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The draft 1978 Conservative manifesto reveals a lot about Margaret Thatcher

For anyone interested in Mrs Thatcher, there are few better sources than the wonderful website of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation.  It is a model of what you would want from a political archive.  Out of the thousands of documents available free-of-charge online, my favourite – and one I’ve used in teaching for several years – is the one remaining copy of the draft Conservative election manifesto, prepared in case Jim Callaghan went to the country in 1978.  Very different from the manifesto that was eventually used a year later in 1979, the manifesto is a remarkable document – not least because it is Margaret Thatcher’s draft copy, complete with her suggested edits.

She is known for many things – the first women to become British Prime Minister, the longest-serving British Prime Minister in the democratic era, plus her ground-breaking research into saponification of α-monostearin in a monolayer.  She is perhaps less well known for her copy editing skills, but the annotations reveal she was no mean editor.

Take, for example, this bit from p.4, in which she culls the woolly early draft, both to sharpen the text and to make it more partisan.


But the document is also a brilliant insight into her politics.  The foreword includes a section setting out the duties of government.  There’s something in the way ‘individual citizens’ gets replaced with ‘people’ (and the way she queries the wishy-washy ‘reasonably stable currency’ and merely ‘adequate’ defences), but much more important is the way she adds to the three suggested duties of government a fourth: ‘To provide conditions in which enterprise can flourish’.


But my favourite bit comes on p.19, when a section on animal welfare gets the full Thatcher edit.


There’s something wonderful about that that aggressive crossing out, the horrified exclamation marks, the bemused question marks.  There, for good or ill, is Mrs Thatcher.

Philip Cowley


Published inBritish PoliticsConservatives


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