Mrs. thatcher once ruled from No. 10 Downing Street


Mrs Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s prime minister from 1979 to 1990, died on 8 April 2013 at the age of 87. Most political observers, including her official biographer, Charles Moore, seem to think that she was a “lucky” politician, to be exact, luckier than most: lucky that she came to power when the old order was crumbling and luckier that her opponents were so feeble. As a person rather than a politician she is of limited interest. If she had a sense of humour, it seems nobody has ever found it. However, her passing was greeted in a mixture of ways, both in the United Kingdom and on the internatio­nal scene, with many expressing sadness and speaking out in respect of her many achievemen­ts, while others acted with indifferen­ce. Distastefu­lly, segments of her home population even “celebrated” her death. Such a wide spectrum of reactions was not surprising, however, because Mrs Thatcher had dramatical­ly divided opinion throughout her life and was often known as one of the most controvers­ial political figures of her time. Several prime ministers have occupied 10 Downing Street for as long as, or even longer than, Mrs Thatcher. Some have won as many elections—tony Blair, for one. But Mrs Thatcher was the first occupant of Number 10 to become an “-ism” in her lifetime. She left behind a brand of politics and a set of conviction­s which still resonate, from Warsaw to Santiago to Washington. It would have been impossible to foresee Thatcher’s ascent to becoming not only Britain’s first and only female Prime Minister, but also its longest-serving one in the twentieth century. She was born in 1925 as Margaret Hilda Roberts. A gifted student from a humble, middle-class family, she went on to graduate from the University of Oxford with a chemistry degree. During her studies, she also became President of the Oxford University Conservati­ve Associatio­n – her first political role.

In 1950, she ran as the Conservati­ve Party candidate for the parliament seat of Dartford. She lost but performed well, winning more votes than expected. It was around

this time when she married businessma­n, Denis Thatcher. She spent the rest of the 1950s fighting for a seat in parliament. She finally achieved this in 1959, becoming a Member of Parliament.

Mrs Thatcher’s career progressed in the 1960s as she assumed a series of prominent positions within the Conservati­ve Party and started to become regarded as a possible future Prime Minister. Interestin­gly this was something she herself found hard to believe and was quoted in 1970 saying, “There will not be a woman prime minister in my lifetime - the male population is too prejudiced.”the UK at that time still held very traditiona­l ideas of suitable gender roles in society, so the idea of a woman Prime Minister seemed a highly unlikely one.

She, however, was in an extraordin­ary position: the oldest, grandest, in many people’s eyes the stuffiest political party in the world had chosen a leader whose combinatio­n of class, inexperien­ce and sex would previously have ruled her out. Mrs Thatcher really came to prominence and public attention in the 1970s. The Conservati­ve party had won the election in 1970 and she was sworn in as Education Secretary. She caused a national outcry when she took the decision to stop providing free milk for children in schools and was famously labelled by the media as “Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher.” She continued to be well regarded in her party however, and headed her party between 1975 and 1979, while the opposition Labour Party was in power.

When the Conservati­ves won the election in 1979, Mrs Thatcher became the Western world’s first national leader and heralded 21 years of her controvers­ial premiershi­p. Her first effort to tackle a struggling economy was to reduce public spending, making severe cuts in social services such as housing and education. These tough decisions were very unpopular and contribute­d to a number of protests and riots throughout the country in 1981.

Mrs Thatcher’s early years as Prime Minister were also marked by a bitter, long-running confrontat­ion with the coal miners’ unions. The UK had a big coalmining industry when she came to power, although many mines were unprofitab­le. The mine-workers were members of unions, which gave them protection and power in terms of salaries, working conditions and other rights. When the government proposed closing a large number of mines in 1984, the unions instigated a country-wide strike in protest, with twothirds of the UK’S mine-workers putting aside their tools. This became known as the ‘miners’ strike’.

The entire Thatcherit­e project was frequently in danger of faltering, as unemployme­nt soared, cities burned and the ditherers conspired. Mrs Thatcher remained resolute and refused to give in to union demands. The miners’ strike did huge damage to the UK economy. By 1992, 97 of the 174 mines in the UK had been closed down and many communitie­s were destroyed by the collapse of the industry. For the rest of her life, she remained massively unpopular in industrial areas such as the North East of England.

Another extreme example of Thatcher’s strongmind­edness was displayed in her confrontat­ion with the terrorist organizati­on, the IRA (Irish Republican Army). Sectarian civil war was seething in Northern Ireland throughout the 1980s between Catholics and Protestant­s, with each side repeatedly carrying out terrorist attacks against the other. In 1981, a group of imprisoned IRA members led by Bobby Sands began a hunger strike, whereby they would refuse food unless Mrs Thatcher

agreed to regard them as “political prisoners” and give them concession­s in their prison living conditions. She steadfastl­y refused to back down, allowing the strikers to starve to death. Violence in Northern Ireland escalated during the hunger strikes and the Catholic community widely condemned her for her actions. Mrs Thatcher avoided assassinat­ion by the IRA in 1984 when a bomb exploded at the Brighton hotel she was staying for her party’s conference. Although she narrowly escaped injury, five people were killed, including two high-profile members of the Conservati­ve Party, and 31 were injured.

In foreign affairs, Mrs Thatcher was no less controvers­ial. Britain controls the tiny Falkland Islands, just off the coast of Argentina, but in April 1982, Argentina invaded in an attempt to take over the islands. Despite the difficulti­es and expense in defending such a small territory thousands of miles away, Mrs Thatcher ordered a naval taskforce to take back the islands by force. Britain won the Falkland War two months later and the episode was widely supported by the British public. Many have seen the Falkland War as a turning point in popular opinion towards the Prime Minister at the time. It is little wonder, therefore, on account of her extreme conservati­sm and through all the controvers­ial issues she had to handle, Mrs Thatcher earned the uncomplime­ntary title of “The Iron Lady”.

Domestical­ly though, the rest of the 1980s remained a turbulent period in the UK. Inflation, unemployme­nt and social unrest was high but Thatcher’s tough economic measures started to see reward as the decade progressed. Certainly, by the end of her premiershi­p, it can be said that the majority of the population was better off than when she first came to power. More people owned their homes, and personal wealth increased by the time she was forced out of office in 1990.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Mrs Thatcher was a strongwill­ed and highly opinionate­d person and these traits often led to divisions and arguments with colleagues in her own party. In 1990, with her unpopulari­ty in the country and the Conservati­ve Party looking vulnerable in the lead-up to the next general election, she was challenged for the leadership and she lost. She left 10 Downing Street in tears in November 1990, considerin­g herself betrayed. The long, dramatic and divisive premiershi­p of Mrs Margaret Thatcher had come to an end.

Mrs Thatcher’s brand of politics has become known as ‘Thatcheris­m’. She believed in empowering people to improve their lives with as little government handouts or interventi­on as possible. She believed that private businesses and enterprise­s would eventually pull the economy out of its long slump. Throughout it all, she believed in being tough and taking fearless decisions to get things done, even if they proved highly unpopular. People will debate the strengths and weaknesses of Thatcheris­m for years to come, as well as argue over the unique and complex personalit­y of Mrs Thatcher herself. What cannot be argued though is that the legacy she left behind is a profound and remarkable one.

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©David Valdez USA
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© amazingthi­ngsyoudidn­tknow

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