Thirty-nine years ago today Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party. And 14 years ago, one of us and Matthew Bailey wrote an article examining the contest. Published in the British Journal of Political Science, the article (£):
analyses the nature of the support given to the candidates in the 1975 Conservative leadership contest, in which Margaret Thatcher replaced Edward Heath. In contrast to the orthodox account of the contest – which interprets it as largely non-ideological – the article argues that there were clear ideological forces at work. The right strongly supported Thatcher in both rounds; the left strongly backed Heath and then Whitelaw. Region, experience and education also influenced the voting. The traditional accounts, which explain those voting for Thatcher as doing so simply because she was not Heath, have, therefore, to explain why only certain types of MPs felt this way. Margaret Thatcher may have won because she was not Ted Heath; but she did not win solely because she was not Ted Heath.
We couldn’t carry out the same research today – the passage of time has meant that too many of the individuals who helped us have sadly died since. They include the late Sir William (‘Bill’) Shelton, who was the keeper of names for the Thatcher campaign and without the work would almost certainly not have been possible. Half-way through an interview with him on the subject, he said, casually: ‘would you like to see my canvass returns?’. The trick, at that point, was not to appear too keen, too desperate.