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Margaret Thatcher

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The Rt Hon. Margaret Thatcher
Image:thatcher.jpg
Period in Office: 4 May 1979

28 November 1990

PM Predecessor: James Callaghan
PM Succesor: John Major
Date of Birth: 13 October 1925
Place of Birth: Grantham, England
Political Party: Conservative
Retirement honour: Order of the Garter
Life Barony

The Right Honourable Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, LG OM PC FRS, born Margaret Hilda Roberts, (born 13 October 1925) is a British stateswoman and was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990, the only woman as of 2005 to serve in that position. She is a member of the Conservative Party and the figurehead of a political philosophy that became known as Thatcherism, which involves reduced government spending, lower taxes and regulation, and a programme of privatisation of government-owned industries. Even before coming to power she was nicknamed the Iron Lady in Soviet propaganda (because of her vocal opposition to communism), an appellation that stuck.

Thatcher served as Education Secretary in the government of Edward Heath from 1970 to 1974, and successfully challenged Heath for the Conservative leadership in 1975. She was undefeated at the polls, winning the 1979, 1983 and 1987 general elections, and became the longest-serving Prime Minister of the 20th century. In foreign relations, Thatcher maintained the "special relationship" with the United States, and formed a close bond with Ronald Reagan. Thatcher also dispatched a Royal Navy task force to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina in the Falklands War.

The profound changes Thatcher set in motion as Prime Minister altered much of the economic and cultural landscape of Britain. She curtailed the power of the trade unions, cut back the role of the state in business, dramatically expanded home ownership, and in so doing created a more entrepreneurial culture. She also aimed to cut back the welfare state and foster a more flexible labour market that would create jobs and could adapt to market conditions. Exacerbated by the global recession of the early 1980s, her policies initially caused large-scale unemployment, especially in the industrial heartlands of northern England, and increased wealth inequalities. However from the mid 1980s a period of sustained economic growth occured that led to an improvement in Britain's economic performance. Supporters of Margaret Thatcher assert that Thatcherite policies were responsible for this.

Her popularity finally declined when she replaced the unpopular local government Rates tax with the even less popular Community Charge, more commonly known as the poll tax. At the same time the Conservative Party began to split over her sceptical approach to European Economic and Monetary Union. Her leadership was challenged from within and she was forced to resign in 1990, her loss at least partly due to inadequate advice and campaigning. In 1992 she was created Baroness Thatcher; since then her direct political work has been within the House of Lords and as head of the Thatcher Foundation.

Contents

Early life and education

Thatcher was born Margaret Hilda Roberts in the town of Grantham in Lincolnshire in eastern England. Her father was Alfred Roberts, who ran a grocers' shop in the town and was active in local politics, serving as an Alderman (while officially described as 'Liberal Independent', in practice he supported the local Conservatives). When the Labour Party won control of Grantham Council in 1945, Roberts was not re-elected as an Alderman, a decision which affected his daughter deeply.

She did well at school, going on to a girls' grammar school and then to Somerville College, Oxford from 1944 where she studied chemistry. She became Chairman of the Oxford University Conservative Association in 1946, the third woman to hold the post. She obtained a second class degree and worked as a research chemist for British Xylonite and then Joseph Lyons & Company, where she helped develop methods for preserving ice cream. She was a member of the team that developed the first soft frozen ice cream.

Political career between 1950 and 1970

In the election of 1950 she was the youngest woman Conservative candidate but fought in the safe Labour seat of Dartford. She fought the seat again in the 1951 election. Her activity in the Conservative Party in Kent brought her into contact with Denis Thatcher; they fell in love and were married later in 1951. Denis was a wealthy businessman, and he funded his wife to read for the Bar. She qualified as a Barrister in 1953, the same year that her twin children, Carol and Mark were born. On returning to work, she specialised in tax issues.

Thatcher had begun to look for a safe Conservative seat, and was narrowly rejected as candidate for Orpington in 1954. She had several other rejections before being selected for Finchley in April 1958. She easily won the seat in the 1959 election and took her seat in the House of Commons. Unusually, her maiden speech was made in support of her Private Member's Bill which was successful and forced local councils to hold meetings in public.

She was given an early promotion to the front bench as Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance in September 1961, keeping the post until the Conservatives lost power in the 1964 election. When Sir Alec Douglas-Home stepped down, Thatcher voted for Edward Heath in the leadership election over Reginald Maudling, and was rewarded with the job of Conservative spokesman on Housing and Land. She moved to the Shadow Treasury Team after 1966.

