Margaret Thatcher’s path to power was eased, without her knowledge, through a piece of vote-rigging by a Conservative Party official in 1958, according to her authorized biography.
“Margaret Thatcher: Not For Turning,” (Allen Lane, 859 pages), the first of two volumes by Charles Moore, was published today, covering her life from her birth in 1925 up to the end of the Falklands War in 1982. The main revelations are from Thatcher’s early life, drawing on letters she wrote to her older sister, Muriel. They describe early love affairs, including how she passed an unwanted suitor on to Muriel, who married him.
After fighting two elections for the Conservatives in the unwinnable seat of Dartford, southeast of London, Thatcher was elected to Parliament in 1959 for the safe Conservative seat of Finchley in the north of the capital. History records that the local Conservative association selected her as their candidate over a local man, Thomas Langton, by 46 votes to 43. According to the book’s author, this isn’t the whole story.
“She didn’t actually win,” Moore quotes the association’s chairman, Bertie Blatch, as telling his son that night. “The man did, but I thought ‘He’s got a silver spoon in his mouth. He’ll get another seat.’ So I ‘lost’ two of his votes and gave them to her.”
In this way, Moore concludes, “Thatcher probably (unknowingly) won her way to Parliament through fraud.”
The book was written with her support by Moore, the former editor of the Daily Telegraph newspaper, on condition that she wouldn’t see the manuscript and that it not be published until after her death. She died two weeks ago at the age of 87 after a stroke.
“This was partly to spare her, in old age, any controversy which might result from publication, but mainly to reassure readers that she had not been able to exert any control,” Moore wrote in the book’s preface. “It was helpful to some of the people I interviewed to know that she would never read what they told me.”
The then Margaret Roberts was courted seriously by three other men before agreeing to marry Denis Thatcher, about whom she had previously written in letters with little warmth. Her first boyfriend, Tony Bray, whom she met while they were students at Oxford University during World War II, let the relationship “fizzle out,” according to the biography. Sixty years later, reminded of a blue dress she wore to a dance they attended, he wept.
As a candidate at Dartford, she was wooed by William Cullen, a local farmer. She felt he was not for her, and instead introduced him to her sister Muriel, who married him.
The book also suggests one reason why Argentina may have believed its 1982 invasion of the Falklands wouldn’t be resisted. Nicholas Ridley, a junior Tory Foreign Office minister, had held talks in 1980 with his Argentine opposite number.
Official records describe Ridley explaining that the U.K. “had given up a third of the world’s surface and found it on the whole beneficial to do so. The only claim Britain had which he felt strongly about was our long-standing claim to Bordeaux, his motive being wine. He found it hard to see the motive towards the islands where there was no wine.”