Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Thatcher clashed with her Cabinet

Margaret Thatcher swept into Downing Street determined to push through a programme of swingeing spending cuts and radical economic reform.

But official papers released today by the National Archives in Kew, west London, under the 30-year rule show how the new Conservative Prime Minister initially struggled to impose her vision on Cabinet colleagues.

The grocer’s daughter made history when the General Election of 1979 brought her to power as Britain’s first female premier.

Her triumph over James Callaghan’s exhausted Labour administration followed the notorious “winter of discontent” when a series of crippling strikes brought the country to a standstill.

The documents show her impatience to be getting on with the process of reform and her frustration at what she saw as the overly cautious approach of ministers.

The papers are littered with her furious handwritten comments complaining “This will not do”, “Too small” (in relation to proposed spending cuts), and in one case just “No” underlined.

One of her first big clashes came over Chancellor Sir Geoffrey Howe’s first Budget scheduled for June 12 — a little over a month after they took office.

He wanted to stimulate the economy by cutting 3p off income tax, paid for by putting VAT up to 15% while slashing public spending. Mrs Thatcher was not happy.

At a meeting on May 16 with Sir Geoffrey and his Treasury team she tore into his strategy, complaining that the proposed cuts did not go nearly far enough.

In particular she was scathing about Sir Geoffrey’s tactic of agreeing specific cuts with individual ministers — giving them the chance to argue against them — rather than simply imposing an overall total and leaving them to decide where the axe should fall.

She ended the meeting by announcing that a paper on pay policy submitted by Employment Secretary Jim Prior was “thoroughly deficient in content”.

Over the following week, however, Sir Geoffrey stuck doggedly to his guns. On May 24 she finally conceded defeat.

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