Thatcher was one of few Conservative MPs to support the Bill to decriminalise male homosexuality, and she voted in favour of the principle of David Steel's Bill to legalise abortion. However she was opposed to the abolition of capital punishment. She made her mark as a conference speaker in 1966 with a strong attack on the taxation policy of the Labour Government as being steps "not only towards Socialism, but towards Communism". She won promotion to the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Fuel Spokesman in 1967, and was then promoted to shadow Transport and finally Education before the 1970 general election.

In Heath's Cabinet

When the Conservatives won the 1970 election, Thatcher became Secretary of State for Education and Science. In her first months in office, forced to administer a cut in the Education budget, she decided that abolishing free milk in schools would be less harmful than other measures. Nevertheless, this provoked a storm of public protest, earning her the nickname "Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher", coined by The Sun. Her term was marked by many proposals for more local education authorities to abolish grammar schools and adopt comprehensive secondary education, of which she approved, even though this was widely seen as a left-wing policy. Thatcher also defended the budget of the Open University from attempts to cut it.

After the Conservative defeat in February 1974, she was again promoted to be Shadow Environment Secretary. In this job she promoted a policy of abolishing the rating system that paid for local government services, which proved a popular policy within the Conservative Party. However, she agreed with Sir Keith Joseph that the Heath Government had lost control of monetary policy. After Heath lost the second election that year, Joseph and other right-wingers declined to challenge his leadership but Thatcher decided that she would. Unexpectedly she outpolled him on the first ballot and won the job on the second, in February 1975. She appointed Heath's preferred successor William Whitelaw as her Deputy.

As Leader of the Opposition

On 19 January 1976 she made a speech at Kensington Town Hall in which she made a scathing attack on the Soviet Union. The most controversial part of her speech ran:

"The Russians are bent on world dominance, and they are rapidly acquiring the means to become the most powerful imperial nation the world has seen. The men in the Soviet Politburo do not have to worry about the ebb and flow of public opinion. They put guns before butter, while we put just about everything before guns."

In response, the Soviet Defence Ministry newspaper Red Star gave her the nickname "The Iron Lady", which was soon publicised by Radio Moscow world service. She took delight in the name and it soon became associated with her image as an unwavering and steadfast character. She acquired many other nicknames such as "The Great She-Elephant", "Attila the Hen", and "The Grocer's Daughter". The last nickname was due to her father's profession, but coined at a time when she was considered as Edward Heath's ally; he had been nicknamed "The Grocer" by Private Eye.

At first she appointed many Heath supporters in the Shadow Cabinet and throughout her administrations sought to have a cabinet that reflected the broad range of opinions in the Conservative Party. Thatcher had to act cautiously in converting the Conservative Party to her monetarist beliefs. She reversed Heath's support for devolution to Scotland. An interview she gave to Granada Television's World in Action programme in 1978, in which she spoke of her concerns about immigrants "swamping" Britain, aroused particular controversy as immigration was a substantial party issue at that time. Most opinion polls showed that voters preferred James Callaghan as Prime Minister even when the Conservative Party was in the lead, but the Labour Government's severe difficulties with the Trades Unions over the winter of 1978–1979, dubbed the 'Winter of Discontent', put the Conservatives well ahead in the 1979 election and Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister.

As Prime Minister

1979–1983

Thatcher and President Reagan at .
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Thatcher and President Reagan at Camp David.

She formed a government on 4 May 1979, with a mandate to reverse Britain's economic decline and to reduce the extent of the state. Thatcher was incensed by one contemporary view within the Civil Service that its job was to manage Britain's decline from the days of Empire, and wanted the country to punch above its weight in international affairs. She was a philosophic soulmate with Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980 in the United States, and to a lesser extent Brian Mulroney, who was elected around the same time in Canada. It seemed for a time that conservatism might be the dominant political philosophy in the major English-speaking nations for the era.

