I wanted to do a quick blog about Cabinet changes during Margaret Thatcher’s prime ministership, because we are hypothesizing (in our diaries project) that substantial reshuffles would have immediately impacted the structure of her ministerial meetings.
In a 2005 study it was found that, on average, Cabinet changes in Westminster Parliamentary systems take place once every 11 months1. During her 11.5 years as prime minister, Thatcher conducted mid-term changes an average of once every 7 months.
A brief summary of Thatcher’s mid-term reshuffles is shown in the table below. It is notable that the rate of changes accelerated during her premiership, with four in her first term (one every 12.5 months), and nine in her third term (one every 4.5 months).
|Term||Total reshuffles||Ministers added||Ministers removed||Ministers moved depts|
|1979 to 1983||4||6||6||17|
|1983 to 1987||6||8||7||12|
|1987 to 1990||9||12||13||16|
Despite increased changes over time, the scale of reshuffles in her first and second terms are actually quite similar. In the former she made a total of 29 changes (ministers added + ministers removed + ministers moved to a new department). In the latter she made 27.
Thatcher’s third and final term was the real outlier, however, with a total of 41 mid-term changes. This is a considerable turnover, bearing in mind there are only 21-23 senior ministerial posts in the government. It is also not surprising, based on this information, that Thatcher was isolated and lacked Cabinet support when she was finally usurped by her own party in November 1990.
I should also emphasise that I am only describing reshuffles outside of elections. In addition to the figures mentioned above, a total of 16 changes were made following the 1983 General Election, and a further 18 after the 1987 election. In total, after she entered Downing St in May 1979, Thatcher made 131 personnel changes within her Cabinet.
- Kam, C., & Indridason, I.H. (2005). The timing of cabinet reshuffles in five Westminster parliamentary systems’, Legislative Studies Quarterly, 30, 327-363.