Why did Mrs Thatcher lose power in 1990?

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Frankie Postles
Why did Mrs Thatcher lose power in 1990?
Margaret Thatcher remained in power as Prime Minister from 1979 through to November of 1990,
where here fall from power can be put down to a combination of circumstances, division within her
own party over views concerning Europe, the greatly unpopular pursuit of the Pole Tax, and the
considerable rising inequality in the country, fuelling the rise of the Labour Party. It is important to
remember the great irony, that Mrs Thatcher did not lose power due to her loss of a general
election, however due to the dismissal of her own party, as they failed to move with her after eleven
controversial years.
The most important reason for Mrs Thatcher fall from power is undoubtedly the disagreements over
Europe, which caused the Cabinet Minister Sir Geoffrey Howe to resign in November 1990. There
was internal disagreement within the Conservative Party and within the Cabinet itself over Britain's
links to Europe. Mrs Thatcher throughout her terms was deeply suspicious of further European
integration, she claiming Europe to; `extinguish democracy', if British affairs were handled to
Brussels. Her response to the calls of a united Europe was to emphasis the virtues of national
sovereignty and free enterprise. Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson on the other hand (major Cabinet
members) wanted Britain to take a more positive role in Europe. The issue divided the party to the
extent that Howe after twenty five years of companion with Mrs Thatcher resigned and gave a
devastating speech on the matter of Europe in the House of Commons. There he gave a criticism of
Mrs Thatcher's dismissive remarks over the European issue, and her waiting to join the Exchange
Rate Mechanism. Howe talked of Mrs Thatcher only seeing two sides of a coin in the debate, and not
willing to negotiate and see a middle ground between in the European Union and out completely. He
went as far to take personal swipes on her leadership and views: `it is like sending your opening
batsman to the crease, only for them to find, the moment the first balls are bowled, that their bats
have been broken before the game, by the team captain.' These damming conclusions proved
devastating for the Prime Minister a prelude to her resignation a mere two weeks after the speech
was given, John Major succeeding her as prime Minister. The fact that the Europe debate had led to
the resignation of the leader of the House, a close ally of Thatcher in the party showed how far she
had come in her controversial ideologies, this the most important factor in her fall from office.
Another important factor for Mrs Thatcher losing power was undoubtedly her personal role in the
massively controversial pole tax. The introduction of the policy was deeply unpopular as it meant a
flat-rate levy, to fund local services, having to be paid by every adult regardless of their house size,
potentially widening the inequality gap already created by her successive terms in office. The policy
was an attempt to make every taxpayer pay an equal contribution to costs under Labour councils,
rather than obliging the wealthy property-owners to pay over the average. This tax was met by riots
and demonstrations, not only by the people, but by her own ministers. Edward Heath and Michael
Heseltine argued the government should use redistributive taxation to help the disadvantaged
members of society. These `one-nation Conservatives' saw the tax as an omen on society as it hit
hardest on the poorest. The electorate agreed, millions refusing or avoiding payment to the new tax,
demonstrations even violent in Trafalgar Square on 31 March. Mrs Thatcher's own backbenchers
abandoned her, Michael Mates for example. The Poll Tax was another key factor for Mrs Thatcher's
fall from power due to the way in which not only the public rebelled, but her own party, rousing
another internal dispute that would ultimately lead to her loss of leadership in the second ballot in

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Frankie Postles
With the combination of the Poll Tax and internal party divisions, it is unsurprising that the
Conservatives lost all four by-elections to be held in 1989 and 1990, Labour having a twenty point
lead in the poles in April of 1990. Mrs Thatcher's personal popularity was also at an all-time low in
1990, leading to the Conservative party as a whole seriously doubting if Mrs Thatcher could go on to
win another general election.…read more


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