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1975: Tories choose first woman leader

VIDEO : An interview with the new Conservative leader

The British Conservative Party has chosen Margaret Thatcher as its new leader.

She will be the first woman to head a British political party after a landslide victory over the other four - male - candidates.

Mrs Thatcher - who served as Secretary of State for Science and Education in Ted Heath's Government - exclaimed "It's like a dream."

The MP for Finchley, north London, since 1959 rejected suggestions of great celebrations.


"It's like a dream"

Margaret Thatcher

She said: "Good heavens, no. There's far too much work to be done."

Mrs Thatcher, 50, forced Ted Heath to resign as leader last week when she trounced him in the first round of the leadership race with 130 votes to his 119.

Conservative Party confidence in Mr Heath - prime minister from 1970 to 1974 - was rattled by his failure to win general elections in both February and October last year.

Chairman of the influential 1922 Backbench Committee - whose 276 members are largely responsible for deciding party leaders - Edward du Cann, told BBC Television: "We have a new and rather exciting leader. Mrs Thatcher will make the Tory Party distinctive."

At a press conference at the House of Commons the new leader thanked her campaign team and looked forward to retaining Ted Heath and other members of the current Shadow Cabinet, though probably not in the same jobs.

Mrs Thatcher - a mother of twins married to Denis, an oil executive - put in a brief appearance at a party in Pimlico before having a working dinner with Conservative Chief Whip Humphrey Atkins in Westminster.

Former Northern Ireland Minister Willie Whitelaw was her closest challenger, but still only gained 79 votes in comparison to the 146 she polled in the second ballot of the contest.

The other candidates were Sir Geoffrey Howe, QC, and Mr Prior who each received 19 votes and John Peyton trailed in last with just 11 votes.

In Context
Ted Heath refused to serve in Margaret Thatcher's shadow cabinet.

Margaret Thatcher set about re-building grass-roots conservatism, outside the Home Counties.

Willie Whitelaw and Sir Keith Joseph were key members of her advisory team.

She was regarded as a right-wing Conservative, pre-occupied with domestic affairs.

She went on to win the 1979 general election to become the first female prime minister in the UK.

Her Conservative Party was elected with an overall majority of 43 seats.

She was forced to resign after losing the leadership election in November 1990.

Her 11 years in power made her the longest serving British prime minister since 1827.


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