Friday, 18 March 2011

The 1983 Parliament

As Wilson and Callaghan found, having a small - or non-existent majority is hell. But large majorities present their own problems. The 1983 Election saw the Conservatives gain a majority of 123. However it was to be a rough period for Mrs Thatcher. John Wakeham was appointed Chief Whip, replacing Michael Jopling. (In the House of Lords "Bertie" Denham [The 2nd Baron Denham] held the Chief Whip's post from 1979 until 1991). Both Houses were more rebellious than in the 1979 Parliament. MP's failed to restore the death penalty in July 1983 - it was a free vote, but Mrs Thatcher hoped and expected to win restoration. A few days later Tory MPs rebelled over pay.There was a major rebellion in April 1984 over the right to contract into paying the political levy within Trade Unions. In April 1986 the Goivernment lost on the Second Reading of the Sunday Trading Bill. It was only the second time that a Government had been defeated at 2nd Reading since 1924!

The big political story of the Parliament was the Miners Strike of 1984 to 1985. The BBC has a webpage about the strike, available here. It split the country in two.

In October 1984 the IRA unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Mrs Thatcher and other members of the Tory Party hierarchy. The "Brighton Bomb" exploded in the middle of the night, during the Tory Party Conference. A report of the bombing is available here.

The Westland Affair in 1986 led to Michael Heseltine's resignation from the Cabinet - and he cited Thatcher's style of government. Heseltine wanted a European future for the Wessex based helicopter firm. Trade & Industry Secretary, Leon Brittain wanted to see Westland taken over by the US firm Sikorsky. Heseltine resigned on January 9th, Brittain was forced out on 24th over a row about the leaking of a letter on the Westland Affair.

Labour had improved their standing in the opinion polls, but not by enough to dislodge the Conservatives in the 1987 General Election. Mrs Thatcher maintained a majority of over 100.

Books on this period include -