First Thatcher ministry

Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 4 May 1979 to 28 November 1990, during which time she led a Conservative government. She was the first woman to hold that office. During her premiership, Thatcher moved to liberalise the British economy through deregulation, privatisation, and the promotion of entrepreneurialism.

First Thatcher ministry
1979–1983
Thatcher (1981)
Date formed4 May 1979 (1979-05-04)
Date dissolved9 June 1983 (1983-06-09)
People and organisations
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
Prime Minister's history1979–1990
Deputy Prime Minister[note 1]
Total no. of ministers213 appointments
Member partyConservative Party
Status in legislatureMajority
Opposition cabinet
Opposition partyLabour Party
Opposition leader
History
Election(s)1979 general election
Outgoing election1983 general election
Legislature term(s)48th UK Parliament
Budget(s)
  • June 1979 budget
  • 1980 budget
  • 1981 budget
  • 1982 budget
  • 1983 budget
PredecessorCallaghan ministry
SuccessorSecond Thatcher ministry

This article details the first government Thatcher led at the invitation of Queen Elizabeth II from 1979 to 1983.

Formation

Following the vote of no confidence against the Labour government and prime minister James Callaghan on 28 March 1979, a general election was called for 3 May 1979. The Winter of Discontent had seen the Labour government's popularity slump during the previous four months, and the opinion polls all pointed towards a Conservative victory.

The Tories won the election with a majority of 44 seats and their leader Margaret Thatcher became Britain's first female prime minister.

Thatcher inherited some of the worst economic statistics of postwar Britain. The nation was still feeling the effects of the numerous strikes during the recent Winter of Discontent. Inflation had recently topped 20%, and unemployment was in excess of 1.5 million for the first time since the 1930s.

Thatcher's monetarist and deflationary economic policies saw a cut in the inflation rate from a high of 22% in May 1980 to just over 13% by January 1981, and by June 1983 it had fallen to a 15-year low of 4.9%.

Decreasing the public sector borrowing requirement as a share of GDP was a part of the medium term financial strategy at the beginning of the first Thatcher ministry. It was brought down from around 5% during the 1978-1979 period to around half of this figure during the 1982-1983 period.[1]

Public expenditure as a share of GDP increased at around 1.5% per year during the 1979-1983 period, despite the target being a reduction of 1% per year. This increase in spending was mostly driven by larger expenditures in social security programs such as unemployment benefits, industrial support, and increased lending to nationalized industries; defense spending did not go up considerably in the Falklands War.[2]

Long-term unemployment increased considerably during this period: almost one third of the unemployed had been without a job for more than one year. The manufacturing industry was considerably affected during the first Thatcher government: employment in this sector decreased by almost 20% between 1979 and 1982. This decrease drove almost all of the drop in employment for this period.[3]

Productivity started seeing considerable growth during the 1979-1982 period in some industries. Total factor productivity growth during these years was 13.9% in the metal manufacture industry, 6.6% in motor vehicle manufacture, 7.1% in ship and aircraft manufacture, and 7.5% in agriculture.[4]

Income distribution widened considerably during Thatcher’s ministry. During the 1979-1986 period, real income per capita fell for the two lower quintiles by 4% and 12% respectively; but for the top three quintiles, it went up by 24%, 11%, and 10%, respectively.[5]

She also oversaw union reforms which saw strikes at their lowest for 30 years by 1983. However, her economic policies also resulted in the loss of much of Britain's heavy industry. Coal pits, steel plants, machine-tools and shipyards were particularly hard hit, most of all in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England. By 1983, unemployment had reached 3.2 million, although economic growth was now re-established following the recession of 1980 and 1981.

The Labour opposition, which changed leader from James Callaghan to Michael Foot in 1980, was in no position to exploit the situation and mount a threat to the Conservative government's power. The change of leader saw the party shift dramatically to the left, and in 1981 a host of disenchanted Labour MP's formed the breakaway Social Democratic Party. The new party swiftly formed an alliance with the Liberals with a view to forming a coalition government at the next election. Roy Jenkins, leader of the SDP, worked in conjunction with Liberal leader David Steel with the goal of forming a coalition government at the next general election. For a while, opinion polls suggested that this could happen, with support for the Alliance peaking at 50% in late 1981, with both the Tories and Labour faring dismally.

