Typed letter signed to former Labour MP Arthur Lewis, supporting his decision to abandon the Labour Party.5 July 1983 Stock Code: 145681
Margaret Thatcher encourages a Labour Party defectorMargaret Thatcher writes to a self-professed victim of radical left-wing politics, the former Labour MP Arthur Lewis, who had been shunted out of parliament by left-wing party members, to encourage his public disavowal of the Labour Party in the most prominent and damaging way possible.
Lewis (1917-1998) was a Labour MP from 1945 to 1983, a tenure of nearly four decades over three constituencies. On the right of the Labour Party, he was deselected by his constituency party members in early 1983, which he blamed entirely on the left-wing entryist movement that characterised Labour politics in the early 1980s. The movement, spearheaded by the Militant Tendency faction, was increasingly powerful across Labour constituency parties, and had already had its role in securing the election to the leadership of the left-wing Michael Foot as leader.
Deselected, Lewis was unable to stand as a Labour Party member in the June 1983 British General Election, and despite running as an "Independent Labour" candidate, he was defeated with just 11 of the vote. With bitterness, Lewis decided to leave the Labour Party and disavow the movement. He wrote to Margaret Thatcher, the leader of the Party for which he had dedicated his life to opposing, to reveal to her the denigrations of the far left and asking her advice on leaving the movement in the most public way.
Thatcher writes "Dear Arthur, Thank you for your three recent letters, sent in the course of last month, and commenting on your recent fortunes in the Labour Party. I am naturally sorry that what you described as 'machination of the Militant Tendency' should have prevented you from enjoying a further of membership in the House of Commons, this time as second in line to the Father of the House" (the longest-serving MP).
"You ask my advice as to the best moment in time to make a public announcement about your decision to leave or to consider leaving the Labour movement. I think that this must really be a matter for your own judgement, in the light of your years of experience in the movement. However, the autumn period, when the TUC and Labour Party Conferences take place, might be a good moment to consider some public statement". Thatcher is clearly angling thus for maximum effect and maximum disadvantage to her opponents she has underlined "good moment".
Lewis cheekily and very improperly asked Thatcher to elevate him to the House of Lords with a life peerage - not an unreasonable desire after 38 years in Parliament, but very inappropriate to request directly. Thatcher quite correctly writes "You ask that I should give consideration to nominating you for a life peerage. I am afraid that this is out of the question. You will have seen the difficulties which already exist of fitting in the many candidates who have been canvassed from different quarters, and I am afraid that there is no more room for further nominations".
Thatcher finishes on a personable handwritten note "Every good wish and thank you for your decision. Yours ever, Margaret". Lewis responded to Thatcher's letter, with two carbon copies of the reply preserved. He writes he will make public their correspondence: "I will (as always) maintain 'Confidentiality' I am sure you will not mind if I point out the fact that, 'on every single occasion when I ever wrote to Mrs. Thatcher' she always sent a personal reply, whereas Michael Foot who claimed to be my 'friend' for forty years would not even deign to send a formal acknowledgement of some eight letters sent over a period of three months". Lewis does not seem too enthusiastic about her reply - "this was the reply I expected because of course I fully realised that there was and is no other reply which you could have sent", presumably referring to her refusal to give him the life peerage - but nonetheless finishes "In wishing you long life, good health and happiness with further personal successes and your successful efforts for our country I of course do not expect a reply to this communication. I am, sincerely yours, Arthur".
Although Lewis is clearly bitter, and did not go on to either the Lords of any great post-parliamentary life, his anger at the far left entryist movements represented a general feeling among many Labour MPs at the time, albeit with most surviving deselection attempts. Militant Tendency and similar groupings played a major role in Labour Party, and thus British, politics in the period. Already their influence had fuelled the split of the SDP from Labour, a split which was a significant factor in Thatcher's landslide victory in the 1983 election. Thatcher's confrontational style of politics was shaped by such a clear ideological enemy, an ideological clash some still look back fondly to. The letter is a significant document in the reshaping of politics which the left-wing movement engendered, aside from being an intriguing link between two politicians who would otherwise be opponents.
Single sheet, 297 x 210 mm, on Downing Street letterhead, stapled with two carbon copy replies of similar size with House of Commons letterhead.
In excellent condition.
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