In yesterday’s Evening Standard Joe Murphy reported an apparent scoop he had picked from John Wittingdale’s Speaker’s Lecture on Great Parliamentarians. The subject was Margaret Thatcher to whom Whittingdale had been political secretary at the end of her Prime Ministerial career. Discussing the events surrounding Lady Thatcher’s fall from power in 1990 Whittingdale ‘revealed’ that Thatcher had, for a brief moment, considered the rather astonishing option of continuing as Prime Minister whilst no longer leader of the Conservative Party.
However something about this story seemed rather familiar.
In the 2009 BBC drama Margaret (pictured above), which centres on the 1990 leadership challenge, there is a scene in which Thatcher (having received the result of the fatal first ballot) is shown screaming out: “that’s constitutional isn’t it?…I could do that couldn’t I? Couldn’t I?”. What she is asking those present is whether she could resign the Party leadership but continue…well you know the rest. In the film the question is met with a rather taken-aback cough by one of her campaign team.
Back in 2010 I noted (in a paper to the ‘Acting with Facts’ conference at the University of Reading) that this is certainly a different take on an earlier recreation of the same moment in Granada’s Thatcher: the final days (1991). There Thatcher is depicted as a rather crestfallen and self-pitying figure dwelling on her colleagues’ actions as “the cruellest thing”. But of course the writer of Margaret, Richard Cottan, had some insider knowledge: among a number of other figures he interviewed whilst researching his script was none other than John Whittingdale.
As we approach the release of The Iron Lady there will be the inevitable discussion as to the veracity of the tale we are being told yet it would appear that sometimes fiction can get to the facts before reality.