Falklands: Thatcher Papers Reveal Tory Splits

Wide divisions within the Conservative Party over how the Government should respond to Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands are revealed in Margaret Thatcher’s private papers which have been made public.

While the Tories publicly presented a united front in 1982, briefing notes prepared for the-then Prime Minister demonstrate the polarised opinions she had to contend with in the early days of the crisis.

Until now the backroom deliberations have remained largely private but the notes are among those released by the Margaret Thatcher Archive Trust as it opens its files from a year which came to define Lady Thatcher’s career.

They range from Ken Clarke, then a junior minister, arguing to “blow up a few ships but nothing more” to West Devon MP Peter Mills who warned “my constituents want blood”.

Historian Chris Collins, from the trust, said the papers reflected the “chaos” within the party and more widely following the surprise attack.

He added: “These papers reveal how stressful this situation was, it was a massive undertaking which tested her to the full.

“In the early days of the conflict there was great confusion and doubt on behalf of the party and more widely.

“People were feeling very down about the whole process and what was going to happen next. There was tremendous chaos.

“But of course a party has to show a united face as far as it can.”

On April 6, four days after the incursion, the Chief Whip, Michael Jopling, prepared a note for the Prime Minister saying: “You may like to have general re-action to events in the Falkland Islands.”

Mr Clarke, along with Sir Timothy Raison, MP for Aylesbury, are attributed with the view: “Hopes nobody thinks we are going to fight the Argentinians. We should blow up a few ships but nothing more.”

Lady Thatcher has marked the comment with two blue biro lines.

Sir John Page was said to be “desperately depressed” by the situation and Ian Gilmour, later Baron Gilmour of Craigmillar, said: “We are making a big mistake. It will make Suez look like common sense.”

Five MPS urged Lady Thatcher to “keep calm” adding “we can get away without a fight” while others were “all taking a hard line”.

A similar note the following day described Stephen Dorrell as “very wobbly”.

It adds: “Will only support the fleet as a negotiating ploy. If they will not negotiate we should withdraw.”

Meanwhile, referring to Keith Stainton, the note reads: “Intends to attack the Government. His wife has large interests in the Falklands.”

Lady Thatcher is the first British Prime Minister whose private and official papers have been released in this way.

Charles Moore, her authorised biographer, said: “The Thatcher archive is a marvellous resource for all those interested in her career as Prime Minister and in this country’s recent political history.

“This release will provide the raw material to help researchers study and understand the changing political landscape of her first year as Prime Minister.”

The latest release is open to the public at the Churchill Archive Centre in Cambridge and is available online.

:: A hand-written note by Lady Thatcher, prepared after April 2, 1982, possibly in preparation for a speech or press conference, shows that she settled on a brief but broadly supportive position on the Duke of York’s deployment as part of the Falklands task force.

“If asked about Prince Andrew it is the express wish of The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and of Prince Andrew himself, that if the Invincible sails he sails with her,” it says.

:: The papers mention an early meeting with Robert Mugabe, who had been elected as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe in 1980 and was then still considered a hero by many after his role against white-minority rule.

At a lunch held in his honour on May 19, 1982, Lady Thatcher praised him for his “friendly and open manner”.