Margaret Thatcher

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Margaret Thatcher

In office
4 May 1979 – 28 November 1990
Monarch Elizabeth II
Deputy William Whitelaw (1979–1988)
Geoffrey Howe (1989–1990)
Preceded by James Callaghan
Succeeded by John Major

In office
20 June 1970 – 4 March 1974
Prime Minister Edward Heath
Preceded by Edward Short
Succeeded by Reginald Prentice

Member of Parliament
for Finchley
In office
8 October 1959 – 9 April 1992
Preceded by John Crowder
Succeeded by Hartley Booth

Born 13 October 1925 (1925-10-13) (age 83)
Grantham, Lincolnshire, England
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Spouse Sir Denis Thatcher, Bt (1951–2003)
Children The Hon. Carol Thatcher
Sir Mark Thatcher, 2nd Bt
Alma mater Somerville College, Oxford
Profession Scientist (Chemist)
Religion Methodist
Signature Margaret Thatcher's signature

Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher LG, OM, PC, FRS (born 13 October 1925) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990 and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990. She is the only woman to have held either post.[1]

Born in Grantham in Lincolnshire, England, she went on to read chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford and train as a barrister. She won a seat as an MP from Finchley in 1959, as a Conservative. When Edward Heath formed a government in 1970, he appointed Thatcher as Secretary of State for Education and Science. Four years later, she backed Keith Joseph in his bid to become Conservative party leader, but he was forced to drop out of the election; Thatcher felt that Heath's government had lost direction, so she entered the contest herself and became leader of the Conservative party in 1975. As the Conservative party maintained leads in most polls, Thatcher went on to become Britain's Prime Minister in the 1979 general election.

Thatcher entered 10 Downing Street with a mandate to reverse the UK's economic decline. Her political philosophy and economic policies emphasised reduced state intervention, free markets, and entrepreneurialism. She gained much support after the 1982 Falklands War and was re-elected the following year. Thatcher took a hard line against trade unions, survived an assassination attempt, and opposed the Soviet Union (her tough-talking rhetoric gained her the nickname the "Iron Lady"); she was re-elected for an unprecedented third term in 1987. The following years would prove difficult, as her Community Charge plan was unpopular with many, and her views regarding the European Community were not shared by others in her Cabinet. She resigned as Prime Minister in November 1990.

Thatcher's tenure as Prime Minister was the longest since that of Lord Salisbury and the longest continuous period in office since Lord Liverpool in the early 19th century.[1] She was the first woman to lead a major political party in the UK, and the first of only three women to hold any of the four great offices of state. She holds a life peerage as Baroness Thatcher, of Kesteven in the County of Lincolnshire, which entitles her to sit in the House of Lords.

Early life and education

Margaret Hilda Roberts was born on 13 October 1925 to Alfred Roberts, originally from Northamptonshire, and Beatrice Roberts née Stephenson from Lincolnshire.[2] Thatcher spent her childhood in the town of Grantham in Lincolnshire, where her father owned two grocery shops.[3] She and her older sister Muriel (born 1921, Grantham;[4] died December 2004; married name Cullen)[5] were raised in the flat above the larger of the two located near the railway line.[6] Her father was active in local politics and religion, serving as an Alderman and Methodist lay preacher. He came from a Liberal family but stood—as was then customary in local government—as an Independent. He lost his post as Alderman in 1952 after the Labour Party won its first majority on Grantham Council in 1950.[7]

Thatcher was brought up a devout Methodist and has remained a Christian throughout her life.[8] After attending Huntingtower Road Primary School, she won a scholarship to Kesteven and Grantham Girls' School.[9] Her school reports show hard work and commitment, but not brilliance. Outside the classroom she played hockey and also enjoyed swimming and walking.[10] Finishing school during the Second World War, she applied for a scholarship to attend Somerville College, Oxford, but was only successful when the winning candidate dropped out.[11] She went to Oxford in 1943 and studied Natural Sciences, specialising in Chemistry.[12][3] She became President of the Oxford University Conservative Association in 1946, the third woman to hold the post. In 1946 Thatcher took the Final Honour School examination, graduating with a Second Class Bachelor of Arts degree. She subsequently studied crystallography and received a postgraduate BSc degree in 1947. Three years later, in 1950, she achieved a Master of Arts advanced degree, according to her entitlement as an Oxford BA of seven years' standing since matriculation.[3]

