to the curious coincidence of Major's dental problems, forcing a retreat to Hunts in the Final Days?

Now, what was that about he who wields the knife?

Sir Graham Bright did well out of it.

Anyone factored in the shimmering Douglas Smith of Haringey (lobbyist and all-purpose manipulator) here?

Anonymous said...

As has already been said "Molar my ----------".

Anonymous said...

"McDiarmid, Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars, will play Denis Thatcher"

So, presumably that makes la Thatch a version of Darth Vader. Though without the redemption, obviously.

jane said...

"Incidentally Major is devastatingly attractive."

You're a sad, sad wench.

By the way, did Honest John ever get that mysterious tooth ache fixed?