‘I fight on, I fight to win’ asserted Britain’s first female Prime Minister and leader of the British Conservative Party; and win she did. She won three consecutive terms of office in two decades and became the only British Prime Minister in the twentieth century to do so. One of the most influential Prime Ministers of Britain, she was also the most debated stateswomen of the century, earning both respect and hatred from the public, particularly for her treatment of trade unions. She transformed the Conservative Party from just another participant in the lowest common denominator politics of Britain into a national champion. She earned the nickname ‘Iron Lady’ because of her leadership style and radical ideologies, which came to be known as ‘Thatcherism’. Her journey from a humble grocer’s daughter to Secretary of State for Education and Science was one of steely perseverance. Following her appointment as Prime Minister, she introduced a new wave of economic initiatives to reverse what she perceived as a national decline. Margaret Thatcher was a woman of staunch values and brought about radical changes even though her ideas were under siege. She strode British politics with great astuteness and had the knack of making the most of opportunities, a trait which made her the most admired, yet controversial leader of the UK.
- Margaret Thatcher, nee Margaret Hilda Roberts, was born on 13 October 1925, in Grantham to Alfred Roberts, a grocer, preacher and local mayor, and Beatrice Ethel. She, along with her sister, Muriel, spent most of her childhood in Grantham and helped her father with the grocery business.Her father was active in local politics at the Methodist church and brought up both his daughters as strict Methodists. He became the Mayor of Grantham in 1945 but lost his position as alderman in 1952, when the Labor Party came into power.She won a scholarship to Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, where she was head girl for the academic year 1942-1943. Her school reports showed academic consistency and brilliance in a number of extra-curricular activities.In 1946, she attended Oxford College and became the President of the Oxford University Conservative Association in 1946, where she came to be inspired by the political works of Freidrich von Hayek; an influence that evident in all her reforms and policies.She graduated with second-class honors and earned her Bachelor of Science in Chemistry in 1947 and moved to Essex to work as a chemist for BX Plastics.Political Beginnings
- Thatcher first stood for Parliament in 1950 and became the Conservative contender for the Dartford Labor Party seat. She became an instant media magnet because she was the youngest representative and the only female candidate at the time.She knew from the start that it would be nearly impossible to defeat the Liberal Labor Party, but she still gathered a fan-following with her speeches. Though defeated, she remained undaunted and tried as a Conservative candidate once more, only to be defeated once again. She soon married Dennis Thatcher, who helped her rise to prominence.In 1952, funded by her husband, she studied law and qualified as a barrister in 1953. Due to the birth of her twins, she could not contest for the 1955 General Election, but soon returned into the political arena.She won her first election campaign in 1959, winning the seat of Finchley in London, a position she held till she retired in 1992.She rapidly rose within the ranks of the Conservative Party, holding a variety of positions and finally, entered the Shadow Cabinet in 1967.In 1970, Margaret Thatcher, as the Minister for Education, advocated an increase in the education budget and the creation of more schools. However, her tryst with infamy began when she earned the title of ‘Thatcher, the Milk Snatcher’ when she abolished a scheme providing free milk to primary school children during school hours.She attracted a lot of negative publicity for her impulsive actions and soon, frustrated with then Prime Minister Edward Heath and his contrasting ideas, she ironically declared, ‘I don’t think there will be a woman prime minister in my lifetime’ in 1973.On October 12, 1984 the Irish Republican Army planted a bomb in the hotel Thatcher was staying at in an attempt to assassinate her.Rise To Prominence & Power
- The Conservative Party lost power in 1974 and she soon became a dominant force in her political arena.She got elected as leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, beating Edward Heath and became the first woman to serve as the opposition leader in the House of Commons, winning 130 votes against 119.She was finally appointed as the Prime Minister on May 4, 1979 defeating the opposition party which was unpopular and divided.Britain’s economy in 1979 was in dire financial crisis and Thatcher’s first term in office saw her adopting a new economic theory known as ‘Monetarism’.During this time, she also changed government regulations on business and subsidies, resulting in business failures, higher unemployment and mounting inflation. She countered this problem with a change in taxation policies and money circulation, which reduced inflation levels while hushing public and economic opposition.In the beginning of the 1980s, the ‘Thatcher’ government slowly began to gain popularity after their success in Falklands War. Argentina invaded Falkland, a British island in the southern hemisphere, in April 1982. Thatcher directed the British island to victory, which boosted her government’s popularity.The success of the Falklands War led to the Conservatives winning by a large majority during the General Elections of 1982.After the re-election of 1983, the Conservative majority grew and she continued to enact her economic policies. This time, she welcomed the period of ‘popular capitalism’ and introduced a sweeping drive of denationalizing state monopolies related to telephones, airports, steel and oil.Margaret Thatcher and her government are best identified with a set of policies, practices and ideals known as ‘Thatcherism’. This belief system was founded on the basis of competition, privatization, self-reliance and clamps-down on trade unions.In one critical event of 1984, known as ‘The Miners’ Strike’, she forced the miners back into work with no allowances, after they protested the closure of ‘uneconomic pits’. During this time, she also reduced social service expenses and expressed her dislike of the growing European Union Federalism, which closely became associated with ‘Thatcherism’.Second Term, Third Term & Economic Changes