In May 1980, one day before she was due to meet the Irish Taoiseach Charles Haughey to discuss Northern Ireland, she announced in the House of Commons that "The future of the constitutional affairs of Northern Ireland is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland, this government, this parliament and no-one else." In 1981 a number of Provisional IRA and INLA prisoners in Northern Ireland's Maze prison (known by its previous name as 'Long Kesh' in Ireland) went on hunger strike to regain the status of political prisoners, which had been revoked five years earlier. Bobby Sands, the first of the strikers, was elected as an MP for the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone a few weeks before his death. Thatcher refused at first to countenance a return to political status for republican prisoners, famously declaring "Crime is crime is crime; it is not political." However after nine more men had starved themselves to death and the strike had ended, and in the face of growing anger on both sides of the Irish border and widespread civil unrest, political status was restored to all paramilitary prisoners. This was a major propaganda coup for the IRA and is seen as the beginning of Sinn F驮's electoral rise, as they capitalised on the gains made during the hunger strikes.

Thatcher also continued the policy of "Ulsterisation" of the previous Labour government and its Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Roy Mason, believing that the unionists of Ulster should be at the forefront in combating Irish republicanism. This meant relieving the burden on the mainstream British army and elevating the role of the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Another noticeable foible of Thatcher's was her refusal to call Cardinal ӠFiach (the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland) by his proper name, insisting on using an English variation, "Cardinal Fee".

In economic policy Thatcher started out by increasing interest rates to drive down the money supply. She had a preference for indirect taxation over taxes on income, value added tax (VAT) rose sharply to 15% with the result that inflation initially rose. These moves hit businesses, especially in the manufacturing sector, and unemployment quickly passed two million. Interestingly, her early tax policy reforms were based on the monetarist theories of Friedman rather than the supply-side economics of Arthur Laffer and Jude Wanniski, which the government of Ronald Reagan eschewed. There was a severe recession in the early 1980s, and the Government's economic policy was widely blamed. Political commentators harkened back to the Heath Government's "U-turn" and speculated that Mrs Thatcher would follow suit, but she repudiated this approach at the 1980 Conservative Party conference, telling the party: "To those waiting with baited breath for that media catch-phrase- the U-turn- I can only say this: You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning". That she meant what she said was confirmed in the 1981 budget, when despite an open letter from 364 economists, taxes were increased in the middle of a recession. Though unemployment reached 3 million in January 1982, the inflation rate dropped to single figures and interest rates were then allowed to fall. By the time of the 1983 election the economy was re-stabilising at a new norm, and was far stronger in economic and entrepreneurial terms than previously. Though many suffered as a result of this policy it is nonetheless true that the goal of controlling inflation was achieved. This low inflation approach gained credibility and was copied widely.

On 2 April 1982, Argentine forces invaded the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas to Argentinians), a British territory claimed by Argentina. Within days, Thatcher sent a naval task force to recapture the Islands. The ensuing military campaign was successful, resulting in a wave of patriotic enthusiasm for her personally, at a time when her popularity was at an all-time low for a serving Prime Minister. The 'Falklands Factor', as it came to be known, undoubtedly helped the Conservatives to achieve a landslide victory in the June 1983 general election. Her 'Right to Buy' policy of allowing residents of council housing to buy their homes at a discount did much to increase her popularity in working-class areas, although this ultimately caused a housing shortage for those unable to do so.

1983–1987

Thatcher was committed to reducing the power of the trade unions but, unlike the Heath government, adopted a strategy of incremental change rather than a single Act. Several unions launched strikes which were wholly or partly aimed at damaging her politically. The most significant of these was carried out by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). However, Thatcher had made preparations for an NUM strike by building up coal stocks, and there were no cuts in electric power. Picket line violence, coupled with the fact that the NUM had not held a ballot to approve strike action (a recent Act had made such an action illegal), contrived to swing public opinion in her favour--although predominantly in the South. The Miners' Strike lasted a full year (19841985) before the miners were forced to give in and go back to work without a deal. After this strike, trade union resistance to reform was much reduced and a succession of changes were made.

On the early morning of 12 October 1984, Thatcher narrowly escaped injury from a bomb planted by the Provisional Irish Republican Army in Brighton's Grand Hotel during the Conservative Party conference. Five people died in the attack, including Roberta Wakeham (the first wife of the government's Chief Whip John Wakeham) and the Conservative MP, Sir Anthony Berry. A prominent member of the Cabinet, Norman Tebbit, was injured, along with his wife Margaret, who was left paralyzed. Thatcher insisted that the conference open on time the next day and made her speech as planned.