However, when the Falkland Islands (a British colony in the South Atlantic) were seized by Argentine forces in March 1982, Thatcher was swift to declare war on Argentina which was won on 14 June when the Argentines surrendered. The success of this campaign saw a swift turnaround in support for the Tory government, who by the summer of 1982 were firmly in the lead in all of the major opinion polls. A Conservative victory at the next election appeared inevitable, although it appeared far from clear whether it would be Labour or the Alliance who formed the next opposition.

Fate

Thatcher had the option of waiting until May 1984 before calling a general election, but the opinion polls remained in her favour as 1983 dawned and so she called a general election for 9 June. With all the pollsters pointing towards a Tory majority, the most interesting outcome of the election was the guessing game as to whether it would be Labour or the Alliance who formed the next opposition.

In the event, the Tories were re-elected with a 144-seat majority. The election was an unmitigated disaster for Labour, who polled a mere 27.6% of the vote and were left with just 209 MPs in the new parliament. The Alliance came close to Labour in terms of votes with 25.4% of the electorate voting for them, but won a mere 23 seats.

Cabinets

May 1979 to September 1981

Changes

  • January 1981 
    • Francis Pym succeeded Norman St John-Stevas as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Pym succeeded Angus Maude as Paymaster-General.
    • John Nott succeeded Francis Pym as Secretary of State for Defence. John Biffen succeeded Nott as Secretary of State for Trade and President of the Board of Trade.
    • Leon Brittan succeeded John Biffen as Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
    • Norman St John-Stevas resigns as Minister for the Arts. His successor is not in the Cabinet.
    • the post of Secretary of State for Transport is brought into the Cabinet and Norman Fowler is given the post.

September 1981 to June 1983

In September 1981, a substantial reshuffle took place.

Changes

  • April 1982 
  • January 1983  Michael Heseltine succeeded John Nott as Secretary of State for Defence. Tom King succeeded Heseltine as Secretary of State for the Environment.

List of Ministers

Members of the Cabinet are in bold face.

