1989 Conservative Party leadership election (UK)
The 1989 Conservative Party leadership election took place on 5 December 1989. The incumbent Margaret Thatcher was opposed by the little-known 69-year-old backbencher MP Sir Anthony Meyer. It was the Conservative Party's first leadership election for nearly 15 years, when Thatcher had taken the party leadership.
During 1989 the Conservative government led by Thatcher had run into difficulties. In June Labour won their first national electoral victory since 1974 in the elections to the European Parliament, beating the Conservatives. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, had resigned in October over Thatcher's determination to follow the advice of her advisers, specifically Sir Alan Walters. Opinion polls were also starting to show a widening Labour lead, which had opened up since the Community Charge (or "poll tax") was phased in the previous April; public anger at this community charge mounted over the subsequent months. Thatcher had long considered, as her husband Denis desired, to stand down in May 1989 after 10 years as Prime Minister. However, having won a 102-seat majority at the general election two years previously, and having led the party for 14 years without a hint of a leadership challenge, Thatcher opted to carry on for a full third term.
As a result, Thatcher faced mounting internal party criticism, which culminated in the decision of Meyer to offer a stalking horse candidacy for the party leadership.
Sir Anthony Meyer was critical of the recently introduced Community Charge (which was seen by many as the key factor in the government's declining popularity), Thatcher's leadership style and her Euroscepticism. She had now led the party for nearly 15 years and had been prime minister for over 10 of those years.
|Only ballot: 5 December 1989|
|Sir Anthony Meyer||33||8.8|
|Margaret Thatcher re-elected|
Thatcher, whose campaign was organised by former Cabinet minister, George Younger, won the contest overwhelmingly and said afterwards:
I would like to say how very pleased I am with this result and how very pleased I am to have had the overwhelming support of my colleagues in the House and the people from the party in the country.
However, a total of 60 Conservative MPs did not support Thatcher by either voting for Meyer, spoiling their ballot papers, or abstaining. After the ballot Meyer said:
I was quite surprised to get so many votes, I thought I'd be beaten by the abstentions. The total result I think is rather better than I'd expected and not quite as good as some of my friends were hoping for.
Within a year, as the Community Charge (poll tax) sparked riots, the economy slid towards recession, and the Labour lead in the opinion polls mounted into double digits, Thatcher resigned as party leader and Prime Minister after a further contest in November 1990.