Conservative Party (UK) leadership election, 1989
The 1989 Conservative Party leadership election took place on 5 December 1989. The incumbent Margaret Thatcher was opposed by the little-known 69-year-old backbencher MP Sir Anthony Meyer, Bt. It was the party's first leadership election for nearly 15 years, when Thatcher had taken the party leadership.
During 1989 the Conservative government led by Thatcher had run into difficulties. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, had resigned in October over Thatcher's determination to follow the advice of her advisers, specifically Sir Alan Walters. In 1989 Labour won their first national electoral victory since 1974 in the elections to the European Parliament, beating the Conservatives. Opinion polls were also starting to show a widening Labour lead, which had opened up since the poll tax was phased in the previous April; public anger at this community charge mounted over the subsequent months.
As a result Thatcher faced mounting internal party criticism, which culminated in the decision of Meyer to offer a stalking horse candidacy for the party leadership.
Sir Anthony Meyer was critical of the recently introduced Community Charge (which was seen by many as the key factor in the government's declining popularity), Thatcher's leadership style and her Euroscepticism. She had now led the party for nearly 15 years and had been prime minister for over 10 of those years.
|Ballot: 5 December 1989|
Thatcher, whose campaign was organised by former Cabinet minister, George Younger, won the contest overwhelmingly and announced:
- I would like to say how very pleased I am with this result and how very pleased I am to have had the overwhelming support of my colleagues in the House and the people from the party in the country.
However, a total of 60 Conservative MPs failed to support Thatcher by either actively voting for Meyer, spoiling their ballot papers, or abstaining. After the ballot Meyer said:
- I was quite surprised to get so many votes, I thought I'd be beaten by the abstentions. The total result I think is rather better than I'd expected and not quite as good as some of my friends were hoping for.
Within the year, as Poll tax sparked public uproar, the economy slid towards recession and the Labour lead in the opinion polls mounted into double digits, Thatcher would be ousted as party leader and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom following a further contest in November 1990.
- Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years (HarperCollins, 1993).
- BBC On This Day: Thatcher beats off leadership rival