In 1985, Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the first acknowledgement of a British government that the Republic of Ireland had an important role to play in Northern Ireland. The agreement was greeted with fury by Irish unionists.

Thatcher's political and economic philosophy emphasised free markets and entrepreneurialism. Since gaining power, she had experimented in selling off a small nationalised industry, the National Freight company, to the public, with a surprisingly large response. After the 1983 election, the Government became bolder and sold off most of the large utilities which had been in public ownership since the late 1940s. Many in the public took advantage of share offers, although many sold their shares immediately for a quick profit. The policy of privatisation while controversial has became synonymous with Thatcherism and has since been exported across the globe.

In the Cold war Mrs Thatcher supported Ronald Reagan's policies of deterrence against the Soviets. United States forces were permitted by Mrs Thatcher to station nuclear cruise missiles at British bases, arousing mass protests by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. In part due to US support of Thatcher during the Falklands' War, she supported the US bombing raid on Libya from bases in Britain in 1986; her liking for defence ties with the United States was demonstrated in the Westland affair when she acted with colleagues to prevent the helicopter manufacturer Westland, a vital defence contractor, from linking with the Italian firm Agusta in favour of a link with Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation of the United States. Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine, who had pushed the Agusta deal, resigned in protest at her style of leadership, and thereafter became a potential leadership challenger.

In 1985, the University of Oxford voted to refuse her an honorary degree in protest against her cuts in funding for education. [1] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/low/dates/stories/january/29/newsid_2506000/2506019.stm) This award had always previously been given to Prime Ministers who had been educated at Oxford.

In 1986, Margaret Thatcher's government controversially abolished the Greater London Council (GLC), led by Ken Livingstone, and six Metropolitan County Councils (MCCs). The government claimed this was an efficiency measure. However, it is widely believed to have been politically motivated as all of the abolished councils were controlled by Labour, and had become powerful centres of opposition to her government.

Between 1983 and 1987, Thatcher had two noted foreign policy successes. In 1984, she visited China and signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration with Deng Xiaoping on 19 December stating the basic policies of the People's Republic of China regarding Hong Kong after the handover in 1997. At the Fontainebleau summit of 1984, Thatcher argued that the United Kingdom paid far more to the European Economic Community than it received in spending and negotiated a budget rebate. She was widely (and maliciously) misquoted as saying, "I want my money", although her actual statement was: "We are not asking the Community or anyone else for money. We are simply asking to have our own money back".

1987–1990

By winning the 1987 general election she became the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to win three consecutive general elections since Lord Liverpool, who was in office from 18121827. Most United Kingdom newspapers supported her-- with the exception of The Daily Mirror and The Guardian--and were rewarded with regular press briefings by her press secretary, Bernard Ingham. She was known as "Maggie" in the tabloids, which inspired the well-known "Maggie Out!" protest song, sung throughout that period by some of her opponents. Many opponents believed she and her policies created a significant North-South divide between the "haves" in the south and the "have nots" in the north, since the south was the main beneficiary of new Financial and Service industries, while the North was hit hard by poverty and mass unemployment due to loss of traditional heavy industries such as mining, steel production and ship building.

In the late 1980s, Thatcher, a former chemist, became concerned with environmental issues, which she had previously dismissed. In 1988, she made a major speech (http://www.margaretthatcher.org/speeches/displaydocument.asp?docid=107346) accepting the problems of global warming, ozone depletion and acid rain. In 1990, she opened the Hadley Centre for climate prediction and research. [2] (http://www.margaretthatcher.org/Speeches/displaydocument.asp?docid=108102&doctype=1).

At Bruges in 1988, Thatcher made a speech in which she outlined her opposition to proposals from the European Communities for a federal structure and increasing centralisation of decision-making. Although she had supported British membership, Thatcher believed that the role of the EC should be limited to ensuring free trade and effective competition, and feared that new EC regulations would reverse the changes she was making in Britain. "We have not succesfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level, with a new super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels". She was specifically against Economic and Monetary Union, through which a single currency would replace national currencies, and for which the EC was making preparations. The speech caused an outcry in most of Europe, and exposed for the first time the deep split that was emerging over European policy inside her Conservative Party.

