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State papers: Global leaders shocked after Margaret Thatcher ousted by Tory coup

In November 1990 presidents and prime ministers around the world could scarcely credit the way Margaret Thatcher had been forced out by an internal Conservative Party coup. Picture by Press Association
Gavin Cordon, Press Association

THE fall of Margaret Thatcher after 11 years in power was greeted with shock and disbelief by fellow world leaders.

Newly released government files show how in November 1990 presidents and prime ministers around the world could scarcely credit the way she had been forced out by an internal Conservative Party coup.

The papers, released by the National Archives in Kew, west London, include a remarkable outpouring of tributes and commiserations from those she had clashed with as well as her close allies.

They also disclose the raw anger among her inner circle at the way she had been treated by those she had led so successfully for so long.

Among the first to respond was former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who telephoned Charles Powell, her trusted foreign affairs adviser, in a "very emotional state" on learning the news.

In a note to Mrs Thatcher recounting their conversation, Mr Powell said the American had told him: "It was worse than a death in the family.

"You were one of the great figures of modern times and nobody outside Britain –indeed nobody outside Westminster – could understand how your fellow Conservatives could have done this."

French president Francois Mitterrand, with whom she had an at times difficult relationship, said that while their views had sometimes differed, "often we have reached similar conclusions".

"With your tremendous conviction and uncommon will, you have put your stamp on an important moment in the history of your country and of Europe," he informed her.

The most remarkable message came, however, from Moscow and Mikhail Gorbachev – the reformist Soviet leader who Mrs Thatcher had famously said she could "do business with".

In what Mr Powell described as an "unusually warm and friendly" letter, the Russian – addressing her for the first time in their correspondence as "Margaret" – expressed his appreciation for the "mutual understanding" they had established.

"In handing it over, the Soviet ambassador said there had been consternation in Moscow at the turn of events leading to the prime minister's resignation," Mr Powell noted.

"Gorbachev had sent [foreign minister Eduard] Shevardnaze out of a high-level meeting at the Kremlin to telephone him, to find out what an earth was going on and how such a thing could be conceivable.

"The ambassador said he had indeed found it very hard to explain. Indeed, there was a certain irony. Five years ago they had party coups in the Soviet Union and elections in Britain. Now it seemed to be the other way round."

Mr Powell could not hide his own views. Responding to a message from US national security adviser General Brent Scowcroft, he said: "What happened was a devastating blow and a sad commentary on standards of loyalty in politics."

Following Mrs Thatcher's tear-stained departure from Downing Street, Conservative Party chairman Kenneth Baker organised a whip-round among the remaining cabinet members, collecting enough to buy her a pair of silver candlesticks.

It was decided the presentation should be made in the lord chancellor's lodgings as this would be "both less painful for her and also attract less publicity than an event for this purpose in No 10".

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