OfficeNameDatesNotes
Prime Minister,
First Lord of the Treasury
and Minister for the Civil Service
Margaret Thatcher4 May 1979 
Minister of State, Civil Service DepartmentPaul Channon7 May 1979 – 5 January 1981 
Barney Hayhoe5 January 1981 – 12 November 1981 
Lord ChancellorThe Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone5 May 1979 
Lord President of the CouncilThe Lord Soames5 May 1979also Leader of the House of Lords
Francis Pym14 September 1981also Leader of the House of Commons
John Biffen5 April 1982also Leader of the House of Commons
Lord Privy SealSir Ian Gilmour, Bt5 May 1979 
Humphrey Atkins14 September 1981 
The Baroness Young6 April 1982also Leader of the House of Lords
Chancellor of the ExchequerSir Geoffrey Howe5 May 1979 
Chief Secretary to the TreasuryJohn Biffen5 May 1979 
Leon Brittan5 January 1981 
Minister of State, TreasuryPeter Rees6 May 1979 – 14 September 1981 
The Lord Cockfield6 May 1979 – 6 April 1982 
Jock Bruce-Gardyne15 September 1981 – 11 November 1981 
Barney Hayhoe11 November 1981 
John Wakeham6 April 1982 
Parliamentary Secretary to the TreasuryMichael Jopling5 May 1979 
Financial Secretary to the TreasuryNigel Lawson6 May 1979 
Hon. Nicholas Ridley30 September 1981 
Lords of the TreasuryJohn MacGregor7 May 1979 – 5 January 1981 
Hon. Peter Morrison7 May 1979 – 5 January 1981 
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton7 May 1979 – 1 October 1981 
Carol Mather7 May 1979 – 1 October 1981 
David Waddington16 May 1979 – 5 January 1981 
John Wakeham9 January 1981 – 15 September 1981 
Hon. Robert Boscawen9 January 1981 – 17 February 1983 
John Cope9 January 1981 – 13 June 1983 
Tony Newton1 October 1981 – 5 March 1982 
John Gummer1 October 1981 – 6 January 1983 
Hon. Peter Brooke1 October 1981 – 13 June 1983 
Alastair Goodlad16 February 1982 
Donald Thompson14 January 1983 
David Hunt23 February 1983 
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth AffairsThe Lord Carrington5 May 1979 
Francis Pym5 April 1982 
Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth AffairsPeter Blaker5 May 1979 – 29 May 1981 
Hon. Nicholas Ridley6 May 1979 – 29 September 1981 
Hon. Douglas Hurd6 May 1979 – 11 June 1983Minister of State for Europe
Richard Luce30 September 1981 – 5 April 1982 
Cranley Onslow5 April 1982 – 13 June 1983 
The Lord Belstead5 April 1982 – 13 June 1983 
Timothy Raison6 January 1983also Minister of Overseas Development
Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth AffairsRichard Luce6 May 1979 
The Lord Trefgarne14 September 1981 
Malcolm Rifkind6 April 1982 
Minister for Overseas DevelopmentTimothy Raison6 January 1983 
Secretary of State for the Home DepartmentWilliam Whitelaw5 May 1979also Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party
Minister of State for Home AffairsLeon Brittan6 May 1979 – 5 January 1981 
Timothy Raison6 May 1979 – 6 January 1983Minister of State for Immigration
Patrick Mayhew5 January 1981 – 13 June 1983 
David Waddington6 January 1983Minister of State for Immigration
Under-Secretary of State for Home AffairsThe Lord Belstead7 May 1979 – 6 April 1982 
The Lord Elton6 April 1982 – 13 June 1983 
David Mellor6 January 1983 
Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and FoodPeter Walker5 May 1979 
Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and FoodThe Earl Ferrers7 May 1979 – 13 June 1983 
Alick Buchanan-Smith7 May 1979 – 13 June 1983 
Under-Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and FoodJerry Wiggin7 May 1979 – 29 September 1981 
Peggy Fenner14 September 1981 – 13 June 1983 
Minister for the ArtsNorman St John-Stevas5 May 1979also Leader of the House of Commons
Paul Channon5 January 1981 
Secretary of State for DefenceFrancis Pym5 May 1979 
John Nott5 January 1981 
Michael Heseltine8 January 1983 
Minister of State for DefenceThe Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal6 May 1979 – 5 January 1981 
The Viscount Trenchard5 January 1981 – 29 May 1981Office abolished 29 May 1981; Trenchard appointed Minister of State for Defence Procurement
Minister of State for the Armed ForcesPeter Blaker29 May 1981 
Minister of State for Defence ProcurementThe Viscount Trenchard29 May 1981 
Geoffrey Pattie6 January 1983 
Under-Secretary of State for the ArmyBarney Hayhoe6 May 1979 – 5 January 1981 
Philip Goodhart5 January 1981 – 19 May 1981Office abolished 29 May 1981; Goodhart appointed Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces
Under-Secretary of State for the NavyKeith Speed6 May 1979 – 18 May 1981Office abolished 29 May 1981
Under-Secretary of State for the Air ForceGeoffrey Pattie6 May 1979 – 29 May 1981Office abolished 29 May 1981; Pattie appointed Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement
Under-Secretary of State for the Armed ForcesPhilip Goodhart29 May 1981 – 30 September 1981
Jerry Wiggin15 September 1981 – 11 June 1983 
Under-Secretary of State for Defence ProcurementGeoffrey Pattie29 May 1981 – 6 January 1983 
Ian Stewart6 January 1983 
Secretary of State for Education and ScienceMark Carlisle5 May 1979 
Sir Keith Joseph14 September 1981 
Minister of State, Education and ScienceThe Baroness Young7 May 1979 – 14 September 1981 
Paul Channon5 January 1981 – 13 June 1983 
Under-Secretary of State, Education and ScienceRhodes Boyson7 May 1979 – 13 June 1983 
Neil Macfarlane7 May 1979 – 15 September 1981 
William Shelton15 September 1981 – 13 June 1983 
Hon. William Waldegrave15 September 1981 – 13 June 1983 
Secretary of State for EmploymentJames Prior5 May 1979 
Norman Tebbit14 September 1981 
Minister of State, EmploymentThe Earl of Gowrie7 May 1979 – 15 September 1981 
Michael Alison15 September 1981 – 13 June 1983 
Under-Secretary of State, EmploymentJim Lester7 May 1979 – 5 January 1981 
Patrick Mayhew7 May 1979 – 5 January 1981 
David Waddington5 January 1981 – 6 January 1983 
Hon. Peter Morrison5 January 1981 – 13 June 1983 
John Gummer6 January 1983 
Secretary of State for EnergyDavid Howell5 May 1979 
