This cover story was published in the May 14, 1979 issue of TIME Magazine.
A Tory Wind of Change
Savor the moment. For the first time in history, two women were the principals in the traditional “kissing hands upon appointment”—a ceremony in which the leader of the winning party is summoned to Buckingham Palace, there to be designated Prime Minister of Britain by the monarch and asked to form a government. The monarch, of course, was Queen Elizabeth II. The Prime Minister was Margaret Hilda Thatcher, 53, a grocer’s daughter from the English Midlands, who last week led her Conservative Party to a decisive victory over James Callaghan’s Labor Party. The Tories won a solid majority of 43 seats in the 635-member House of Commons,* and Thatcher thereby became not only the first woman to head a British government but the first to lead a major Western nation.
Even before the vote tally established that the Conservatives had an absolute majority of 318 seats, outgoing Prime Minister Callaghan drove to Buckingham Palace last Friday to hand in his resignation to the Queen. Minutes after he left the palace precincts, Thatcher was on her way to “kiss hands” and receive the royal commission to form a government. Denis Thatcher accompanied his wife to the palace; like Prime Ministers’ spouses before him, he remained downstairs to chat with the Queen’s aides.
Following an audience that lasted 45 minutes, the Thatchers drove in a black Rover limousine to No. 10 Downing Street, the official residence of Prime Ministers. The Callaghans had already packed and left, not in haste but in keeping with a longstanding British tradition that the transfer of power in all its aspects should be quick and decorous.
Downing Street was packed with well-wishers and photographers when Thatcher arrived. Expressing delight and excitement over her victory, Britain’s “Iron Lady” made a conciliatory statement clearly addressed to a nation poised uneasily for change: “I would like to remember some words of St. Francis of Assisi, which I think are particularly apt at the moment: ‘Where there is discord, may we bring harmony; where there is doubt, may we bring faith; where there is despair, may we bring hope.’ Now that the election is over, may we get together and strive to serve and strengthen the country…”
* Last Parliament: Labor 307, Conservatives 282, Liberals 14, others 29. New Parliament: Conservatives 339, Labor 268, Liberals 11, others 16.