|Period in Office:||May 4, 1979 – November 28, 1990|
|PM Predecessor:||James Callaghan|
|PM Successor:||John Major|
|Date of Birth:||October 13 1925|
|Place of Birth:||Grantham, England|
|Retirement honour:||Knighthood of the Garter|
Life Barony (Thatcher)
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, LG, OM, PC, FRS (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 to 1990. Even before coming to power she was nicknamed The Iron Lady in Soviet propaganda, an appellation which stuck.
After being first elected to parliament in 1959, she served as Education Secretary in the government of Edward Heath from 1970 to 1974. In 1975 she replaced Heath as leader of the Conservative Party. Under her leadership, the Conservatives won a landslide victory in the general elections of 1979, and she became the Prime Minister. She was reelected in 1983 and again in 1987.
Thatcher's domestic policy was markedly conservative — she reduced public spending and privatised many government-owned companies. In 1984, she used police to crush the miners' strike, breaking the power of trade unions in Britain. In foreign relations, Thatcher maintained the so-called special relationship with the United States, especially under presidency of Ronald Reagan. When Argentina invaded Falkland Islands in 1982, Thatcher responded energetically and dispatched the full force of the Royal Navy to defeat the Argentinians in the Falklands War, a policy that proved hugely popular at home.
Her popularity finally declined when she changed the method by which local authorities raised money from a property tax, known as 'rates' to a poll tax called the 'Community Charge'. Most of the Conservative party also opposed her support for Britain's membership in the Economic and Monetary Union and she was forced to resign in 1990. She was succeeded by John Major. In 1992 she was created Baroness Thatcher. Today her political work is limited her membership of the House of Lords and her role in various pressure groups most notably Conservative Way Forward who held a dinner at the Savoy Hotel in honour of the 25th Anniversary of her election.
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, Alfred Roberts was not re-elected as an Alderman, a decision which affected Thatcher 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 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 Lyons & Company, where she helped develop methods for preserving 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 Thatcher was a wealthy businessman and 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 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 adopt comprehensive secondary education, of which she approved 96%. 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
- "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, Attilla the Hen, and The Grocer's Daughter (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).
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 spoke of her concern of immigrants "swamping" Britain aroused particular controversy. 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.
First term as Prime Minister
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.
Thatcher began by increasing interest rates to drive down inflation. This move hit businesses, especially in the manufacturing sector, and unemployment rose sharply. However her early tax policy reforms were based on supply-side economics. There was a severe recession in the early 1980s, and the Government's economic policy was widely blamed. Political commentators harked 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 "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 low single figures and interest rates were able to fall. By the time of the 1983 election the economy was recovering well.
On 2 April 1982, Argentinian forces invaded the Falkland Islands, a British territory claimed by Argentina (see History of the Falkland Islands). Thatcher immediately sent a naval task force to the Falklands which defeated the Argentinians (see Falklands War), resulting in a wave of patriotic enthusiasm for her personally. The landslide victory of the Conservatives in the June 1983 general election is often ascribed to the 'Falklands Effect'. 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.
Second term as Prime Minister
Thatcher was committed to reducing the power of the trade unions but unlike the Heath government, proceeded by way of incremental change rather than a single Act. Several unions decided to launch strikes which were wholly or partly aimed at damaging her politically, in particular the National Union of Mineworkers. Thatcher had made preparations for the strike by building up coal stocks and there were no power cuts, and picket line violence, combined with the fact that the NUM had not held a ballot to approve strike action, contrived to swing public opinion on her side. The Miners' Strike lasted a full year (1984–1985) 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.
During the middle of the strike, on the early morning of 12 October 1984, Thatcher 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 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. Thatcher insisted that the Conference open on time the next day and made her speech as planned.
Thatcher's political and economic philosophy emphasised free markets and entrepreneurialism. In her first term, she had experimented in selling off a small nationalised industry, the National Freight company, to the public, with a surprisingly large response. In the second term, 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 became synonymous with Thatcherism and has since been exported across the globe.
In the Cold war Mrs Thatcher supported 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. She had no objections to the US bombing raid on Libya from bases in Britain in 1986, and her liking for defence ties with the USA 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 USA. Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine, who had pushed the Agusta deal, resigned in protest at her style of leadership, and thereafter became known as 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.  This award had always previously been given to Prime Ministers who had been educated at Oxford.
During the second term, 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 (PRC) regarding Hong Kong after the handover in 1997. At the Fontainebleau summit of 1984, Thatcher argued that the UK paid far more to the EEC than it received in spending and negotiated a budget rebate. She was widely quoted as saying "We want our money back".
Third term as Prime Minister
By winning the 1987 general election she became the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to serve for three consecutive terms since Lord Liverpool (in office from 1812–1827). 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 in turn led to the well-known "Maggie Out!" protest song, sung throughout that period by her opponents.
In the late 1980's Thatcher began to emphasise green issues. In 1988 she made a major speech accepting the problems of global warming, ozone depletion and acid rain  and in 1990 she opened the Hadley Centre for climate prediction and research that she had caused to be founded .
