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David Alton: Margaret Thatcher represented fundamental change - and on some measures I keenly supported her

Maggie at 30
David Alton 1979 Lord Alton of Liverpool was Liberal (later Liberal Democrat) MP in Liverpool between 1979 and 1997, when he stood down from the Commons and was awarded a life peerage. He left his party when abortion was made a party policy rather than a matter of conscience and sits in the Lords as an Independent Crossbencher.

Four weeks before the 1979 May 3rd General Election, which swept Margaret Thatcher to power, I was elected in a by-election at Liverpool Edge Hill. Voting took place the day after the Callaghan Government lost the vote of confidence and four weeks later voters had to go to the polls once more.

Although, paradoxically, the Conservatives had lost their deposit at Edge Hill, the scale of Labour's defeat was a harbinger of the rout to come. As the country seethed with industrial discontent a decaying Government seemed utterly impotent and exhausted. Its policies and leaders seemed wholly irrelevant and discredited. 

In 1979 Margaret Thatcher represented fundamental change and although, as a Liverpool MP, I would later take issue with some of her policies, without hesitation I voted for her legislation to end secondary picketing and to introduce the secret ballot before industrial action. I supported her decision to send the Task Force to the Falklands and supported her multilateralist Helsinki-based approach to the Soviet bloc. Out of office I campaigned with her for a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty.

Thirty years later, her singular achievements - not least her personal integrity, courage and extraordinary capacity for hard work - are beginning to be seen in a less partisan way and will repay the study of anyone intent on entering politics.

Lord Hurd, Eric Pickles, John Bercow and Bernard Jenkin have already provided their recollections of the 1979 election, and there will be one further contribution later.


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