Thatcher's popularity once again declined in 1989 as the economy suffered from high interest rates imposed to stop an unsustainable boom. She blamed her Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, who had been following an economic policy which was a preparation for monetary union; Thatcher claimed not to have been told of this and did not approve. At the Madrid European summit, Lawson and Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe forced Thatcher to agree the circumstances under which she would join the Exchange Rate Mechanism, a preparation for monetary union. Thatcher took revenge on both by demoting Howe, and by listening more to her adviser Sir Alan Walters on economic matters. Lawson resigned that October, feeling that Thatcher had undermined him.

That November, Thatcher was challenged for the leadership of the Conservative Party by Sir Anthony Meyer. As Meyer was a virtually unknown backbench MP, he was viewed as a stalking horse candidate for more prominent members of the party. Thatcher easily defeated Meyer's challenge, but there were sixty ballot papers either cast for Meyer or abstaining, a surprisingly large number for a sitting Prime Minister.

Thatcher's new system to replace local government rates was introduced for Scotland in 1989 and for England and Wales in 1990. These were replaced by the "Community Charge" (more widely known as the Poll Tax) which applied the same amount to every individual resident, with only limited discounts for low earners. This was to be the most universally unpopular policy of her premiership. The Charge was introduced early in Scotland as the rateable values would in any case have been reassessed in 1989. However, it led to accusations that Scotland was a 'testing ground' for the tax. Thatcher apparently believed that the new tax would be popular, and had been persuaded by Scottish Conservatives to bring it in early and in one go. Despite her hopes, the early introduction led to a sharp decline in the already support of the Conservative party in Scotland.

Additional problems emerged when many of the tax rates set by local councils proved to be much higher than earlier predictions. Some have argued that local councils saw the introduction of the new system of taxation as the opportunity to make significant increases in the amount taken, assuming (correctly) that it would be the originators of the new tax system and not its local operators who would be blamed.

A large London demonstration against the poll tax on 31 March 1990--the day before it was introduced in England and Wales--turned into a riot. Millions of people resisted paying the tax. Opponents of the tax banded together to resist bailiffs and disrupt court hearings of poll tax debtors. Mrs Thatcher refused to compromise, or change the tax, and its unpopularity was a major factor in Thatcher's downfall. One of her final acts in office was to pressure US President George H. W. Bush to deploy troops to the Middle East to drive Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Bush was somewhat apprehensive about the plan, but Thatcher famously told him that this was "no time to go wobbly!".

On the Friday before the Conservative Party conference in October 1990, Thatcher persuaded her new Chancellor of the Exchequer John Major to reduce interest rates by 1%. Major persuaded her that the only way to maintain monetary stability was to join the Exchange Rate Mechanism at the same time, despite not meeting the 'Madrid conditions'. The conference that year saw a degree of unity break out within the Conservative Party. Few who attended could have realised that Mrs Thatcher had only a matter of weeks left in office.

Fall from power

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Thatcher

By 1990, opposition to Thatcher's policies on local government taxation, her Government's perceived mishandling of the economy (especially high interest rates of 15% which were undermining her core voting base within the home-owning, entrepreneurial and business sectors), the divisions opening within her party and in the broader political landscape over the appropriate handling of European integration due to Thatcher's Euroscepticism, the growing internal strife within her party that was partly seen as stemming from her leadership, and her perceived arrogance in ignoring others' views, made her and her party seem increasingly politically vulnerable to internal challenge.

A challenge was precipitated by the resignation of Sir Geoffrey Howe, with whom Thatcher had for a long time had very bad personal relations, on 1 November 1990. The immediate pretext was a particularly combative answer Thatcher had given to a parliamentary question in the Commons the previous day, in which she had angrily denounced the president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors.

In his resignation speech Howe condemned Thatcher's policy on the European Community as being devastating to British interests, and openly invited "others to consider their own response", which led Michael Heseltine to announce his challenge for party leadership (and hence Prime Minister). In the first ballot, Thatcher was two votes short of winning automatic re-election, a small but critical margin.

This was probably at least in part due to mismanagement; she had fatally decided to be out of the country at a conference in Paris, and her advisors appear to have underestimated the seriousness of the matter and the need to campaign, reassure and cajole potentially wavering supporters that would achieve the necessary first round win and put paid to talk of doubts. On consulting with cabinet colleagues, a large majority believed that, the first round not being a clear win, she would lose the second run-off ballot.

On 22 November, at just after 9:30 AM, Mrs Thatcher announced that she would not be a candidate in the second ballot, thereby bringing her term of office to an inglorious end. She supported John Major as her successor and retired from Parliament at the 1992 election.

