Events during the Thatcher years

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Baroness Thatcher died aged 87 following a stroke, it was announced on Monday.

The former prime minister, who had suffered bouts of illness for many years, was said to have died peacefully.

Thatcher changed Britain. She was the driving force from that heady moment when she recited St Francis of Assisi on the steps of Downing Street on May 4, 1979, to the day, after nearly 12 years in power, when the woman who had tamed the unions, won the Falklands war, and rolled back the power of the state, was discarded by her own party.

They were years of tumult and frenzy, sometimes savagery, but rarely serenity.

She never lost an election, nor a vote in the House of Commons.

In the end, in the Tory leadership battle, she secured a better vote, and lost, than did John Major, who succeeded her.

It was indeed a funny old world which pitched out the woman who gave her party and her country perhaps the most spectacular and daring leadership since the Second World War.

These are some of the highlights which marked the Thatcher years of power through the 1980s and beyond:


May 4, the Tories win with an overall majority of 43 and the nation has its first woman prime minister;

June 12, Geoffrey Howe’s first budget cuts the standard tax rate by 3p, and raises VAT to 15%;

October 24, British exchange controls abolished;

November 29, Mrs Thatcher calls for a £1,000 million cut in Britain’s contribution to the European Community, saying she is not afraid to precipitate a crisis;

December 21, after 14 years of illegal independence Southern Rhodesia, soon to become Zimbabwe, becomes A British colony again.


January 24, Government outlines package of anti-Soviet measures as protest at invasion of Afghanistan;

July 15, Government announces plans to replace Polaris with Trident;

August 27, unemployment reaches two million for the first time since 1935;

October 15, Jim Callaghan resigns as Labour’s leader to be succeeded by Michael Foot.

:: 1981:

January 26, The so-called Gang of Four form Council for Social Democracy leading to the eventual SDP;

October 15, Norman Tebbit delivers his so-called “on your bike” speech;

:: 1982:

January 14, Mark Thatcher is rescued after being missing in the Sahara Desert on the Paris-Dakar rally;

March 4, Government gives go-ahead to satellite TV;

April 2, Royal Marines surrender to Argentine forces in Falkland Islands capital, Port Stanley, and Britain breaks off diplomatic relations with Argentina;

April 5, Francis Pym replaces Lord Carrington as foreign secretary and the Falklands task force sets sail;

April 25, British troops recapture South Georgia;

May 2, The Argentine cruiser General Belgrano is sunk with hundreds of deaths;

May 4, HMS Sheffield hit and sunk by Exocet missiles with loss of 21 lives;

May 12, The QE2, equipped as a troopship, sets sail for the Falklands;

June 14, Argentine forces surrender and Mrs Thatcher is cheered on steps of Downing Street;

June 24, The Prince and Princess of Wales have an heir – William Arthur Philip Louis;

July 9, Michael Fagan gains access to the Queen’s bedroom;

July 20, IRA bombs in Hyde Park and Regents Park kill 11 soldiers and several horses;

October 8, Margaret Thatcher declares: “The NHS is safe with us”;

December 17, Inflation drops to 6.3%, the lowest for 10 years;

:: 1983:

January 6, Michael Heseltine replaces Sir John Nott as defence secretary;

January 8, Margaret Thatcher visits the Falkland Islands;

February 4, Shops Bill on Sunday trading is defeated in the Commons;

April 1, Britain expels three Russians as spies and a week later Soviet Union expels two British journalists;

April 9, Mrs Thatcher sets the general election date – June 9;

June 9, Tories win landslide victory at the general election;

June 12, Michael Foot resigns as Labour leader;

July 12, Government promises new laws on trade union secret ballots and elections for top union jobs;

July 13, Neil Kinnock narrowly escapes injury when his car overturns on the M4;

October 2, Neil Kinnock, aged 41, elected Labour leader with Roy Hattersley as his deputy;

October 5, Cecil Parkinson admits he had relationship with his secretary, Sara Keays, and that he is father of her forthcoming child and on October 15 he quits as trade and industry secretary;

November 1, Michael Heseltine says that demonstrators at Greenham Common and elsewhere who get near nuclear missiles are liable to be shot;

November 14, The first Cruise missiles arrive at Greenham Common;

December 20, The Rates Bill is published giving government power to cap spending by local authorities.


January 25, Staff at GCHQ, Cheltenham, deprived of union membership and two days later Treasury and Cabinet Office civil servants walk out in protest;

March 9, Miners’ strike begins;

March 23, Sarah Tisdall, a secretary in Geoffrey Howe’s private office, is jailed for six months for releasing top secret document about Cruise missiles;

April 17, WPC Yvonne Fletcher murdered when shots fired from Libyan People’s Bureau;

May 3, Tories lose Birmingham City Council in local elections;

May 29, Violence at Orgreave Pit, South Yorkshire, leaves 84 pickets arrested, 41 policemen and 28 pickets hurt; Arthur Scargill arrested at Orgreave and charged with obstruction the following day;

August 18, Clive Ponting, Ministry of Defence civil servant, charged under the Official Secrets Act;

September 16, Prince Harry born to Prince and Princess of Wales;

October 10, High Court fines the NUM £200,000 and Arthur Scargill £1,000 for contempt of court;

October 11, IRA bomb explodes at Grand Hotel, Brighton, during the Tory Party conference, with three killed and 32 injured;

November 2, Nigel Lawson announced abolition of the pound note.