Following graduation, Margaret Roberts moved to Colchester in Essex, to work as a research chemist for BX Plastics.[13] During this time she joined the local Conservative Association and attended the party conference at Llandudno in 1948, as a representative of the University Graduate Conservative Association.[14] She was also a member of the Association of Scientific Workers. In January 1949, a friend from Oxford, who was working for the Dartford Conservative Association, told her that they were looking for candidates.[14] After a brief period, she was selected as the Conservative candidate, and she subsequently moved to Dartford, in Kent, to stand for election as a Member of Parliament. To support herself during this period, she went to work for J. Lyons and Co., where she helped develop methods for preserving ice cream and was paid £500 per year.[14]

Political career between 1950 and 1970

At the 1950 and 1951 elections, she fought the safe Labour seat of Dartford.[3] Although she was unsuccessful in winning the seat losing out to Norman Dodds, she reduced the Labour majority in the constituency by 6,000.[15] She was, at the time, the youngest ever female Conservative candidate and her campaign attracted a higher than normal amount of media attention for a first time candidate.[16][3] While active in the Conservative Party in Kent, she met Denis Thatcher, whom she married in 1951.[17] Denis was a wealthy divorced businessman who ran his family's firm;[17] he later became an executive in the oil industry.[3] Denis funded his wife's studies for the Bar.[18] She qualified as a barrister in 1953 and specialised in taxation.[3] In the same year her twin children Carol and Mark were born.[19]

Thatcher began to look for a safe Conservative seat in the mid-1950s and was narrowly rejected as candidate for the Orpington by-election in 1955, and was not selected as a candidate in the 1955 election.[19] She had several further rejections before being selected for Finchley in April 1958. She won the seat after hard campaigning during the 1959 election and was elected as a member of Parliament.[20] Her maiden speech was in support of her Private Member's Bill (Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960) requiring local councils to hold meetings in public, which was successful. In 1961 she went against the Conservative Party's official position by voting for the restoration of birching.

Within two years, in October 1961, she was given a promotion to the front bench as Parliamentary Undersecretary at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance.[12] She held this post throughout the administration of Harold Macmillan, until the Conservatives were removed from office in the 1964 election.[3] When Sir Alec Douglas-Home stepped down, Thatcher voted for Edward Heath in the leadership election of 1965 over Reginald Maudling.[21] She was promoted to the position of Conservative spokesman on Housing and Land; in this position, she advocated the Conservative policy of allowing tenants to buy their council houses.[22] The policy would prove to be popular.[23] She moved to the Shadow Treasury team in 1966. As Treasury spokesman, she opposed Labour's mandatory price and income controls, which she argued would produce contrary effects to those intended and distort the economy.[22]

Thatcher established herself as a potent conference speaker at the Conservative Party Conference of 1966, with a strong attack on the high-tax policies of the Labour Government as being steps "not only towards Socialism, but towards Communism".[22] She argued that lower taxes served as an incentive to hard work.[22] Thatcher was one of few Conservative MPs to support Leo Abse's Bill to decriminalise male homosexuality and voted in favour of David Steel's Bill to legalise abortion,[24] as well as a ban on hare coursing.[25][26] She supported the retention of capital punishment and voted against the relaxation of divorce laws.[27]

In 1967 she was selected by the Embassy of the United States in London to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program (then called the Foreign Leader Program), a professional exchange program in which she spent about six weeks visiting various U.S. cities, political figures, and institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.[28] Later that year, Thatcher joined the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Fuel spokesman. Shortly preceding the 1970 general election, she was promoted to Shadow Transport and, finally, Education.[29]

