It’s been an unsteady few days for the normally sure-footed Margaret Thatcher and Britain’s corridors of power are buzzing with the question: “Is the Iron Lady losing her grip?”
Two public disagreements with Environment Secretary Nicholas Ridley within 48 hours, a weak performance at question time in Parliament and a series of minor slips suddenly raised the image of a rattled and weary prime minister.
Top-selling tabloid newspapers carried pictures today of Thatcher, 63, appearing to be dozing off at a London conference on the ozone layer. Every national daily prominently reported her public rebuke to Ridley for giving her a wrong figure on Britain’s aid to a U.N. environment body.
The blunder led to Thatcher committing the government to spending 500,000 pounds, or $850,000, a year more than planned and renewed criticism that she is inclined to “shoot from the lip.”
“Giveaway Gaffe,” declared the newspaper Today. “Maggie’s 1/2 Million Pound Snub,” said the Daily Express.
Even the usually staid Financial Times wrote a light-hearted column as political sketch writers reveled in a series of events which began Friday when Thatcher announced: “We have become a grandmother.”
Downing Street bristles at any suggestion that Thatcher, after nearly 10 years in office, adopts a regal style. But her use of the royal plural--"We” instead of “I"--gave Opposition Leader Neil Kinnock powerful ammunition at Tuesday’s question time.
Kinnock, long the victim of caustic prime ministerial rebuffs, has taken to blending brevity and wit in their twice-weekly verbal sparring sessions to score points off Thatcher.
Dismissing one Thatcher reply, Kinnock evoked gales of laughter as he mimicked a remark attributed to Queen Victoria and declared: “We are not amused.”
A flustered Thatcher shouted back: “You are not supposed to be amused.”
Thatcher aides tried to play down the differences with Ridley, one of her few close political allies, describing her rebuke over the aid figure as light-hearted and in jest.
Her grimness of face at the time was compared by one writer with the expression of someone who had just sucked on a lemon.