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Margaret Thatcher

Baroness Thatcher
Term of Office:May 4, 1979 - November 22, 1990
Predecessor:James Callaghan
Successor:John Major
Date of Birth:October 13, 1925
Political Party:Conservative Party

Baroness Margaret Hilda Thatcher (born October 13, 1925) is a British politician, the first woman to become leader of the British Conservative Party and the first woman Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a position she held from 1979 - 1990.

She was born Margaret Hilda Roberts on October 13, 1925, in the town of Grantham, the daughter of a grocer. Educated at Somerville College, Oxford, she studied chemistry and worked as a research chemist. After marrying in 1951, she returned to study law and later briefly worked as a tax lawyer.

She was elected to the British House of Commons in 1959 as the Conservative MP for Finchley, North London. Later, as Minister of Education and Science under Edward Heath, she was 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". After the Conservative defeat in 1974, she challenged Heath for the leadership of the party, winning the post in February 1975.

In 1976 she was dubbed "The Iron Lady" by the Russians after making a speech containing a scathing attack on the Soviet Union. The speech declared that "The Russians are bent on world dominance" and "They put guns before butter". She took delight in the name and it soon became associated with her remarkable unwavering and steadfast personal character. She had many other nicknames such as The Milk Snatcher, Attilla the Hen, The Grocer's Daughter (obviously due to her dad's profession) — which led to Edward Heath being nicknamed The Grocer.

Most United Kingdom newspapers supported her, with the exception of The Daily Star[?], The Mirror and The Guardian, and were rewarded with regular press briefings by her press secretary, Bernard Ingham[?]. This led to the name "Maggie" being popularised by the tabloids, which in turn led to the well-known "Maggie Out!" protest song, sung throughout that period.

She led the Conservative Party to victory in the general election, forming a government on May 4, 1979, with a mandate to reverse Britain's perceived economic decline and to reduce the role of government. Many argue that Britain had been in a gradual relative economic decline since the late 19th century and that this worsened considerably during the 1970s. 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 years to come.

During Thatcher's years as prime minister, unemployment rose sharply, doubling during her first term, reaching 3 million in 1982. It was not to start declining again until mid-1986. Since the mid-1990s, Britain has consistently had lower unemployment than most of continental Europe. Thatcher's supporters claim this is the result of her structural reform of the labour market, though this is disputed by many left-leaning commentators.

Her political and economic philosophy emphasised free markets and entrepreneurialism. The economic policy of her government was predominantly monetarist, emphasising control of inflation as a primary economic goal.

She is widely remembered in the UK for her government's antipathy to the Trade Union movement -- trade unions were much more powerful in the 1970s, and Thatcher did much to reduce their influence on British industry.

Thatcher's pro-American stance and her acceptance of US Cruise nuclear missiles on British soil, coupled with her equanimity over the US bombing raid on Libya from bases in Britain, helped bolster Western confidence after the failed detente of the late 1970s. However, it did nothing to improve her relationship with the leftist British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Thatcher's popularity received an unexpected boost from the Falkland Islands War. In 1982 the military dictatorship of Argentinian forces invaded the Falkland Islands, a British colony to which Argentina laid claim as described in History of the Falkland Islands. Thatcher's government sent a force to the Falklands which defeated the Argentinians. On the back of her Falkland Islands policy, Thatcher led the Conservatives to a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections of June 1983.

Thatcher successfully confronted the trade unions during the Miners' Strike (1984 - 1985), deploying the police to prevent the movement of miners and their pickets. The radical miners, led by a socialist trade union, under the leadership of Arthur Scargill, had been in conflict with several previous governments. However, Thatcher refused to give in to their demands. Frequent battles were reported between the miners and police and the claim was often made by Thatcher's opponents that the police were being used for political purposes. One of the fiercest of these battles, the 1984 Battle of Orgreave, was reconstructed on June 17, 2001 by a 1,000 strong cast. [1] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk/newsid_1393000/1393835.stm).

Thatcher's confintation stance on EEC, now EU, led to many disagreements with fellow members but did succesfully negotiate UK rebate[?] in 1984 after famously be quoted as saying I want my money back.