Nigel Lawson14 September 1981 
Minister of State, EnergyHamish Gray7 May 1979 – 13 June 1983 
Under-Secretary of State, EnergyNorman Lamont7 May 1979 – 5 September 1981 
John Moore7 May 1979 – 13 June 1983 
David Mellor15 September 1981 – 6 January 1983 
The Earl of Avon6 January 1983 
Secretary of State for the EnvironmentMichael Heseltine5 May 1979 
Tom King6 January 1983 
Minister of State for Local GovernmentTom King6 May 1979 
The Lord Bellwin6 January 1983 
Minister of State for HousingJohn Stanley7 May 1979 
Under-Secretary of State for SportHector Monro7 May 1979 – 30 September 1981 
Neil Macfarlane15 September 1981 
Under-Secretary of State, EnvironmentMarcus Fox7 May 1979 – 5 January 1981 
Geoffrey Finsberg7 May 1979 – 15 September 1981 
The Lord Bellwin7 May 1979 – 6 January 1983 
Giles Shaw5 January 1981 – 13 June 1983 
Sir George Young, Bt15 September 1981 
Secretary of State for Health and Social SecurityPatrick Jenkin5 May 1979 
Norman Fowler14 September 1981 
Minister of State, HealthGerard Vaughan7 May 1979 
Kenneth Clarke5 March 1982 
Under-Secretary of State, Health and Social SecuritySir George Young, Bt7 May 1979 – 15 September 1981 
Lynda Chalker7 May 1979 – 5 March 1982 
Geoffrey Finsberg15 September 1981 – 14 June 1983 
The Lord Elton15 September 1981 – 6 April 1982 
Tony Newton5 March 1982 
The Lord Trefgarne6 April 1982 – 14 June 1983 
Minister of State, Social SecurityReginald Prentice7 May 1979 – 5 January 1981 
Hugh Rossi5 January 1981 – 12 June 1983 
Secretary of State for IndustrySir Keith Joseph, Bt7 May 1979 
Patrick Jenkin14 September 1981Merged with the Office of Trade 12 June 1983
Minister of State, IndustryHon. Adam Butler6 May 1979 – 5 January 1981 
The Viscount Trenchard6 May 1979 – 5 January 1981 
Norman Tebbit5 January 1981 – 14 September 1981 
Norman Lamont14 September 1981 – 12 June 1983 
Minister of State, Industry and Information TechnologyKenneth Baker5 January 1981
Under-Secretary of State, IndustryDavid Mitchell6 May 1979 – 5 January 1981 
Michael Marshall6 May 1979 – 15 September 1981 
John MacGregor5 January 1981 – 12 June 1983 
John Wakeham15 September 1981 – 6 April 1982 
John Butcher6 April 1982 – 12 June 1983 
Chancellor of the Duchy of LancasterNorman St John-Stevas5 May 1979also Leader of the House of Commons
Francis Pym5 January 1981also Leader of the House of Commons
The Baroness Young14 September 1981also Leader of the House of Lords
Cecil Parkinson6 April 1982 
Secretary of State for Northern IrelandHumphrey Atkins5 May 1979 
James Prior14 September 1981 
Minister of State, Northern IrelandMichael Alison7 May 1979 – 15 September 1981 
Hugh Rossi7 May 1979 – 5 January 1981 
Hon. Adam Butler5 January 1981 – 10 June 1983 
The Earl of Gowrie15 September 1981 – 10 June 1983 
Under-Secretary of State, Northern IrelandThe Lord Elton7 May 1979 – 15 September 1981 
Philip Goodhart7 May 1979 – 5 January 1981 
Giles Shaw7 May 1979 – 5 January 1981 
David Mitchell5 January 1981 – 13 June 1983 
John Patten5 January 1981 – 13 June 1983 
Nicholas Scott15 September 1981 – June 1983 
Paymaster-GeneralAngus Maude5 May 1979 
Francis Pym5 January 1981 
Cecil Parkinson14 September 1981 
Secretary of State for ScotlandHon. George Younger5 May 1979 
Minister of State for ScotlandThe Earl of Mansfield7 May 1979 – 13 June 1983 
Under-Secretary of State for ScotlandAlexander Fletcher7 May 1979 – 14 June 1983 
Russell Fairgrieve7 May 1979 – 15 September 1981 
Malcolm Rifkind7 May 1979 – 6 April 1982 
Allan Stewart15 September 1981 – June 1983 
John MacKay6 April 1982 – June 1983 
Secretary of State for TradeJohn Nott5 May 1979 
John Biffen5 January 1981 
The Lord Cockfield6 April 1982
Minister for Consumer AffairsSally Oppenheim-Barnes5 May 1979 
Gerard Vaughan5 March 1982 
Minister for TradeCecil Parkinson7 May 1979 
Peter Rees14 September 1981 
Under-Secretary of State for TradeNorman Tebbit5 May 1979 – 5 January 1981 
Reginald Eyre7 May 1979 – 5 March 1982
The Lord Trefgarne5 January 1981 – 15 September 1981
Iain Sproat15 September 1981 – 12 June 1983
Minister of TransportNorman Fowler11 May 1979 – 5 January 1981became Secretary of State for Transport
Secretary of State for TransportNorman Fowler5 January 1981 
David Howell14 September 1981 
Parliamentary Secretary for TransportKenneth Clarke7 May 1979 – 5 January 1981became Under-Secretary of State for Transport
Under-Secretary of State for TransportKenneth Clarke5 January 1981 – 5 March 1982 
Lynda Chalker5 March 1982 – June 1983 
Reginald Eyre5 March 1982 – 11 June 1983 
Secretary of State for WalesNicholas Edwards5 May 1979 
Minister of State for WalesJohn Stradling Thomas17 February 1983 – June 1983 
Under-Secretary of State for WalesMichael Roberts7 May 1979 – 6 January 1983 
Wyn Roberts7 May 1979 – June 1983 
Attorney GeneralMichael Havers5 May 1979 
Solicitor GeneralSir Ian Percival5 May 1979 
Lord AdvocateThe Lord Mackay of Clashfern5 May 1979 
Solicitor General for ScotlandNicholas Fairbairn7 May 1979 
Peter Fraser28 January 1982 
Treasurer of the HouseholdJohn Stradling Thomas6 May 1979 
Hon. Anthony Berry17 February 1983 
Comptroller of the HouseholdSpencer Le Marchant7 May 1979 
Hon. Anthony Berry30 September 1981 
Carol Mather17 February 1983 
Vice-Chamberlain of the HouseholdHon. Anthony Berry7 May 1979 
Carol Mather30 September 1981 
Hon. Robert Boscawen17 February 1983 
Captain of the Gentlemen-at-ArmsThe Lord Denham6 May 1979 
Captain of the Yeomen of the GuardThe Lord Sandys6 May 1979 
The Earl of Swinton20 October 1982 
Lords-in-WaitingThe Viscount Long9 May 1979 – June 1983 
The Lord Mowbray and Stourton9 May 1979 – 22 September 1980 
The Lord Lyell9 May 1979 – June 1983 
The Lord Cullen of Ashbourne9 May 1979 – 27 May 1982 
The Lord Trefgarne9 May 1979 – 5 January 1981 
The Earl of Avon22 September 1980 – 6 January 1983 
The Lord Skelmersdale9 January 1981 – June 1983 
The Lord Glenarthur27 May 1982 – 10 June 1983 
The Lord Lucas of Chilworth6 January 1983 – June 1983 

