By 1986, the popularity Margaret Thatcher gained during the Falklands War was slowly withering away. Her ardent wave of privatization and antagonistic stance against the power of the unions didn’t make her too popular either. The Westland Scandal — whereby her government forced the helicopter manufacturer Westland to merge with an American company instead of an European one — was already unfolding in the background. She was even being accused of going soft on defense and ignoring strategic British industries (like arm industries) as she went on campaigning for an unprecedented third term.
A watershed moment for her re-election campaign came on 17th September 1986. On that day at NATO training camp at Fallingbostel, south of Hamburg, Mrs. Thatcher scored a photographic coup when she had been photographed in a Challenger Tank. [The big picture is by Jockel Fink, AP.] Although somewhat out of character, the tank and the scarf re-cemented her reputation as “the Iron Lady”. Thatcher looked like a “cross between Isadora Duncan and Lawrence of Arabia,” wrote the Daily Telegraph.
What was unreported on that September day was that the prime minister was being accompanied by West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on her visit to the British forces stationed in Fallingbostel. Kohl also test-drove a Challenger, and both leaders fired 6-lb. practice shell 1,000 yds. directly to their marks using laser targeting.
“I loved it!” exclaimed Thatcher. Asked about whether women should be frontline soldiers, she answered: “I’m sure after today you would approve of having a woman Prime Minister, who, after all, has to make some very difficult decisions should things ever get problematic.” The tank moment surely helped Thatcher’s re-election campaign. She was re-elected and as per her electoral promises, she saved the British tank industry by ordering British-built tanks over its American rivals.