In October 1984 she escaped injury when a bomb planted by the terrorist organization the Provisional Irish Republican Army exploded in Brighton's Grand Hotel during a party conference. 5 people died in the attack, including the wife of Government Chief Whip, John Wakeham. A prominent member of the Cabinet, Norman Tebbit, was injured, along with his wife, Margaret, who was left paralyzed.

In December 1984 she visited China and signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration with Deng Xiaoping on December 19, stating the basic policies of the People's Republic of China (PRC) regarding Hong Kong after the handover in 1997.

By winning the 1987 general election she was the only Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the 20th century to serve for three consecutive terms. Thatcher worked to diminish the role of the government in the economy, improve competitiveness and encourage entrepreneurship. She privatised many nationalised industries (among them British Telecom, British Gas[?], BP, British Airways, British Steel, the water industry, and the electricity industry), aiming to greatly improve their efficiency. Although she cut the budgets of many social programmes, overall public spending as a fraction of GDP remained roughly stable or increased slightly.

In 1989 Thatcher introduced a tax on individuals, (the "community charge") that became known as the poll tax. This was an attempt to reform the widely criticized and antiquated local tax system (Rates) by replacing the previous tax on housing with a simple per-person flat rate. However, the inequitable nature of a flat rate was widely disliked among the British public and resulted in people going to jail to avoid payment on principle, mass demonstrations and, finally, a number of riots. This political misjudgement was a major setback for the Thatcher government. However Thatcher also brought about major changes in the ownership of council housing that initially spread her popularity to many former Labour voters.

In 1989 she was first challenged for the leadership of the Conservative Party, by Sir Anthony Meyer[?], a previously unremarkable backbench MP from North Wales, who was viewed as a "stalking horse" candidate for more prominent members of the party. Thatcher easily defeated Meyer's challenge, but he received a surprisingly large number of votes from his colleagues who feared for their seats at the next election if Thatcher's policy on the community charge was not changed. This was viewed as a warning to Thatcher, one she failed to heed.

In 1990 controversy over Thatcher's policies on taxation, her handling of the economy, her perceived arrogance and her reluctance to commit Britain to economic integration with Europe resulted in a more substantial challenge to her leadership. She resigned on November 22, after the first round of a leadership challenge initiated by Michael Heseltine, and was replaced as party leader and Prime Minister by John Major.

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 brings out strong responses in people. 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, egotistical and responsible for the dismantling of the Welfare State. 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. In the 1990s, Britain emerged with a comparatively healthy economy, at least by previous standards.

In 1992 she become Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven and entered the House of Lords. In addition, Denis Thatcher, her husband, was given a Baronetcy, which is a rare kind of hereditary knighthood. He became Sir Denis Thatcher, Bt. This assured that Margaret Thatcher's son, Mark Thatcher[?] will inherit a title.

Since leaving power, she has made many speaking engagements around the world. However, in March 22, 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. Since then she visited Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York (in 2003), and compared his offices to those of Winston Churchill's War Room.

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" (sponsored by the BBC and voted for by the public), alongside such other greats as David Beckham, Aleister Crowley and Johnny Rotten; she also appears at Number 3 in the 2003 List of "100 Worst Britons" (sponsored by Channel Four and also voted for by the public), narrowly missing out on the top spot, which went to Tony Blair.

See also:

External links

Books

  • The Downing Street Years by Margaret Thatcher (HarperCollins, 1993)
  • The Path to Power by Margaret Thatcher (HarperCollins, 1995)
  • Statecraft by Margaret Thatcher (HarperCollins, 2002)
  • Thatcher for Beginners by Peter Pugh and Paul Flint (Icon Books, 1997) ISBN 1874166536
  • Britain Under Thatcher by Anthony Seldon & Daniel Collings (Longman, 1999)
  • One of Us by Hugo Young (Macmillan, 1989)
  • Mrs Thatcher's Revolution by Peter Jenkins (Jonathon Cape 1987, Reissued Pan 1989)



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