Notes

References

  • Hennessy, Peter (2001), "A Tigress Surrounded by Hamsters: Margaret Thatcher, 1979–90", The Prime Minister: The Office and Its Holders since 1945, Penguin Group, ISBN 978-0-14-028393-8
  • British Cabinet and Government Membership, archived from the original on 16 January 2009, retrieved 20 April 2012
  • British Government 1979–2005, archived from the original on 7 February 2012, retrieved 20 November 2007
Preceded by
Callaghan ministry
Government of the United Kingdom
1979–1983
Succeeded by
Second Thatcher ministry
  1. Buiter, Willem; Miller, Marcus; Sachs, Jeffrey; Branson, William (1983). "Changing the Rules: Economic Consequences of the Thatcher Regime" (PDF). Brookings Papers on Economic Activity. 1983 (2): 323–234. doi:10.2307/2534293. JSTOR 2534293.
  2. Buiter, Willem; Miller, Marcus; Sachs, Jeffrey; Branson, William (1983). "Changing the Rules: Economic Consequences of the Thatcher Regime" (PDF). Brookings Papers on Economic Activity. 1983 (2): 332. doi:10.2307/2534293. JSTOR 2534293.
  3. Buiter, Willem; Miller, Marcus; Sachs, Jeffrey; Branson, William (1983). "Changing the Rules: Economic Consequences of the Thatcher Regime" (PDF). Brookings Papers on Economic Activity. 1983 (2): 337. doi:10.2307/2534293. JSTOR 2534293.
  4. Bean, Charles; Symons, James (1989). "Ten Years of Mrs. T.". NBER Macroeconomics Annual. 4: 38. doi:10.1086/654096.
  5. Bean, Charles; Symons, James (1989). "Ten Years of Mrs. T.". NBER Macroeconomics Annual. 4: 53. doi:10.1086/654096.
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