10 Key Events that Led to Margaret Thatcher's Resignation
Very few leaders remain in power after pushing legislation that causes riots. The Poll Tax, otherwise known as the Community Charge taxed each home upon the number of adults living there. This was seen as an attempt to shift the burden from the rich to the poor because the tax ignored the property’s value and because low-income households typically have more adults. The public responded with mass protests that turned into riots. The tax was later repealed but the damage had already been done.
Politics is a popularity contest in many ways. Prime Minister Thatcher was losing power and she knew it. The Poll Tax left her own party mistrustful of her and they feared that they would lose power with her as the leader of the Conservative Party. Michael Heseltine challenged Thatcher for her position in 1990 and narrowly lost out. In response, Thatcher resigned so her party could place a more popular candidate against Heseltine.
Thatcher is said to have been a staunch nationalist. She supported the UK’s entry into the European Economic Community in 1973 and signed the Single European Act in 1986 but she became increasingly eurosceptic in her later years as Prime Minister. Many felt that her anti-European sentiments were holding the UK back and that the country is losing its influence in European decision making.
Many called Thatcher an authoritarian. She dismissed some elected officials who disagreed with her and replaced them with people who didn’t dare to oppose. She also silenced the opposition of the Sinn Fein, an Irish political party. Literally! When the party leaders put out a broadcast, their own voices were muted and voice actors spoke in their stead which of course caused a backlash from Ireland.
Thatcher once said that there was a “fear rather being swamped by an alien culture”. Her sense of nationalism was very strong but she threw that in the face of progress. The statements she made caused some people to say it was overt racism. These statements, of course, were not lost upon the immigrant population of the UK and left them feeling alienated.
Loss of Popularity
With all of the issues going on, it was any wonder that Thatcher was losing her popularity. It’s astonishing how she managed to keep the vote as long as she did due to her stances that significantly impacted the poor. She was only getting about 40% of the vote the last time she won the office. This led to her being ousted by her own party out of fear of losing power.
Abolition of Public Programs
Public programs are popular in many developed countries. They are seen as a way to help the poor and keep up the morale. Thatcher, however, took an ax to many public programs such as the free milk for schoolchildren and student tuition assistance by which she outraged many unemployed students and working poor who depended on these programs.
In 1982, there was a war between the UK and Argentina over the Falkland Islands. The conflict ended on June 14, 1982, when Argentina surrendered. The war increased Thatcher’s popularity but many claimed that she pushed the UK into a needless war that resulted in the loss of human life. Also, the Falklands War caused several members of the government to resign from their positions.
Widening of the Gap between the Rich and Poor
Adoption of the Poll Tax on one hand and abolition of public programs on the other increased the gap between the rich and poor. The Poll Tax’s fixed rate per-capita which ignored the property’s value favored the wealthy households which typically had fewer adults than low-income household. At the same time, she forced the poor to pay for things that had previously been provided. Without tuition assistance, fewer students from poor families continued education which forced them to work lower wage jobs.
Out of Touch
When Thatcher took the office, she was a trailblazer. It would be disingenuous to ignore that fact. However, the opinion polls from the late 1980s show that the public rejected virtually all major reforms that were adopted or proposed during her third term in office. On the eve of her resignation, Thatcher was perceived as being out of touch by both the public and the opposition as well as her own party.