Dubbed the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s longest serving Prime Minister, has had a lasting impact on post-war British politics and beyond. And she was both loved and hated.
Ironically, the 87-year-old Conservative leader once predicted there would never be a woman Prime Minister in her lifetime, and yet she proved more single-minded and determined than any of her male rivals.
Some say Thatcher, who used her handbag as a prop to underline her swagger and power, was the best thing to have ever happened to Great Britain. For others, she was the closest thing this country has come to being ruled by a dictator.
Born Margaret Roberts on October 13 1925, she was also considered the most divisive prime minister of the century, earning both great reverence but also deep hatred from the divided public, particularly for her treatment of trade unions.
Whatever be the views, analysts said there’s no denying the fact that Thatcher during her Downing Street years transformed the nation as she smashed decades of political consensus and went to war with the Labour opposition, the unions, the Argentine army and the European Union.
Daughter of a grocer, Thatcher, often claimed to be an ordinary housewife at heart, but she was the first celebrity politician groomed for the TV age. She was one of the few leaders who did not believe in popularity.
But in the end it was her strident Euro—scepticism that resulted not only in her downfall but the ousting of the Conservative Party. Thatcher was Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990.
It isn’t an overstatement to say that almost every aspect of life was affected by the policies of the Thatcher government during her years in power, as the economic and social fabric of Britain changed.
Throughout the 1980s, Thatcher dominated political life in the UK and Thatcherism became the shorthand for a series of political initiatives all over the world. Thatcherism claims to promote low inflation, the small state and free markets through tight control of the money supply, privatisation and constraints on the labour movement.
Her legacy was such that few politicians have exercised such dominance during their term in office and few politicians have attracted such strength of feeling, both for and against.
Thatcher’s popularity received its biggest boost in April 1982 with her decisive response to the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands.
Thatcher is remembered within Britain mostly for her role in revolutionising the fading economy in a process that caused huge social change, and for the successful retaking of the Falkland Islands, the British South Atlantic territory invaded by Argentina in 1982—after which she declared “We have ceased to be a nation in retreat.”
In Europe, she is remembered as a prickly leader who thrived on confrontation, but who ultimately agreed to foster some of the European Union’s most significant developments, such as the creation of a single EU market.
Thatcher suffered from dementia in her final years, and her public appearances became increasingly rare. She is survived by her two children, Mark Thatcher and Carol Thatcher, and her grandchildren.
She was dubbed ‘The Iron Lady’ by the Russians after she made a speech containing a scathing attack on the Soviet Union. The name stuck, and indeed every aspect of her proved as solid as her elemental moniker would suggest.
After the Conservatives were defeated in 1974, Thatcher challenged Edward Heath for the leadership of the party and, to the surprise of many, won. In the 1979 general election, the Conservatives came to power and Thatcher became prime minister.
Adopting the persona of a housewife-politician who knew what inflation meant to ordinary families, she challenged the power of the trade unions whose almost constant industrial action peaked in the so-called “winter of discontent” in 1979.
She was an advocate of privatising state-owned industries and utilities, reforming trade unions, lowering taxes and reducing social expenditure across the board.
Thatcher’s policies succeeded in reducing inflation, but unemployment dramatically increased during her years in power. Her term was also punctuated by several recessions.
Victory in the Falklands War in 1982 and a divided opposition helped Thatcher win a landslide victory in the 1983 general election. In 1984, she narrowly escaped death when the IRA planted a bomb at the Conservative party conference in Brighton.
In foreign affairs, Thatcher cultivated a close political and personal relationship with US president Ronald Reagan, based on a common mistrust of communism, combined with free-market economic ideology. She warmly welcomed the rise of reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.