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How Michael Heseltine won his first showdown with Margaret Thatcher in government

22 April 2013

6:38 PM

22 April 2013

6:38 PM

The extracts in the Telegraph of Charles Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher have confirmed that this will be one of the most important political books of recent times.

One of the intriguing things about Thatcher’s premiership is how, for the early years of it, she had to deal with a Cabinet that was not convinced of her policy prescription. This meant that, contrary to the latter image, she could not simply proceed as she wished. (Though, it should be noted that events vindicated Thatcher’s judgment.)


Charles Moore reveals in his book that in 1979 Michael Heseltine flatly refused the job of energy secretary. He reports that when Thatcher offered it to him, he replied ‘“No… I’ve been rehearsing environment for three years. That’s what I want to do.” Faced with this demand, Thatcher acquiesced.

PS: If you subscribe to The Spectator for three months at a price of £27.50, you receive a free copy of the Thatcher biography which will sell for £30 when it comes out.

Join us for ‘An Evening with Charles Moore‘  on 7 May, where Andrew Neil will discuss the life of Baroness Thatcher with her official biographer, sharing his unique insights into this towering political figure of our times. Click here to book tickets.

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Show comments
  • 2trueblue

    Whilst she made her mark Heseltine did not get very far in the end.

    • David Lindsay


      And he is not at his end yet. Cameron relies very heavily on him, and on most working days he is at his desk in his own old Department. He is very definitely 80 not out.

      • 2trueblue

        The article is about his showdown with one of the most successful PMs, whom we have now laid to rest. He is a back stabber and not to be trusted. Cameron would do well to steer clear of his like, and frankly Cameron has his own problems which ‘has beens’ are unlikely to solve.

  • David Lindsay

    Contrary to the mythology, Thatcher’s background was no less grand than Heseltine’s. But neither of them could get anywhere in the Conservative Party today.

    Heseltine may be Cameron’s guru. But Cameron no more bought his own furniture than Alan Clark did, and no more went only to Shrewsbury.

    Nor does Cameron’s family money go back to Welsh coal mines, perhaps accounting for how Heseltine was even more destructive and vindictive towards that industry than Thatcher was.

    • Wessex Man

      oh dear David, do grow up!

  • Curnonsky

    Once an egomaniac…

    • David Lindsay

      The pair of them. United by far more than a hairdo.

      She signed the Single European Act. He privatised more of the British economy than any other Minister ever, and he closed the pits that had worked through the strike.

      They made common cause against the FCO to erect on Crown property a national memorial to something that had not occurred on British territory or even had anything to do with Britain, but which was in fact a statement about something else entirely.

      If Britain had made any contribution, then that had been Churchill’s refusal to bomb the railway lines to Auschwitz, a refusal which much later moved Menachem Begin to inform Margaret Thatcher that her country and her hero had caused the deaths of two million Jews. He himself had armed Argentina during the Falklands War, only months before the controversy over this proposed monument ostensibly to one thing but really to another, erected by the alliance between Thatcher and Heseltine.

      But Thatcher’s burial with full military honours despite never having served in any of the Armed Forces surpassed even Heseltine’s having worn Guards tie (incorrectly, with the red stripe across the knot) on many more days than he ever served in the Welsh Guards.

      After multiple deferrals, he was finally called up in the very last year of National Service. But was let out again after a few months because the Conservatives, or technically the National Liberals, needed him to fight the no hope seat of Gower. He was then let off the rest because his business career was deemed to have been so important. He was 26.

      Heseltine had been old enough both for Korea and for Suez. But he never served in either, due to his family connections. The Guards tie used to be worn correctly, and far more honourably, by Tommy Cooper.

      • HJ777

        I think I preferred you when you were rabbiting on about local election results. Don’t your parents want to use your bedroom for something useful?

        • David Lindsay

          One of them died in the room in which I now sleep. I am very much free to do what I like with it.

          If you are not interested in politics, then why are you on this site?

          • HJ777

            Perhaps if you had ever had to leave home and buy a house of your own you would have a more realistic view of the world.

            What I’m not interested in is your delusions. They are tediously predictable and ill-informed.

            • David Lindsay

              Which part of my comment was ill-informed? “All of it, ha ha” won’t do.

              • HJ777

                It’s irrelevant and simplistic, as usual.

                You are very adept at only looking at whatever you ‘facts’ you please, often out of context and ignoring any counter-evidence. It’s all so tediously predictable.

                You say daft things about Heseltine ‘closing pits’. He didn’t. The Coal Board closed uneconomic pits – they made the decision, not Heseltine. Heseltine merely refused to intervene with public subsidy to override their decisions. So it was economic reality that resulted in pits being closed, however much you would like to blame one or two people.

                And who gives a tinkers cuss about his tie?

      • Colonel Mustard

        Easier to write one of your ‘definitive sounding’ soundbites about Churchill and Auschwitz rather than to try and appreciate the real complexities in a non-partisan way. Begin was an equally partisan observer of British ‘failures’ and his criticism lacked credibility then as it does now.

        • David Lindsay

          This is pretty much the only thing on which I agree with Begin. Everyone except a weird sort of half-educated Churchill cultist does, and there are fewer and fewer of those these days.

          Thatcher had not wanted to meet Begin, because of his utterly unrepented past as an anti-British terrorist; my late father’s reaction when Yitzhak Shamir came on the television used to be quite something, while my erstwhile Senior Tutor from my undergraduate days, who served with my father, still views the whole matter in those terms even in advanced old age.

          When Thatcher did meet Begin, she wished that she hadn’t. It astonishes me, and yet it doesn’t, that he was ever allowed to set foot in this country without being arrested.

          • Colonel Mustard

            Yes, many of us have direct links to the past…

        • David Lindsay

          It’s the only thing on which I agree with him. Everyone does apart from certain people who write certain types of books on Churchill for the money and for the social Alpinist opportunities.

          Thatcher, to her credit, had not wanted to meet Begin, utterly unrepentant old anti-British terrorist. After she had done so, she wished that she hadn’t.

          • Colonel Mustard

            No they don’t. And don’t jump to one of your polarised conclusions that because I happen to disagree I’m a ‘half-educated Churchill cultist’ and my view is formed only by an insistence on his infallibility. ‘Everyone’ cannot be defined and even if it were in your world it would a political rather than historical stance, let alone a military historical stance. The author of that article for one does not agree, at least not with your simplistic rendition of the tune.

            • HJ777

              Even were it correct to call you ‘half educated”, you would still be far better educated, by half in fact, than David Lindsay.

  • Span Ows

    …so intertwined with the EU project even before it was the EU! Tarzan, betraying his country years before anyone knew.

    • tele_machus

      Or a perspicacious appreciation of our best future