The National Archives just released a bundle of secret government papers, many of which are from Margaret Thatcher’s private office.
The documents were made public under the 30-year rule, which keeps them under wraps for three decades.
There are some historical gems in there, ranging from UK economic policy (1985 was around the time the monetarist policies that started in 1980 and 1981 started to look unhealthy) to UK-Soviet relations.
There’s correspondence between Thatcher and Oleg Gordievsky — one of the most successful double agents ever — and a letter from Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s wife, informing the British government that there were 500 Soviet recipes for potatoes.
A lot of current Conservative politicians that crop up repeatedly in the files: John Redwood MP, Oliver Letwin, and David Willetts were close advisers to Thatcher at the time before becoming ministers later on.
Here’s all the juicy details that have been dug out so far:
- Thatcher considered rearming the UK with chemical weapons. That’s according to the Daily Mail: “The then prime minister said it was potentially ‘negligent’ not to have them — as intelligence reports suggested the enemy could use chemicals against the West.”
- And she was worried that the new GCSE exams being brought in would lower school standards. That’s over at The Telegraph. Thatcher said she did not “like the sound” of the new exams, and was afraid they would be easier, a common complaint about them today.
- There’s more detail on the struggle between Thatcher and the ministers who eventually brought her down. The Guardian has a story about her struggles with Michael Heseltine, one of the ministers who helped to eventually end Thatcher’s career.
- The government was devising a bizarre campaign against football hooligans. That’s the Independent: The campaign would have either been fronted by Elton John, or would have been called “Goalies against hoolies”, enlisting goalkeepers to help the campaign.
- Thatcher considered running adverts on the BBC. The BBC is still an advertising-free zone today, and the move would have been extremely controversial. She changed her mind within just a couple of months.
- More details are now out about the Poll Tax. The extremely unpopular fixed tax wasn’t brought in until 1989, but it was a subject of discussion in 1985. The Guardian notes that Oliver Letwin, who was then an adviser and is now a cabinet minister under David Cameron, urged Thatcher to push ahead and use Scotland as a “trail blazer”, testing the policy there first. That decision is often linked to the ongoing unpopularity of the Conservative party in Scotland.
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