Margaret Thatcher was elected leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 and resigned in 1990, having served 11 years continuously as Prime Minister. She became leader at a time of crisis for the party. It had lost four of the previous five general elections, its policies were in disarray after an unsuccessful term in government, and its vote in October 1974 was the lowest it had achieved at any election this century. The crisis within the Conservative Party reflected a more general sickness of the political regime which had existed in Britain since the 1940s and within whose parameters governments of both parties had worked. In the two elections of 1974 both main parties had below 40 per cent support. This was the first time either had gone below 40 per cent since 1945. This loss of legitimacy had external and internal causes. The disintegration of the Bretton Woods system in 1971 had caused inflation to accelerate. The quadrupling of oil prices in 1973 had been a trigger for the first generalised world recession in 1974, which sharply raised unemployment, and ushered in an era of restructuring and adaptation to the requirements of a more open and interdependent world economy. All the institutions and organisations which had grown up in the national protectionist era of the previous 50 years now came under scrutiny and challenge.
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