On This Day: Margaret Thatcher becomes Prime Minister

On this day in 1979, Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister for the first time. The Conservative Party would remain in government for the next 18 years.


After five years of Labour government the economy was in a poor state, and Britain had just gone through the 'Winter of Discontent', which saw the worst strikes since the General Strike of 1926. The Labour way stood condemned by experience. Consumer prices had doubled in five years, and the pound could only buy half as much as in 1974.

For Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party, the 1979 General Election was about what sort of society we wanted to live in.

"The essential question is whether we propose to continue the drift towards the all-powerful and all-purpose state, financed out of ever more oppressive taxation or whether we will have the courage to set our faces in the opposite direction and start the long haul back to a truly free and soundly prosperous society."

Margaret Thatcher never believed that the United Kingdom was a naturally socialist country.

"We're an independent people; we don't take easily to having more and more of our lives decided for us by the State. We don't take kindly to being pushed around. We're good neighbours, concerned for the welfare of others. We regard it as a privilege to say to the old, the sick, the needy and the disabled—"Don't worry, we'll look after you." But we believe that those who are strong and healthy and active should be encouraged to get on and make a success of things for themselves." 

The Conservative Party Election broadcast of 1979 ended with a fitting description of modern Conservatism:

"Let me give you my vision. Somewhere ahead lies greatness for our country again; this I know in my heart. Look at Britain today and you may think that an impossible dream. But there's another Britain which may not make the daily news but which each one of us knows. It's a Britain of thoughtful people, oh, tantalisingly slow to act yet marvellously determined when they do. It's their voice which steadies each generation. Not by oratory or argument but by a word here or there; a sudden flash of truth which makes men pause and think and say, "That makes sense to me." That's how the foundations of fairness have been built up in this country, brick by brick, layer upon layer. In that way the law has grown, bringing to each age what seems reasonable and wise and true. Today, if you listen, you can hear that voice again. It calls not for upheaval or conflict or division; it calls for balance; for a land where all may grow, but none may grow oppressive. It's message is quiet but insistent. It says this: Let us make this a country safe to work in; let us make this a country safe to walk in; let us make it a country safe to grow up in; let us make it a country safe to grow old in. And it says, above all, may this land of ours, which we love so much, find dignity and greatness and peace again."