On the 14th November 1990, Margaret Thatcher’s fifteen year leadership of the British Conservative Party was challenged by Michael Heseltine, a former cabinet minister. Although she won the leadership election that took place on 20th November, she did not do so with a sufficiently large majority to result in an outright victory. Thatcher announced her resignation two days later, on the 22nd November.

Thatcher became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom following the General Election of 1979 but by the late 1980s her popularity, along with that of her party, was plummeting. Interest rates had been raised to 15% in an attempt to bring rampant inflation under control, but the economy was suffering as the first stages of recession took hold. Regular opinion polls had put the Labour Party ahead of the Conservatives for the 18th consecutive month by autumn 1990.

Amidst internal party disagreements over Britain’s relationship with the European Economic Community, Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Howe resigned from the cabinet on the 1st November. His resignation speech on the 13th, in which he portrayed Thatcher as a divisive and confrontational leader, is seen by many as prompting Heseltine’s leadership challenge the next day.

Thatcher needed to secure a margin of 56 votes over Heseltine in order to win the contest outright, but she came in four below that. Initially determined to contest the second ballot, she consulted with a range of Cabinet members who gave mixed responses on her chances of winning. Consequently she withdrew her candidacy and thus leadership of the Party on the 22nd November. John Major went on to win the leadership.

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