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The Australian National University

The Crowd in the Thatcher Revolution: Margaret Thatcher’s rise to the conservative party leadership & aspects of her popular support

Date and time

Wednesday, May 24, 2017 - 16:15 - 17:30


McDonald Room, Menzies Library, ANU


Dr Chris Wallace


person icon School of History

The Thatcher Government appears as a political behemoth to contemporary observers looking back on a period of policy and social change still reverberating through western democracies. ‘Thatcherism’ became a synonym for the neoliberal suite of policies in which market forces are paramount, and for which her government 1979-90 led the charge - an approach initially contested but now a largely internalised engine driving public policy discourse and development in the west over the past 40 years.

The Thatcher Revolution could not have happened without Margaret Thatcher herself, at least not at that time or in that particular way. Yet Thatcher - the wrong class and the wrong gender - trod a narrow, highly contingent path to the Tory leadership in 1975, her success a surprise to fellow MPs and commentators alike. In contrast to her against-the-grain ascension to the top of the Conservative Party, Thatcher attracted devoted support from a sufficient swathe of the electorate to win three general elections. The source of that support remains somewhat contested.

Several hundred letters written to Thatcher in the lead up to, and immediately after, her election as Conservative Party leader reveal several strands in that support, some surprising. This paper investigates these letters to illuminate facets of the hidden crowd in the Thatcher Revolution.


Dr Chris Wallace is an ARC DECRA Fellow at the National Centre of Biography, School of History, ANU where she is working on a history of Dick and Maie Casey and their networks at the Australian Legation in Washington 1940-42. Wallace works in modern and contemporary international history and biography with special reference to transnational lives, gender and social change. She is the author of several books including Greer, Untamed Shrew (Pan Macmillan, 2013) and The Private Don (Allen & Unwin, 2007). Twitter: @c_s_wallace

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