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Thatcher and Murdoch met before Times acquisition

Both sides have long denied that a meeting took place.

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and media mogul Rupert Murdoch met to discuss Murdoch's purchase of the Times - a meeting both sides have long denied as having ever taken place - a document released by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation over the weekend shows.

The two dined at Chequers on 4 Jan, 1981, a year and a half into Thatcher's tenure as Prime Minister.

During the lunch meeting, Murdoch praised then incoming US President Ronald Reagan's conservative politics and outlined a plan for takeover of the Times.

Thatcher chief press secretary Bernard Ingham sent a "record of salient points" of the meeting to Thatcher the following day, in which he wrote:

The main purpose of Mr. Murdoch's visit was to brief the Prime Minister on his bid for Times Newspapers. (Before the meeting I had attempted to secure information about the 10 bids, as reported in the press, from the Department of Trade...

Murdoch was well aware of the other bidders, mentioning a number of them during the meeting.

In the official history of the Times, Murdoch is listed as the source for saying there was never a meeting with Thatcher prior to News Group purchasing the paper, and Thatcher kept their meeting top secret. Part of Ingham's note to Thatcher reads:

In line with your wishes, the attached has not gone outside No. 10 and is, of course, to be treated "Commercial - In Confidence".

News Group bought the Times and Sunday Times five weeks later on 13 February 1981.

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.