Thatcher notes show PM warned of Marxist insurrection, was a "dab hand with sellotape"

By Ben Miller | 07 October 2014

The former Prime Minister saw miners' leaders as "dangerous to liberty" and almost became embroiled in a diplomatic row over a rose

A photo of a handwritten note in black ink on ruled paper
A Sellotaped page from the Margaret Thatcher speech that never was© Churchill Archives Centre
Margaret Thatcher would have warned Britain of an “insurrection” by “trained Marxists and their fellow travellers” at the 1984 Conservative Party Conference, archivists releasing her proposed speech have revealed.

The Prime Minister’s handwritten notes, intended for a foreboding address prevented by a bomb attack on the Brighton hotel where she was staying, link mining unrest to General Galtieri, the Argentinian dictator defeated during the Falklands War of 1982.

Draft pages refer to the divisive intent of the opposition Labour party. “Since Office. Enemy without – beaten him & resolute strong in defence,” reads the text, salvaged from the wreckage of the Grand Hotel in the aftermath of the attack on October 12.

“Enemy within – Miners’ leaders…Liverpool and some local authorities – just as dangerous...in a way more difficult to fight...just as dangerous to liberty.”

A surprising, sometimes unnerving and occasionally humorous resource, the papers from the Churchill Archives Centre show the Prime Minister’s fears over her own party’s loyalty, which were proved correct when she was forced to resign seven years later.

“My party won’t want me to lead them into the next election – and I don’t blame them,” she told her secretary, John Coles, who noted a “decline in her energy” following victory in the 1983 election.

Chris Collins, from the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, admitted to being “amazed” at the leader’s prophecy of her own downfall, expressed just days after the election was won.

The only historian to have had unrestricted access to the collection of 40,000 papers, Collins believes the abandoned speech would have had greater impact than another of Thatcher’s discourses on disloyalty, given in private to the backbench 1922 Committee.

“It was a speech which would have been remembered as controversial and would have eclipsed the ‘enemy within’ speech,” he said. “Indeed it was intended to do that.

“There’s a certain irony that an act of great violence actually softened this speech. In the end, the original speech was torn up and later taped back together, probably by Thatcher herself, who was a dab hand with Sellotape.”

Experts poring over the pages said one thorny exchange, centred on a rose called Margaret, could have been lifted from the satirical scripts of the television program Yes Prime Minister.

Officials in Whitehall were initially pleased when, in 1984, a West German horticultural association asked for permission to name a rose after Thatcher, potentially offering a softer counterpoint to the traditional view of a politician known as the Iron Lady.

The move enraged a Japanese firm which had been given license to grow a Margaret Thatcher Rose six years earlier. After reams of notes between Whitehall and Foreign Office correspondents, it took a reassuringly diplomatic private letter from Charles Powell, a private secretary, to ward off threats of legal action and ensuing embarrassment to the office.

“This release of papers gives us a vivid insight into life at Downing Street and into Mrs Thatcher’s state of mind during a very difficult year, both personally and politically,” said Andrew Riley, of the Centre, discussing the period around the bombing.

“The papers provide fresh insights into the often bitter coal strike of 1984, as well as newly released materials on the impact and aftermath of the Brighton bomb.”


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