Revealed: How Bernard Ingham tried to melt the Iron Lady

Margaret Thatcher with her press secretary Bernard Ingham
Margaret Thatcher with her press secretary Bernard Ingham
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Margaret Thatcher was warned to soften her Iron Lady image and display a more caring side by her press secretary Bernard Ingham, newly released documents show.

The former Prime Minister’s chief press secretary wrote a carefully worded memo to Baroness Thatcher setting out her “natural assets” against her “weaknesses” in 1985.

An excerpt from press secretary Bernard Ingham's memo to the Prime Minister ordering her to soften her image and show more compassion

An excerpt from press secretary Bernard Ingham's memo to the Prime Minister ordering her to soften her image and show more compassion

The five-page memo, published as part of the latest release of her personal files, is diplomatically worded but says that by her second term she had gained a public image as “hectoring, strident and bossy”.

It is described by Chris Collins, from the Margaret Thatcher Archive Trust, as Mr Ingham’s “biggest effort” to push Lady Thatcher towards a more compassionate style ahead of that year’s party conference in Blackpool.

But it seems to have had little impact on her approach as she shied away from using words like “compassion” and “caring” in the speech she went on to deliver.

Ingham, a columnist at the The Yorkshire Post, began by praising her in a list of bullet points including describing the Prime Minister as a “decisive, strong-minded person” and “someone who is clearly going to be very hard to beat”.

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher

He contrasted her with political opponents, including Neil Kinnock, who “have no proven qualities as national leaders or of force of personality or policy”.

“In short, you remain the dominant person in British politics,” Ingham added.

But this serves only as a precursor for his less flattering assessment of Lady Thatcher’s public image. His three point list of her “perceived weakness” begins by stating that the Government would benefit from a fall in unemployment, before highlighting two personal flaws.

These read: “A more general insensitivity: a belief that you do not care for people - all of this linked with so-called ‘cuts’.”

Robert Kilroy-Silk (left) clashed with Jeremy Corbyn, it has been revealed

Robert Kilroy-Silk (left) clashed with Jeremy Corbyn, it has been revealed

Followed by: “A hectoring, strident, bossy, dictatorial personality (which does not survive an encounter with you).”

But Mr Ingham, one of Lady Thatcher’s closest advisers, goes out of his way to point out that he does not believe this image of the Prime Minister is fair.

“I do not believe it is possible for a woman in a still male-dominated media to deal conclusively with the hectoring, strident, bossy point,” he wrote.

“Just comfort yourself with the thought that wherever you go on tour it is the women, of all ages, who want to hail you as their equivalent of the female four-minute mile, however they vote.”

Mr Collins, the only historian to have studied the papers to date, said the Prime Minister showed few signs of having heeded this advice in the speech she delivered at Blackpool.

She stopped short of using words like “compassion” and “caring” instead stressing that she “understood” the problems faced by the less fortunate in society.

He added: “Looking at this document there is no sign of massive descent from Thatcher - no scribbled notes or underlining like you often see on her personal files. It is nothing he wouldn’t have said to her before, albeit a very clear and strong note. She simply would never have worn her heart on her sleeve like that, partly because it would have gone against her instincts but also because, by that point, it would have seem inauthentic. Her public image was so fixed that she couldn’t win - if she had suddenly shown a softer side, people would not have believed it.”

Read Bernard Ingham’s recent columns for The Yorkshire Post

• A difference of opinion between Jeremy Corbyn and Robert Kilroy-Silk was brought to the attention of Margaret Thatcher.

A press digest prepared for the then prime minister on October 31 1985 listed key headlines deemed worthy of her attention.

Alongside a note about Robin Cook emerging as a key figure in the shadow cabinet, one line reads: “Robert Kilroy-Silk in Commons scuffle with Jeremy Corbyn.”

Coverage at the time suggests the then Labour politician and future day-time television personality Mr Kilroy-Silk had attempted to punch Mr Corbyn, now the leader of the party.

Asked about the alleged incident years later, Mr Kilroy-Silk reportedly said: “I didn’t really hit him. If I had, he’d have stayed down.”

The Margaret Thatcher Archive Trust is gradually overseeing the release of her private files through the Churchill Archive Centre in Cambridge. The latest release follows the opening of her official files from the same year at the National Archives in Kew.

Members of the public will be able to browse the archive from Monday by visiting

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