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Thatcher's 1987 General Election Landslide - 25 Years On (PHOTOS)

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Monday the 11th of June 2012 has a particular resonance for veteran politicians, particularly Tories. It's the 25th anniversary of the 1987 general election, which saw Margaret Thatcher victorious for a third time - and by a landslide.

Even though the sun came out last Saturday for the first time in almost a week, some people decided to stay indoors and watch the whole coverage from that election night replayed on BBC Parliament. It even had its own hashtag.

It's held up as one of the Conservative party's high watermarks in the 20th Century; and was Thatcher's second victory with a majority of more than 100 seats. Tories often fondly look back on the heady days of the late 1980s, many see it as the last time the party really sealed the deal with the British electorate.

Wendy Bryan was a 25 year-old press assistant in Conservative Central Office that night. She told HuffPost the hours leading up to the result were "really, really tense."

"It was positive but you never know, polls get it wrong, obviously. It became more positive in the days leading up to it, but people still were on-edge. I remember finally when Thatcher came in, they handed her a great big bouquet of red roses.

"She was smiling from ear to ear. Everyone was cheering but we were nervous."

thatcher roses 1987

Margaret Thatcher Arrives In Central Office On Election Night, 1987

Wendy Bryan recalls how the party machine was incredibly different to how it functions today. "The press officers were all former Daily Mail and Daily Mirror journalists - they were all middle-aged men," she says. "They had been through many an election on both sides of the fence, and knew how to handle anything that was thrown their way.

"There were tea-ladies who went around pouring tea for the press officers all day, and there were the most incredible volunteers - aristocrats came in to lend their time. Raine Spencer [Princess Diana's stepmother] came in and worked in the press office. It was just incredible. And a very different world."

Although it seemed like a triumph for the Tories and vindication of Thatcher's free-market reforms, the events that night set Thatcher up for what would be a spectacular downfall just three years later. The electoral map revealed a country sharply divided - with the Tories almost wiped out in Scotland, something they've never really managed to reverse since.

Instead the Conservatives won their landslide by consolidating their base in middle England and the south-east, areas which were most supportive of the free-market monetarist policies Thatcher was thrusting upon the country.

edwina currie

Edwina Currie At Her Local Polling Station In 1987

Edwina Currie, defending her Derbyshire seat, would go on to become one of the more high-profile ministers in Thatcher's final years. She remembers 1987 as being a "niggly, bad-tempered election campaign".

"Margaret and Norman Tebbitt had daggers drawn throughout it, and it was difficult to guage public opinion. The manifesto was openly talking about privatising many state-owned industries. We had five coal-fired power stations either in or near my constituency, but all the questions were about education policy and the Cold War.

"The only thing people at the power stations wanted to know was when they were going to get their shares."

norman tebbitt margaret thatcher

All smiles - But the plotting had already begun, even before the 1987 election

Currie says despite the victory the campaign itself saw seismic rifts open up among Thatcher's inner circle. "She was fighting off Norman Tebbitt. He was ready to take over if Margaret lost the election. She never quite trusted him after that," she says.

So how does Currie account for the unexpected landslide? "It was a high-turnout election, people had really thought about the manifestos and were interested in the debate about the changes. People were sick of governments being dictated to by the likes of Arthur Scargill and people had got used to Margaret Thatcher. They were wary, obviously, but the idea of a property-owned democracy and a share-owned democracy appealed to a lot of people, a lot of skilled working people."

The size of the win came as a shock for Rob Hayward, then a Tory MP in Bristol, now a strategist for the party. "The election campaign had been a mess, with some pretty frantic moments," he says. "There was no sense throughout the campaign that the Tories were going to produce a majority of over 100. It seemed to be one fire after another."

Hayward fully expected to lose his seat that night, but in fact his majority almost doubled. I asked him whether Tories were privately concerned that the landslide didn't quite reflect political reality?

"It took quite a long time for that to sink in. Majorities over 100 didn't happen very often, and to have two successive elections with majorities over 100 was almost unheard of. People were pointing out that Tories only got about 40% of the vote, but it took quite a while for the real disquiet to feed in."

Hayward says that even 25 years on, nobody is really sure quite why the Tories won by a landslide, but he believes it instilled an arrogance in Thatcher which eventually led to her downfall.

"Had there been a smaller majority, there would never have been the railroading of policies like the Poll Tax," he told HuffPost.

"I think it heightened her air of invincibility. I think under those circumstances it just guaranteed her and her supporters being in an unquestioned position in terms of government."

By 1989 people were starting to wonder if Thatcher had lost the plot

Edwina Currie sees the 1987 general election as the real watershed for the Thatcher era. "Really from '83 to '87, Margaret was always battling uphill. In 1987 she got that vote of confidence from the nation, with the opposition split.

"For a while things went well. But when she got to her tenth anniversary in 1989, she went completely off the rails. She thought she was the queen. She felt that anything that was her gut instinct was what we had to do.

"Actually she was quite cautious, until 1987. After she'd won three elections on the trot, she felt invincible. Before that, until the very day of that election, she thought she could be destroyed. Before that she was warmer, more charming. Afterwards, she turned into a bit of a monster."

Wendy Bryan, the former Conservative Central Office staffer, reflects on what else has changed for politicians over the past 25 years.

"They seem to have far less unquestioned power. Journalists ask more and more, now, they demand to know more. Back in the day political leaders seemed to be able to close the door and leave things untouched. Even though the journalists were demanding, direct and blunt, there was more deference.

"It's interesting to think of how Thatcher would fare now, if she was running today. The things people say about public figures today - politicians, celebrities, the Royal family - that kind of language, the way they are treated in the press - it just didn't happen in the same way back then."

In Pictures: Margaret Thatcher At The Height Of Her Power

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