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3. Defining moments of the Thatcher years | The recapture of South Georgia | 25 April 1982

“Just rejoice at that news . . . Rejoice.”

"Just rejoice at that news . . . Rejoice," Margaret Thatcher told the nation at an impromptu Downing Street press conference, as she broke the news that British forces had recaptured the remote island of South Georgia. The Royal Marines' two-hour assault allowed Britain to re-establish its presence in the Falklands, a crucial step towards the Argentinian surrender on 14 June that year.

Thatcher's words have since inspired detractors and admirers alike, her long-time rival Edward Heath, the former prime minister, repeating them as she was forced from office in 1990. In 2004, Tony Blair attracted criticism for saying that "whatever mistakes have been made, rejoice that Iraq can have such a future". Alice Mahon MP called it "an insult to those who have died".

However, unlike for Blair, heavy casualties in the war did not diminish the huge upsurge in Thatcher's popularity. Before the conflict, her government had limped along with an approval rating of under 30 per cent for the previous 18 months; afterwards, it enjoyed a landslide election victory in 1983 and an approval rating that seldom dipped below 40 per cent over the course of two years.

By telling the nation to "rejoice", Thatcher tapped in to a vein of national aspiration, swollen after years of economic hardship.

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