- During her second term as Prime Minister, from 1983 to 1987, Thatcher handled a number of conflicts and crisis, the most important one being the assassination attempt against her in 1984. Fearless and unharmed, she went ahead with a Conservative Conference that was due to be held the same day, and delivered her speech.In 1984, she signed a treaty with the Chinese government regarding the future of Hong Kong.In 1986, she also voiced her support for Ronald Reagan’s air raids on Libya and allowed the U.S. military to use British bases to launch attacks. It is believed that during this time, America and Britain became very close allies and that Thatcher was largely instrumental in forging an important relationship with the superpower.Elected for a third term in 1987, she sought to implement a standard scholastic curriculum across the country and tried to initiate a socialized medical system. However, she lost a lot of political support in the process.During her tenure as Prime Minister for the third term, she introduced a series of new policies and changes in the revenue system. She also replaced the local government taxes with ‘Poll Tax’ and replaced residential tax policies with ‘head tax’, leading to an economic imbalance and dissention within her party.As a result of these extensive policies, the Prime Minister’s popularity declined in 1989 and economic unrest started to mount. However, she was unfazed with the negative publicity and the widespread opposition she received for her decisions. She continued implementing her ideas and refused to compromise on tax and labor laws. Several protests were held at Trafalgar Square and a number of riots ensued.Thatcher narrowly escaped the IRA bombing of a hotel in Brighton, part of a campaign led by the IRA for a united and independent Ireland. The incident generated a lot of sympathy from the public, which eventually helped her win the 1989 General Elections.On November 1, 1990, Geoffrey Howe, the Deputy Prime Minister, resigned from his position in the Cabinet as Thatcher refused to let Britain join the ‘European Exchange Rate Mechanism’. His resignation proved to be a fatal blow for Thatcher’s political premiership and public image.Decline & Later Years
- With the economic condition worsening, the Cabinet persuaded her to resign, despite her winning four more votes than Michael Heseltine. Nevertheless, she was four votes short of absolute victory and she finally resigned on November 28, 1990, sensing a conspiracy against her.She was finally replaced by her Chancellor, John Mayor after the 1992 General Elections.Shortly after leaving office, she was appointed to the House of Lords, as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, in 1992. During this time, she wrote two books, ‘The Downing Street Years’ and ‘The Path to Power’, published in 1993 and 1995, respectively, both describing her political experiences.In 2002, her book, ‘Statecraft’ was published, in which she explained her views on international politics.For the first few years after resignation she remained extremely active as a public speaker. However, after the death of her husband and one of her dear friends, Ronald Reagan, she became a hermit. Her office in the House of Lords was permanently closed in July 2011, marking the end of her political and public life.Major Works
- She pushed through major labor union reforms, suppressed the miners’ showdown and suppressed the coal miner’s union. She implemented labor union reforms, which she received a lot of opposition for. She replaced the local government taxes with ‘poll tax’ and also reduced income tax rates from 98% to 40% and slashed corporate income tax rates from 52% to 35%.One of Thatcher’s most controversial works was the systematic selling off the government’s business assets through privatization. Thatcher sold large government companies post-World War II, including airlines, steel, oil, electricity and telephone businesses. This went on to inspire other nations around the world to do the same. Although her actions resulted in high inflation rates, historians and biographers today, argue that this was probably one of Thatcher’s best moves and should have been lauded at the time.During the Falklands Islands crisis, Thatcher declared war on the Argentinians with the help of the U.S. and the islands were able to defend themselves though they lacked sufficient military means against the Argentinians. Under the leadership of Thatcher, the Falklands Islands won their independence and Thatcher rose to prominence again in Britain.Awards & Achievements
- In 1970, Margaret Thatcher was appointed as the Privy Councillor, after she became the Secretary of State for Education and Science the same year.She was made an honorary member of the Carlton Club after becoming the leader of the Conservative Party in 1975. She also became the first woman who was entitled to full membership rights of the club.In 1983, she was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society.She was awarded the highest civilian honor, the ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom’ by the U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1991.She was appointed as a Member of the Order of Merit, conferred to her by the Queen, within two weeks of retiring from the House of Commons in 1992.In 1992, ‘Time’ Magazine included her in the list of ‘100 most important people of the 20th century’.She was appointed to the highest order of chivalry as the Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter in 1995.She was the honorary recipient of the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award in 1998.Personal Life & Legacy