Post-political career

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Thatcher at State Opening of Parliament.

In 1992, she was created Baroness Thatcher, of Kesteven in the County of Lincolnshire, and she entered the House of Lords. She had already been honoured by The Queen in 1990, shortly after her resignation as Prime Minister, when she was awarded The Order of Merit, one of Britain's highest distinctions. In addition, her husband, Denis Thatcher, had been given a baronetcy in 1991 (ensuring that their son Mark would inherit a title). This was the first creation of a baronetcy since 1965. In 1995 Thatcher would also join the majority of former Prime Ministers as a member of the Order of the Garter, the United Kingdom's highest order of chivalry.

In July 1992, she was hired by tobacco giant Philip Morris Companies, now the Altria Group, as a "geopolitical consultant" for US$250,000 per year and an annual contribution of US$250,000 to her Foundation. In practice, she helped them break into markets in central Europe, the former Soviet Union, China, and Vietnam, as well as fight against a proposed EC ban on tobacco advertising.

She wrote her memoirs in two volumes. Although she remained supportive in public, in private she made her displeasure with many of John Major's policies plain, and her views were conveyed to the press and widely reported. Major later said he found her behaviour in retrospect to have been intolerable. She publicly endorsed William Hague for the Conservative leadership in 1997.

In 1998, she made a highly publicised and controversial visit to the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet during the time he was under house arrest in Surrey facing charges of torture, conspiracy to torture and conspiracy to murder. She expressed her support and friendship for him.[3] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/304516.stm). (Pinochet had been a key ally in the Falklands conflict.)

Lady Thatcher visits  during  in , in .
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Lady Thatcher visits Pinochet during house arrest in London, in 1998.

She made many speaking engagements around the world, and she actively supported the Conservative election campaign in 2001. However, on 22 March 2002, she was told by her doctors to make no more public speeches on health grounds, having suffered several small strokes which left her in a very frail state. In 2003, she visited Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City and compared his offices to those of Winston Churchill's War Room. Although she was able to attend the funeral of former US President Ronald Reagan in June 2004, her eulogy for him was pre-taped to prevent undue stress.

She remains involved with various Thatcherite groups, including being president of the Conservative Way Forward group, which held a dinner at the Savoy Hotel in honour of the 25th Anniversary of her election. She is honorary president of the Bruges Group, which takes its name from her 1988 speech at Bruges, where she was first openly hostile to developments in the European Union. She is also patron of the Eurosceptic European Foundation founded by the Conservative MP Bill Cash. She was widowed on 26 June 2003.

Legacy

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Thatcher at the Kennedy Space Center in February, 2001

Many United Kingdom citizens remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard that Margaret Thatcher had resigned and what their reaction was. She was a polarizing figure who brought out strong reactions from people. Likewise, her legacy is highly disputed. Some people credit her with rescuing the British economy from the stagnation of the 1970s and admire her committed radicalism on social issues. Others see her as authoritarian and egotistical. She is accused of dismantling the Welfare State and of destroying much of Britain's manufacturing base. The first charge reflects her government's rhetoric more than its actions, as it actually did little to reduce welfare expenditure, despite its desire to do so. The second charge is credible in that there was a major fall in manufacturing employment, and some industries almost disappeared, though her supporters would argue that that was necessary to modernise the British economy. Britain was widely seen as the "sick man of Europe" in the 1970s, and some argued that it would be the first developed nation to return to the status of a developing country. Instead, Britain emerged with a comparatively healthy economy, at least by previous standards. Her supporters claim that this was due to Margaret Thatcher's policies.

Critics of this view believe that the economic problems of the 1970s were exaggerated, and were caused largely by factors outside any UK government's control, such as high oil prices caused by the oil crisis which led to high inflation which damaged the economies of nearly all major industrial countries. Accordingly, they also argue that the economic downturn was not the result of socialism and trade unions, as Thatcherite supporters claim. Critics also argue that the Thatcher period in government coincided with a general improvement in the world economy, and the buoyant tax revenues from North Sea oil, and that these were the real cause of the improved economic environment of the 1980s rather than Margaret Thatcher's policies.

