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Thatcher – my part in her downfall…

Prop. Notes

Listening to the Today programme a voice from my past comes over the airwaves. Lord, Kenneth of old, Baker was explaining how the toppling of Theresa compared to the Tory original sin of Mrs Thatcher’s removal in November 1990.

My very small footnote in that history is that I ran, very badly, the Conservative campaign in the Eastbourne parliamentary by-election called when Ian Gow was murdered by the IRAon July 30th 1990. Defending a Conservative majority of 15,000 and given the appalling circumstances of his death (blown up outside his house in the constituency) it should have been a breeze to hold off the challenge of the Liberals.

The problem was the poll tax. That summer there had been riots in central London over its perceived unfairness and, like Brexit today, it had sucked the life out of MrsT’s third administration. I knew things were a bit sticky on the Eastbourne streets when our canvassers started reporting that previously reliable Tory voters were not looking them in the eye but, with zero local infrastructure or data, on the eve of the poll we frankly had no idea how things would turn out.

Two hours before the count I was at dinner, at the Hungry Monk in Jevington, with the Tory candidate and another MP. After a glass or two, we had persuaded ourselves that there would be an inevitable erosion of the Gow majority but nothing worse. At 8pm the owner of the restaurant, Nigel Mackenzie, told me I had a phone call.

“Stephen? This is Kenneth Baker then Chairman of the Conservative Party]. I am in Number 10 with the Prime Minister and she would like a word. I am going to hand you over now.” Gulp.

“Stephen, are we going to win?” that famous breathy voice asked. “You know how important this result is to me personally and to the Government. If there is to be bad news tonight we need to prepare for it.” Double gulp. What I should have said was, “I haven’t a clue”. But, as an ambitious young Tory, what I actually did was stand up straight, cough and say, “Yes, Prime Minister, I am confident we will win albeit with a reduced majority.”

Two hours later the Eastbourne returning officer announced that Gow’s 15,000 majority had been obliterated by a Liberal one of, er, 17,0000. It was shattering, and the worst by-election defeat in living memory (before some of John Major’s 1992–1997 mid-termers). Whatever feeble political ambitions I might have had were eviscerated. One month later, in November 1990,when Parliament returned, she was out.

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About Stephen Yorke

Stephen Yorke

After Cambridge University and a few years at the Commercial/Chancery Bar, Stephen spent two years in John Major’s Political Office at Number 10. He then laboured on the FX/ Bond trading floors of two investment banks during the 1990s. In 2004 he founded (and ran until this year) a small Real estate Fund management company. In 2017 he founded 'The Property Chronicle' and is now a new boy publisher.

Articles by Stephen Yorke

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