:: 1985:

January 23, House of Lords televised for the first time;

March 4, Miners vote to return to work; Mrs Thatcher claims victory, but Scargill denies defeat;

March 11, Mikhail Gorbachev becomes Soviet leader;

May 11, Total of 56 fans killed in fire at Bradford City’s football ground;

May 22, Liverpool fans rampage at Heysel Stadium in Belgium resulting in deaths of 38 Belgian and Italian fans;

May 31, English football clubs banned from Europe;

July 16, Local Government Bill abolishing the Greater London Council and other metropolitan counties becomes law;

August 22, Fifty-four holidaymakers killed when British Airtours Boeing 737 bursts into flames on take-off from Manchester Airport;

October 6, PC Keith Blakelock hacked to death at Broadwater Farm housing estate in north London;

:: 1986:

January 7, New European bid for Westland Helicopters followed by Michael Heseltine’s resignation after Cabinet row;

January 24, Leon Brittan resigns as trade and industry secretary over leaking to the Press Association of letter berating Michael Heseltine’s actions over Westland;

April 28, News reaches the west about the Chernobyl disaster;

July 23, Duke of York marries Sarah Ferguson;

October 26, Jeffrey Archer resigns as Tory deputy chairman after newspaper alleges he paid a prostitute to leave the country;

December 29, Harold Macmillan dies.

:: 1987:

January 21, Terry Waite disappears in Beirut;

March 6, Herald of Free enterprise rolls over outside Zeebrugge with 200 dead;

June 11, Mrs Thatcher wins historic third term as PM with majority of 102;

July 24, Jeffrey Archer wins £500,000 damages for libel against Daily Star who alleged he slept with prostitute; he was later imprisoned for perjury;

August 5, British spy satellite project, Zircon, abandoned at cost of £70 million;

August 8, David Owen resigns as leader of SDP after his members vote to merge with the Liberals;

August 19, Total of 15 dead and 16 wounded in Hungerford massacre;

September 23, Government loses court appeal to stop publication of Spycatcher;

October 9, Mrs Thatcher tells Tory conference that she wants at least seven more years as Prime Minister;

November 17, Government announces plans to replace rates with community charge.

:: 1988:

January 3, Mrs Thatcher becomes longest continuously serving PM this century;

January 10, Lord Whitelaw resigns as Leader of the House of Lords through ill health;

January 28, Junior health minister Edwina Currie says people should forgo holidays to pay for private health care;

February 2, Five lesbians abseil into chamber of House of Lords protesting about homosexuality laws;

March 6, Three IRA members shot dead in Gibraltar;

April 18, Total of 38 Tory back-benchers vote against flat-rate poll tax;

July 29, Paddy Ashdown becomes new leader of the centre party;

October 19, Home secretary bans broadcasting of interviews with members of paramilitary organisations;

December 16, Edwina Currie resigns after comments on Britain’s egg production;

December 21, Lockerbie air atrocity, killing 270 people.

:: 1989:

January 17, Government publishes ill-fated Football Spectators Bill to force fans to carry ID cards;

February 2, Edward Heath blames “corrupt” press office at Downing Street for government leaks;

February 5, Britain’s first satellite TV station, Sky, is launched;

February 14, Ayatollah Khomeini passes “death sentence” on Salman Rushdie for his “blasphemous” book The Satanic Verses;

March 3, Mrs Thatcher announces “we have become a grandmother”;

June 15, In European elections, Labour win 45 and the Tories 32 of the 78 British seats;

July 24, In Cabinet reshuffle foreign secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe becomes leader of the Commons and is replaced by John Major;

September 22, IRA bomb kills 10 bandsmen at Royal Marines School of Music, in Deal, Kent;

October 26, Nigel Lawson resigns as Chancellor after row over Sir Alan Walters, Mrs Thatcher’s economic adviser. Lawson replaced by John Major, with Douglas Hurd becoming Foreign Secretary;

December 5, Mrs Thatcher defeats Sir Anthony Meyer in leadership ballot.

:: 1990:

February 11, Nelson Mandela released after more than 27 years in South African prison;

March 31, Serious rioting after mass rally against the poll tax in Trafalgar Square;

April 1, Inmates start 24 days of rioting at Strangeways prison, Manchester;

July 14, Nicholas Ridley resigns from Cabinet after Spectator interview in which he claimed Germans aiming to take over Europe;

July 30, Tory MP Ian Gow killed by IRA car bomb outside his home;

August 2, Iraqi forces invade Kuwait;

October 23, Edward Heath returns from Baghdad with 37 British hostages;

November 1, Sir Geoffrey Howe resigns saying he could no longer serve with honour and then on November 13 makes devastating resignation speech;

November 2, Heseltine sends letter to constituency party saying Tories facing a crisis;

November 11, Mrs Thatcher says she will hit leadership challengers “all round the ground”;

November 14, Heseltine launches leadership challenge;

November 20, Mrs Thatcher wins first ballot but without the required majority, declares: “I fight on. I fight to win”;

November 22, Mrs Thatcher withdraws and announces her resignation;

November 27, John Major wins leadership battle to become, at 47, youngest prime minister of the 20th century.

 Love her or hate her, the legacy will live on



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