Thatcher started to lose popularity in 1989, as the economy suffered from high interest rates imposed to stop an unsustainable boom (for which she blamed her Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, who had been following an economic policy of which she claimed not to have been told and did not approve). When Thatcher began to listen more to her adviser Sir Alan Walters, Lawson resigned. 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 a surprisingly large number of ballot papers either cast for Meyer or abstaining.
Thatcher's new system to replace local government rates was introduced in Scotland in 1989 and 1990 in England and Wales. She replaced them with the "Community Charge" which applied at the same amount to every individual resident, with only limited discounts for low earners. The indiscriminate nature of the charge led to it being the most unpopular policy of her premiership. It was almost universally known as the Poll Tax. Introducing the charge one year early led to accusations that Scotland was a 'testing ground' for the tax. Although untrue (Thatcher believed the policy would be popular and the Scots would benefit from it a year earlier) this led to a sharp decline in the popularity of the Conservative party in Scotland.
On 31 March 1990 — the day before the tax was introduced in England and Wales — a large London demonstration 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 and change the tax (which was abolished by her Conservative successor). The unpopularity of the tax 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!"
Fall from power
By 1990 opposition to Thatcher's policies on local government taxation, her Government's handling of the economy, her perceived arrogance and her reluctance to commit Britain to economic integration with Europe made her politically vulnerable. A challenge was precipitated by the resignation of Sir Geoffrey Howe on 1 November, who had been sidelined and felt that she was taking a damaging approach on the European Union. Howe openly invited "others to consider their own response", which led Michael Heseltine to announce his challenge. In the first ballot, Thatcher was two votes short of winning re-election, but on consulting with cabinet colleagues found a vast majority thought that she could not win on the second ballot.
On 22 November, at just after 9:30 AM, Mrs Thatcher announced that she would not be a candidate in the second ballot and therefore her term of office would come to an end. She supported John Major as her successor, and retired from Parliament at the 1992 election.
In 1992 she was created Baroness Thatcher, of Kesteven in the County of Lincolnshire, and entered the House of Lords. In addition, Denis Thatcher, her husband, was given a Baronetcy (ensuring that their son, Mark, would inherit a title).
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 London facing charges of torture, conspiracy to torture and conspiracy to murder, and expressed her support and friendship for him. .
She made many speaking engagements around the world, and 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. Since then she visited Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York (in 2003), and compared his offices to those of Winston Churchill's War Room.
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 and the destruction of many manufacturing industries. 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. By the late 1990s, Britain emerged with a comparatively healthy economy, at least by previous standards. Her supporters claim that this was due to Margaret Thatcher's policies.
However, critics claim that the economic problems of the 1970s were exaggerated, and caused largely by factors outside of any UK government's control, such as high oil prices caused by the oil crisis which caused high inflation and 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, which critics contend was the real cause of the improved economic environment of the 1980s and not 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" (sponsored by the BBC and voted for by the public), 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. In the end, however, few could argue that there was a woman who played a more important role on the world stage in the Twentieth Century, and even the Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair has implicitly and explicitly acknowledged her importance by continuing many of her economic 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 unpopular and many retain strong feelings about her. 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.
Her son Mark has been dogged by a series of controversies. As of late 2004, he was under house arrest in South Africa facing charges of abetting a coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea. These reports have been received with considerable schadenfreude by those in Britain less than impressed by the Thatcher legacy.
- "If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman."
- "There's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families." (in an interview for Woman's Own magazine on 23 September, 1987 at 10 Downing Street; see Wikiquote page for full quote and context).
- "Every Prime Minister needs a Willie" (a reference to her Deputy Prime Minister William Whitelaw; Mrs Thatcher was deaf to any more euphemistic interpretation).
- "We have become a grandmother" (March 3, 1989, on the birth of her first grandchild; this was controversial for her apparent use of the Royal we)
- 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
- Memories of Maggie Edited by Iain Dale (Politicos, 2000) ISBN 190230151X
- Britain Under Thatcher by Anthony Seldon & Daniel Collings (Longman, 1999) ISBN 0582317142
- Thatcher for Beginners by Peter Pugh and Paul Flint (Icon Books, 1997) ISBN 1874166536
- One of Us: Life of Margaret Thatcher by Hugo Young (Macmillan, 1989) ISBN 0333344391
- The Iron Lady: A Biography of Margaret Thatcher by Hugo Young (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1989) ISBN 0374226512
- Margaret, daughter of Beatrice by Leo Abse (Jonathan Cape, 1989) ISBN 0224027263
- Mrs.Thatcher's Revolution: Ending of the Socialist Era by Peter Jenkins (Jonathan Cape, 1987) ISBN 0224025163
- The Thatcher Phenomenon by Hugo Young (BBC, 1986) ISBN 0563204729
- Margaret Thatcher Foundation
- The Thatcher Era — Written on the 10th anniversary of her resignation on 22 November
- The George H. W. Bush Library — 22 November 1990 — President George H. W. Bush talks about Thatcher resignation
- On This Day 22 November — New York Times marks Thatcher's resignation
- Wikiquote entry: Margaret Thatcher
|Secretary of State for Education and Science|
|Leader of the British Conservative Party|
|Prime Minister of the United Kingdom|