You must impose your will, Thatcher told after Westland affair

Senior Conservatives warned Margaret Thatcher that she urgently needed to assert her authority over her feuding ministers in the wake of the Westland affair, according to newly released government files.
Margaret ThatcherMargaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher

Documents released by the National Archives show that some of the Prime Minster’s most trusted colleagues feared her position was being undermined by Cabinet indiscipline.

The warnings followed the dramatic resignation in January 1986 of Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine who stormed out of the Cabinet in a furious row over the future of the helicopter manufacturer, Westland.

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In the months that followed, Mrs Thatcher’s press secretary Bernard Ingham, now a columnist in The Yorkshire Post, urged her to take action to show the Government was in command and “knows what it is doing”. “If there is a liability at the moment it is the impression abroad that the Government is too much at the mercy of events,” he said. “You need to be seen to be imposing your will on things.”

His comments were echoed by chief whip John Wakeham who said the Government was being damaged in the eyes of backbenchers and the public by the tendency of ministers to campaign “semi-privately” for their own pet policy positions.

“It is one thing (and often a good thing) to rehearse the arguments for and against various options; it is entirely another matter to behave as a string of one-man, single-issue pressure groups, without regard to collective responsibility,” he wrote.