Despite being knifed in the back by her own British Conservative Party, Maggie Thatcher, the "Iron Lady," prevailed in the end with the selection of Thatcherite Chancellor of the Exchequer John Major as her successor.
Thatcher had changed the Tory Party too much to be succeeded by Michael Heseltine, the man who brought her down, or by foreign minister Douglas Hurd, the representative of the old Tory establishment.The non-descript men of the British Tory Party, filled with small-minded personal ambition, had conspired to depose the only leader Britain has had since Churchill. Their excuse was that her popularity had declined, jeopardizing the Conservatives' success in the next election. But the real issue was Margaret Thatcher's political longevity - an inconvenience for the career ambitions of her colleagues, who set about making her unpopular.
First, they painted a picture of her as "national nanny," a person who knew best for every Briton. It is an accurate measure of the anti-Thatcher bias of the British media that this inept description stuck to the person most determined to make the British accept more responsibility for their own lives. Thatcher strove to re-create a self-reliant people who would not lose their political independence to a patronizing government.
Unfortunately for the British, they lacked the independence of thought to see through the caricature of their prime minister, but they had enough independence of spirit left to resent the image of themselves as naifs in need of a children's nurse. Instead of backing their leader in opinion polls, they turned on her for the sake of their own media image.
Having stigmatized their leader, the Tories then set her upon three issues: inflation, the poll tax and European integration.
By creating a successful economy and by privatizing welfare housing, Thatcher created millions of new British homeowners. No sooner had she done this than her former chancellor of the exchequer, Nigel Lawson, unleashed the inflation that she had subdued, thus driving up the interest rates on home mortgages. His excuse was the British pound sterling.
Next came the poll tax. Although parliament was firmly in Conservative hands, many local governments were firmly in left-wing hands. Property owners, especially where they were a political minority, were being brutally exploited. Local services were being run down, while all sorts of freakish left-wing causes were rolling in money. To introduce an element of accountability into local government, Thatcher replaced the local property tax with a residency tax in order to put the pockets of all voters at risk, not just those of homeowners.
The residency tax was bitterly resented by those who had enjoyed a free ride at the expense of others. Riots organized by the political left broke out over the poll tax. Thatcher's Tory colleagues quickly seized on the tax for which they had voted as more evidence of a headstrong woman losing her grip.
The final issue was European integration. Originally the Common Market was an economic charter based on free trade, but European socialists, subsidized farmers and non-competitive state enterprises found a way to subvert the treaty by changing the emphasis to political integration. The unelected European Community bureaucrats in Brussels believe the best way to gain power over the national elected governments is with a European central bank and a common currency.
By contrast to Thatcher's sensible position, the new Conservative government will not be worth a row of pins, and the British electorate will have no reason to vote for it except fear of the Labor Party's candidate.