Tributes paid to Baroness Thatcher
TRIBUTES have been paid following the death of former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher on Monday morning following a stroke.
Lord Bell announced at lunchtime that the first female Prime Minister had ‘died peacefully’ earlier that day, after suffering a stroke.
The ‘ Iron Lady’, as she was widely known, will receive a ceremonial funeral at St Paul’s with full military honours like Diana, Princess of Wales, and the Queen Mother it was announced hours later, but not a State Funeral like Winston Churchill.
The Conservative leader was in power from 1979 to 1990, the longest serving British leader of the 20th century and the first to win three elections in a row.
Tributes from across the political world and beyond were quick to flood in, with Twitter being taken over by the news.
Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, released a statement following the death of Baroness Thatcher. He said: “It was with sadness that I heard the news of the death of Baroness Thatcher and my prayers are with her son and daughter, her grandchildren, family and friends. It is right that today we give thanks for a life devoted to public service, acknowledging also the faith that inspired and sustained her.”
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, who was appointed during the Thatcher era, said while he did not agree with her politics, the only female Prime Minister ‘transformed’ the UK.
The former Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair described Baroness Thatcher on Monday as “a towering political figure”. The former Labour leader said: “Very few leaders get to change not only the political landscape of their country but of the world. Margaret was such a leader. Her global impact was vast. And some of the changes she made in Britain were, in certain respects at least, retained by the 1997 Labour Government, and came to be implemented by governments around the world.”
Born Margaret Hilda Roberts in Grantham, Lincolnshire, in 1925, her father was an active politician, alderman and preacher in the Methodist Church. She was brought up a strict follower of the denomination. Speaking later on Radio 4 in 1987, she said: “The fundamental reason of being put on earth is so to improve your character that you are fit for the next world.” Faith was always key to the politician throughout her life and work, started by the influence of her beloved father, many say.
Raised in the flat above her father’s grocery shop in the town, she saw him rise through politics, as an independent candidate, though liberal, to become Mayor in 1945.
Studying Chemistry at Oxford, Margaret Roberts left Somerville College with a Second Class Honours Degree, and then moved to Chelmsford to work as a research chemist for a plastics company. It was during this time she attended a Conservative Party conference in Llandudno, as a representative of the University Graduate Conservative Association, having led the Oxford Tor y group while studying there.
Officials of the association were said to be so impressed by her that they asked her to apply to be a candidate, even though she was not on the Conservative party’s approved list: she was selected in January 1951 and added to the approved list post ante. It was at a dinner following her selection as the candidate for Dartford that she met her future husband, Denis Thatcher.
By the time she finally won a seat in Finchley in 1959, she was Mrs Thatcher and had given birth to her children. She regarded the area’s Jewish community as ‘her people’, and became a founding member of the Anglo-Israel Friendship League of Finchley, but did believe that Israel should trade land for peace.
October 1961 saw Mrs Thatcher promoted to the front benches, as Parliamentary Undersecretary at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance in Harold Macmillan’s administration. Moving to the Shadow cabinet when the party were the opposition in 1966, she soon began speaking out against Labour’s high-tax policies, which she described as a step ‘not only towards Socialism, but towards Communism’.
Always known for her controversial views, the Tor y was one of the few members of the party who supported Leo Abse’s Bill to decriminalise male homosexuality, and also voted in favour of legalising abortion.
In the years that followed, Mrs Thatcher was promoted to the Shadow cabinet as the Fuel spokesperson and then Shadow Transport spokesperson and later to Education.
When Edward Heath won the 1970 General Election, she was appointed Secretary of State for Education and Science. In this role, her administration’s attempt to cut spending attracted much attention, abolishing free school milk for children over seven, which won her much criticism and the moniker ‘Thatcher, Thatcher, Milk Snatcher’.
Though not the obvious replacement for Edward Heath when his leadership was called into question following their defeat to Labour in 1974, she eventually became viewed as a promising contender, offering a fresh start.
When the premiership of Margaret Thatcher began in 1979, she paraphrased the prayer of Saint Francis on arriving at 10 Downing Street. “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope,” she said.
Privatisation, economics, industrial relations and Northern Ire- land made her time in office prolific. The first female Prime Minister survived assassination attempts from the IRA, strikes that resulted in the loss of 29million working days and the Falklands War.
In defence of her views, the Prime Minister once visited Scotland to give a speech that the press there dubbed the Sermon on the Mound. Speaking to the Church in Scotland, she gave theological justification for her ideas on capitalism and the market economy, claiming ‘Christianity is about spiritual redemption, not social reform’.
She went on to quote St Paul: “If a man will not work he shall not eat.”
The theme of ‘choice’ was also used to describe the Thatcherite reforms, claiming choice was also Christian by explaining that Christ chose to lay down his life and that all individuals have Godgiven right to choose between good and evil. Many in the Church at the time disagreed with this view, with one clergyman present describing the sentiment as ‘a disgraceful travesty of the gospel’.
In 1990, she was replaced as Prime Minister and party leader by Chancellor John Major. She retired from the House two years later at the age of 66, saying that leaving the Commons would allow her more freedom to speak her mind.
The first former Prime Minister to establish a Foundation following her retirement, Lady Thatcher continued being a prominent public figure. Her health declined in 2002 however, after suffering several small strokes, and on March 23 announced that her doctors had advised her to cancel all public speaking engagements and not to accept anymore.
A year later, Dennis Thatcher died. In the book The Downing Street Years, she wrote: “Being Prime Minister is a lonely job. In a sense, it ought to be: you cannot lead from the crowd. But with Denis there I was never alone. What a man. What a husband. What a friend.”
Though opinion of the Iron Lady is hugely divided, her legacy is undeniable. Margaret Thatcher changed the political landscape and saw more than a million families buy their council homes, an increase from seven per cent to 25 per cent of adults owning shares and personal wealth rising by 80 per cent. Women’s pay also rose considerably during the time, and many cite the Iron Lady as an inspirational figure to grow up with.
Her premiership of 11 years and 209 days means she was the longest serving British Prime Minister since Lord Salisbury in 1885. A BBC Poll in 2002 ranked her 16th of the 100 Greatest Britons.
In February, 2007, Lady Thatcher became the first living ex-Prime Minister to have a statue of herself unveiled in the House of Commons. She said: “I might have preferred iron, but bronze will do. It won’t rust and this time, I hope, the head will stay on.“
The flag flew at half-mast over Downing Street on Monday, and the current Prime Minister, David Cameron, returned from meetings in Europe to attend to the situation.