Education Secretary (1970–1974)

When the Conservative party under Edward Heath won the 1970 general election, Thatcher became Secretary of State for Education and Science. In her first months in office, Thatcher came to public attention as a result of the administration of Edward Heath's decision to cut spending. She gave priority to academic needs in schools,[30] and imposed public expenditure cuts on the state education system, resulting in, against her private protests, the abolition of free milk for school-children aged seven to eleven.[31] She believed that few children would suffer if schools were charged for milk, however she agreed to give younger children a third of a pint, daily, for nutritional purposes.[31] This provoked a storm of protest from the Labour party and the press,[32] and led to the unflattering moniker "Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher".[31] Of the experience, Thatcher later wrote in her autobiography, "I learned a valuable lesson. I had incurred the maximum of political odium for the minimum of political benefit."[32]

She successfully resisted the introduction of library book charges. She did not volunteer spending cuts in her department, contrary to her later beliefs.[31] Her term was marked by support for several proposals for more local education authorities to close grammar schools and to adopt comprehensive secondary education. Thatcher was determined to preserve grammar schools, which prepared more students for admission to universities.[30] She abolished Labour's commitment to comprehensive schooling, and instead left the matter to local education authorities.[30]

Leader of the Opposition (1975–1979)

Margaret Thatcher elected as Leader of the Opposition on 18 September 1975.

The Heath government experienced many difficulties between 1970 and 1974.[3] The government executed a series of reversals in its economic policies, dubbed "U-turns".[3] The Conservatives were defeated in the February 1974 general election, and Thatcher's portfolio was changed to Shadow Environment Secretary.[12] In this position she promised to abolish the rating system that paid for local government services, which was a favoured policy proposal within the Conservative Party for many years.

Thatcher agreed that the Heath Government had lost control of monetary policy—and had lost direction. After her party lost the second election of 1974 in October, Thatcher, determined to change the direction of the Conservative party, challenged Heath for the Conservative party leadership.[33] She promised a fresh start, and her main support came from the Conservative 1922 Committee.[33] Unexpectedly, she defeated Heath on the first ballot, and he resigned the leadership.[34] On the second ballot, she defeated Heath's preferred successor, William Whitelaw, and became Conservative Party leader on 11 February 1975.[35] She appointed Whitelaw as her deputy. Heath remained disenchanted with Thatcher to the end of his life for what he, and many of his supporters, perceived as her disloyalty in standing against him.[36]

Thatcher appointed many of Heath's supporters to the Shadow Cabinet, for she had won the leadership as an outsider and then had little power base of her own within the party. Thatcher had to act cautiously to convert the Conservative Party to her monetarist beliefs. She reversed Heath's support for devolved government for Scotland.

On 19 January 1976, she made a speech in Kensington Town Hall in which she made a scathing attack on the Soviet Union. The most famous part of her speech ran:

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.[37]

In response, the Soviet Defence Ministry newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star) gave her the nickname "Iron Lady".[37] She took delight in the name and it soon became associated with her image as having an unwavering and steadfast character. She was later nicknamed "Attila the Hen" as well.[38]

The Labour Government was running into difficulties with industrial disputes and rising unemployment, and eventually collapsing public services during the winter of 1978–79, popularly dubbed the "Winter of Discontent". The Conservatives attacked the government's unemployment record, and used advertising hoardings with the slogan "Labour Isn't Working" to assist them.[39] In an interview in January 1978, Thatcher remarked, "people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture".[40] Critics regarded the comment as a veiled reference to people of colour, thus pandering to xenophobia and reactionary sentiment. She received 10,000 letters thanking her for raising the subject and the Conservatives gained a lead against Labour in the opinion polls; both parties were at 43% before Thatcher's interview, but the Conservatives took a 48% to 39% lead over Labour immediately after.[41]

In the run up to the 1979 General Election, most opinion polls showed that voters preferred James Callaghan of the Labour party as Prime Minister, even as the Conservative Party maintained a lead in the polls. After a successful motion of no confidence in spring 1979, Callaghan's Labour government fell. The Conservatives would go on to win a 44-seat majority in the House of Commons and Margaret Thatcher became the United Kingdom's first female Prime Minister.

