MARGARET HILDA THATCHER
Welcome to some facts about a woman dubbed as the Iron Lady. Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) was Britain’s first female prime minister (1979-90). She was known for her tough uncompromising, conservative political views, and became dubbed as ‘The Iron Lady’. On the UK domestic front she instituted many free market reforms, implemented the controversial poll tax and reduced the power of trades unions. In international affairs, she cultivated a close relationship with American President Ronald Reagan and also developed a working relationship with Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev as the Cold War drew to a close.
Margaret Hilda Roberts was born 13 October 1925 in Grantham, Lincolnshire. Her father owned a grocery store and was active in the local Methodist Church and Liberal politics. Margaret won a scholarship to the local Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, where she became head-girl. She applied to Somerville College, Oxford University, and was accepted to study chemistry in 1943. She graduated in 1947 with second-class honours. During her time at Oxford, she was elected President of the Oxford University Conservative Association in 1946.
After graduating, she moved to Colchester, where she worked as a research chemist for BX Plastics. In 1951, she was invited to stand as the Conservative candidate in the safe Labour seat of Dartford. Although she lost, she impressed many in the party with her strong, articulate views. She also married Denis Thatcher in 1951. In 1953, she gave birth to two twins Carol and Mark.
In 1959, she was elected as MP for the seat of Finchley. Mrs Thatcher progressed through the ranks of the Conservative party to become education minister in Ed Heath’s government of the early 1970s. It was as education minister that Mrs Thatcher developed a rather crude nickname of “Maggie Thatcher – the milk snatcher” This was due to her policy as education secretary to end free school milk. However, although she was tipped as a rising star in the Conservative party, even as a cabinet minister, Mrs Thatcher proclaimed that Britain would never have a female prime minister.
However, just a few years later in 1975, Mrs Thatcher defeated Edward Heath and was elected leader of the Conservative Party, and she became the leader of the Opposition. During the 1970s, Thatcher became acquainted with the ideological ideas of neo-conservative economists – influenced by figures such as Hayek and Friedman, they proposed less government, lower taxes and an end to Keynesian economics. This gave Thatcher a strong ideological stance, which she used to influence party policy.
Mrs Thatcher was elected Prime Minister in the Conservative landslide of 1979. Mrs Thatcher wasted no time in introducing controversial economic policies. She believed that a strict implementation of Monetarism was necessary to overcome the economic ills of inflation and low growth, which she blamed on the previous Labour government. However, although she was successful in reducing inflation, deflationary monetary policies caused a serious economic recession, in which unemployment rose to 3 million. Opinion was strongly against many of her policies. In a famous letter to the Times newspaper, 360 economists wrote a letter arguing the government should change its policies immediately. However, in true Thatcher style, she refused.
In the midst of the recession, the Falklands islands were invaded by the Argentinean army. Mrs Thatcher sent a British expeditionary force to reclaim the islands. With relatively light casualties (although many hundreds died in the conflict) the islands were retaken. This military victory brought a fillip in support for Thatcher. However, it is worth noting she was criticised for both her decision to sink the Belgrano (which was sailing away from the conflict zone) Others also criticised her triumphalist spirit.
In foreign policy, she got on well with American President Ronald Reagan. They often met and talked of a ‘special relationship’ between the US and UK. Mrs Thatcher also expressed respect for Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev. She famously said of Gorbachev, that ‘he was a man who we could do business with’.
Mrs Thatcher visited the Soviet Union in 1987, and was well received with thousands turning up to see the Iron Lady. The term ‘Iron Lady’ was initially designed as a critical label by a Russian newspaper in regards to Thatcher’s criticism of the USSR, but Thatcher seemed to revel in the label, and it stuck.
On a domestic front, the remaining years of her premiership were overshadowed by her controversial and dogmatic decision to stick with the poll tax. This was widely regarded as an unfair tax because everybody paid the same amount regardless of income. Opposition to the poll tax spilt over into violent protest and her popularity plummeted.
It is ironic that when Labour eventually regained power in 1997, it was largely due to the fact Tony Blair and new Labour took on board many of the economic policies that Mrs Thatcher had initiated. There was often a mutual respect between Mrs Thatcher and Tony Blair.
Thatcher died on 8 April 2013 at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke.
Clancy's comment: She was certainly someone who regularly waved her fist and her finger.