Victory for the Iron Lady

May 3: The Russians had already dubbed her the Iron Lady. Now, Margaret Thatcher became Britain's first woman prime minister, winning power in a General Election which gave the Tories 339 seats and Labour 268.

Victory for MaggieThe Conservative victory was inevitable. Labour had been through one of the most damaging periods in its history, the so-called Winter of Discontent. As unions called strike after strike, it seemed as though the movement which had created the Labour Party was now hell-bent on bringing it down.

Piles of rubbish built up in the streets, pickets blockaded hospitals and in a grisly turn of events in Liverpool, dead bodies lay unburied. These were images which would be inextricably linked with Labour throughout the next 18 years of unbroken Conservative rule.

Margaret Thatcher was an unknown quantity. As education secretary she had been responsible for ending the daily allowance of milk in primary schools, earning her the tag of Thatcher, the Milk Snatcher. She inherited a Britain still reeling from attacks by the IRA and an industrial scene burdened with over-manning, restrictive practices and wildcat strikes. Could the Iron Lady really make a difference?

August 27. Even in a Britain hardened by IRA atrocities, the murder of Lord Mountbatten in Ireland caused horror and outrage. The 79-year-old uncle of Prince Charles was boating off Sligo with his 14-year-old grandson and a teenage boatman who were also killed. Three other passengers, Mountbatten's daughter and her son and mother-in-law, were badly wounded. The IRA claimed the killing was an "execution" but the Irish Government expressed sorrow. The funeral of Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, was a poignant state occasion which did the IRA great propaganda damage across the world.

January 8. As Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia, the first evidence of genocide under the Khymer Rouge regime of Pol Pot was revealed. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children had been tortured and slaughtered in Cambodia's so-called "killing fields." The fanatical Pol Pot troops were ordered to return Cambodia, once a peaceful French colony, to "Year Zero." About one million people - a fifth of Cambodia's population - were missing, presumed dead.

December 24. A Soviet squad seized control of Kabul airport and the invasion of Afghanistan was completed in a matter of days. The rest of the world was horrified at this blatant invasion of a neighbouring sovereign state. Moscow claimed it was supporting the Kabul government which took power the previous year. But the Soviet adventure quickly ran into bloody opposition as Afghan tribesmen took to the hills for guerrilla warfare. The Russians poured men, tanks and helicopter gunships into the war and sowed thousands of land mines. But the guerrillas fought back ferociously and the Russian conscripts were soon enmeshed in the USSR's own version of Vietnam.

August 15. At Zurich, 22-year-old Sebastian Coe set yet another record, breaking the tape in the 1,500 metres race in 3mins 32.1secs. On July 5 Coe covered 800 metres in 1min 42.33secs at Oslo, and 12 days later ran the mile in 3mins 48.85secs, becoming the first person since the 1960s to hold both records at the same time.


In brief

February 1. The Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile in France to become leader of Iran.

February 1. Punk rocker Sid Vicious was found dead of a drugs overdose in his New York apartment.

March 1. With inflation raging, West Midland health workers threatened strike action over a claim for a nine per cent pay rise.

March 12. Maurice Bishop seized power in Grenada for his New Jewel movement.

March 15. Union leaders reported an "explosive" situation at GEC, Stafford following the suicide of foreman Dick Jenkinson after he was one of 300 to be made redundant.

March 28. Prime Minister Jim Callaghan lost a vote of confidence in the Commons and called a General Election.

March 30. The authorities in Pennsylvania admitted there was a problem at the stricken Three Mile Island nuclear reactor.

May 21. Elton John became the first rock star from the West to perform in the USSR.

August 3. West Midlands Police mechanics were offered a cash settlement if they called off industrial action which had put one-third of police vehicles off the road.

August 14. Prostitutes in Wolverhampton and Stoke-on-Trent were said to be swapping red-light areas with each other to avoid prosecution.

November 21. Anthony Blunt, keeper of the Queen's pictures, was revealed as a former Soviet spy.

December 14. Hubert Vincent Spencer was charged with the murder of 70-year-old farmer Hubert Wilkes, less than half a mile from the scene of the earlier Carl Bridgewater killing.