Forty thousand pages of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s personal and political papers from 1989 are being opened to the public at the Churchill Archives Centre and online at the website of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation.

In 1989, the arrival of Alan Walters had an incendiary effect.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson’s fundamental disagreements with the views and actions of Walters, Margaret Thatcher’seconomicsadviser, led to the watershed resignation of both men on 26 October 1989.

Lawson’s decision to resign after over six years as a key figure in Thatcher’s government was a pivotal moment in the events which would lead to the downfall of the Prime Minister.

For the first time, Thatcher’s extraordinary handwritten letter to Walters – written in the aftermath of both their resignations – gives profound insight and confirms Thatcher’s true sentiment and affiliation to Walters over Lawson as her Chancellor, a split that divided the Conservative party.

Across four pages Thatcher underlines her words and states she was “truly appalled” at Lawson’s request to sack Walters for undermining his authority and regarded it as: 

“totally unjust and shocking”. Her gratitude to Walters is evident saying “the work you did during our first administration was the foundation of our later success’ adding “I fervently believe you’re right”.

Thatcher bemoans the legacy of her longstanding Chancellor in a way she could not do in public.

“As you know he has left us with high inflation, a very high trade deficit, not to mention the very high interest rate”.

Contained in an off the record interview with Kelvin McKenzie Editor of the Sun, released for the first time, her emotional reaction to events is powerfully present. She recalls her children’s consoling phone calls on the evening of the Lawson resignation – “Mum are you alright? don’t worry, you know we love you”. She describes their support as “meaning more than anything in the world”.

This event, combined with the highlights of the previously unseen material, opened the door to the end of Thatcherism before another year was out. Documents released for the first time include:

  • Startling confidential reports on the effects of the poll tax – some only sent to the Prime Minister – forewarning her of its unfairness and adverse impact on Tory marginal seats, including Thatcher’s own Finchley constituency. Thatcher was clearly warned from numerous sources about the ratio of losers to winners amongst Conservative voters and the consequent likely political damage, yet despite all this, pressed ahead. This flagship Thatcherite policy, would not be possible to abolish while Thatcher was still Prime Minister;
  • Thatcher’s private notes on the ‘Madrid ambush’,  the ultimatum from Nigel Lawson and Geoffrey Howe that she issue a date to join the ERM goes to the very heart of the story of the Thatcher government in its last years – both men had once been among her closes political allies;
  • Mrs Thatcher’s personal fondness for health cures in the form of her correspondence with the novelist Barbara Cartland offering her “golden acorns”, perhaps nutrimental supplements she might have taken in combination with living off black coffee and describing eggs and bacon as “quite the best thing, British peoples culinary gift to the world”;
  • The first use of the ‘royal we’ in Thatcher’s statement to the press on the birth of her first grandchild, Mark Thatcher’s son Michael caused huge negative public reaction. The term had previously been restricted to royalty. Its use by a mere prime minister alongside Thatcher’s imperious personal manner were the source of considerable disdain at the time. Thatcher’s apparent conceit led to her being described as “a legend in her own imagination”.

Allen Packwood, Director of the Churchill Archives Centre, said: “Whatever our politics we have to recognise Margaret Thatcher as a major historical figure. The material released today will further inform our understanding of these historic events during 1989. There is huge research interest in her as a political figure and in the events of her life and premiership, the material will inform further study, discussion and debate.”

The Churchill Archives Centre

The Churchill Archives Centre is open to researchers five days a week for about fifty weeks each year. The Centre provides free access for all potential visitors, subject only to prior booking of a space in its reading room.

The archive can be viewed at the Margaret Thatcher Foundation website and will be made available to view at the Churchill Archives Centre from Monday 11 March. 

Image reproduced by kind permission of the family of Srdja Djukanovic.