Perceptions of Margaret Thatcher are mixed in the view of the British public. A clear illustration of the divisions of opinion over Thatcher's leadership can be found in recent television polls: Thatcher appears at Number 16 in the 2002 List of "100 Greatest Britons", which was the highest placing for a living person. She also appears at Number 3 in the 2003 List of "100 Worst Britons", which was confined to only those living, narrowly missing out on the top spot, which went to Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair. In the end, however, few could argue that there was any woman who played a more important role on the world stage in the 20th century. In perhaps the sincerest form of flattery, Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, himself a thrice elected Prime Minister, has implicitly and explicitly acknowledged her importance by continuing many of her economic policies.

Another view divides her economic legacy in two parts: market efficiency and long-term growth. The first part, due to her reforms, is quite controversial. While the unemployment rate did eventually come down, it came after initial job losses and radical labour market reforms. These included laws which weakened trade union and the removal of a minimum wage, the deregulation of financial markets, which certainly succeeded in returning the City to a leadership position as a European financial center; her push for increased competition in telecommunications and other public utilities businesses. Long-term growth, according to available data is considered low, due to lack of civil research and development spending, lowered education standards and ineffective job training policies.

Many of her policies have proved to be divisive. In Scotland, Wales and the urban and former mining areas of northern England she is still reviled. Many people remember the hardships of the miners strike, which destroyed many mining communities, and the decline of industry as service industries boomed. This was reflected in the 1987 general election, which she won by a landslide through winning large numbers of seats in southern England and the rural farming areas of northern England while winning few seats in the rest of the country. The fact that she continued to subsidise British agriculture heavily, whilst refusing subsidies to other troubled parts of the economy, has been bitterly criticised as evidence of partiality on her part.

Perceptions abroad broadly follow the same political divisions. On the left, Margaret Thatcher is generally regarded as somebody who used force to quash social movements, who imposed social reforms that disregarded the interests of the working class and instead favoured the wealthier elements of the middle class and business. Satirists have often caricatured her. For instance, French singer Renaud wrote a song, Miss Maggie, which lauded women as refraining from many of the silly behaviors of males—and every time making an exception for "Mrs Thatcher". She may be remembered most of all, for revealing a significant tenet of Thatcherism in the declaration "There is no such thing as society" [4] (http://briandeer.com/social/thatcher-society.htm) to reporter Douglas Keay, for 'Womans Own' magazine, 23-09-1987[5] (http://www.margaretthatcher.org/speeches/displaydocument.asp?docid=106689). This quote is often taken out of context and truncated. The original quote goes on to emphasise the importance of families and individuals in the fabric of British life. On the economical and political 'liberal' right, Thatcher is often remembered with some fondness as a neoconservative [6] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoconservatism_in_the_United_States) who dared to confront powerful unions and removed harmful constraints on the economy, though many do not openly claim to be following her example given the strong feelings that highly ideological Lady Thatcher and Thatcherism elicits in many.

In Ireland, she is generally remembered as an intransigent figure who eschewed negotiations with the IRA and contributed to the length and ferocity of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Her son Mark has been dogged by a series of controversies. In January 2005 he was fined three million rand (approximately $500,000) and received a four-year suspended jail sentence in South Africa after several months of house arrest for abetting a coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea. The United States subsequently refused him a visa. These reports were received with considerable schadenfreude (joy at seeing someone else's misery) by those in Britain hostile to the Thatcher legacy - and with interest by those who see a reflection of parental influence characterised by the famous "there is no such thing as society" declaration.

Titles and honours

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Thatcher in Garter Robes

Titles from birth

Titles Lady Thatcher has held from birth, in chronological order:

Honours

See also

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References

Books

  • Statecraft: Strategies for Changing World by Margaret Thatcher (HarperCollins, 2002) ISBN 0060199733
  • The Collected Speeches of Margaret Thatcher by Margaret Thatcher (HarperCollins, 1999) ISBN 0060187344
  • The Collected Speeches of Margaret Thatcher by Margaret Thatcher, Robin Harris (editor) (HarperCollins, 1997) ISBN 0002557037
  • The Path to Power by Margaret Thatcher (HarperCollins, 1995) ISBN 0002550504
  • The Downing Street Years by Margaret Thatcher (HarperCollins, 1993) ISBN 0002553546

Biographies

External links

Buying into the Iron Lady's Dream]


Preceded by:
Edward Short
Secretary of State for Education and Science
1970–1974
Succeeded by:
Reginald Prentice

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