Prime Minister (1979–1990)

Thatcher's Ministry meets with Reagan's Cabinet at the White House, 1981

Thatcher became Prime Minister on 4 May 1979, with a mandate to reverse the UK's economic decline and to reduce the role of the state in the economy.[42] Arriving at 10 Downing Street, she said, in a paraphrase of St. Francis of Assisi:

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.

Thatcher was incensed by one contemporary view within the Civil Service, that its job was to manage the UK's decline from the days of Empire, and she wanted the country to assert a higher level of influence and leadership in international affairs. She represented the newly energetic right wing of the Conservative Party and advocated greater independence of the individual from the state and less government intervention.[42] She became a very close ally, philosophically and politically, with President Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980 in the United States. During her tenure as Prime Minister she was said to need just four hours sleep a night.[43]

First government 1979–1983

New economic initiatives

Thatcher's political and economic philosophy emphasised reduced state intervention, free markets, and entrepreneurialism. She vowed to end what she felt was excessive government interference in the economy, and did this through privatizing nationally-owned enterprises selling public housing to tenants.[42] After the James Callaghan Government had concluded that the Keynesian approach to demand-side management failed, Thatcher felt that the economy was not self-righting and that new fiscal judgements had to be made to concentrate on inflation.[44] She began her economic reforms by increasing interest rates to slow the growth of the money supply and thus lower inflation.[45] In accordance with her less-government intervention views, she introduced budget cuts[46] and reduced expenditures on social services such as health care, education, and housing.[42] She also placed limits on the printing of money and legal restrictions on trade unions.[42]

At the time, some Conservatives expressed doubt over Thatcher's policies.[47] Civil unrest in Britain resulted in the British media discussing the need for a policy u-turn. At the 1980 Conservative Party conference, Thatcher addressed the issue directly, saying, "You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning!"[47]

Thatcher lowered direct taxes on income amid a recession in 1981, but, despite concerns expressed in a letter from 364 leading economists,[48] indirect taxes were increased.[46] In January 1982, the inflation rate had dropped to 8.6% from earlier highs of 18%, and interest rates fell. By 1983, overall economic growth was stronger and inflation and mortgage rates were at their lowest levels since 1970, though manufacturing output had dropped 30% from 1978 and unemployment reached a figure of 3.6 million.[49] The term "Thatcherism" came to refer to her policies as well as aspects of her ethical outlook and personal style, including moral absolutism, nationalism, interest in the individual, and an uncompromising approach to achieving political goals.[42]

Northern Ireland

In 1981, a number of Provisional IRA and Irish National Liberation Army prisoners in Northern Ireland's Maze Prison went on hunger strike to regain the status of political prisoners, which had been revoked five years earlier under the preceding Labour government.[50] Bobby Sands began the strike, saying that he would fast until death unless prison inmates won concessions over their living conditions.[50] Thatcher refused to countenance a return to political status for the prisoners, famously declaring "Crime is crime is crime; it is not political"[50] and felt that Britain should not negotiate with terrorists.[51] After nine more men had starved to death and the strike had ended, some rights were restored to paramilitary prisoners, but official recognition of political status was not granted.[52]

Later that year, Thatcher and Irish Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald established the Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Council, which would act as a forum for meetings between the two governments.[53] On 15 November 1985, Thatcher and FitzGerald signed the Hillsborough Anglo-Irish Agreement; the first time a British government gave the Republic of Ireland an advisory role in the governance of Northern Ireland.

The Falklands

Thatcher with close ally and friend, United States President Ronald Reagan, 1981

On 2 April 1982, a ruling military junta in Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, a British overseas territory that Argentina had claimed since an 1810s dispute on the British settlement.[54] The following day, Thatcher sent a naval task force to recapture the islands and eject the invaders.[54] The conflict escalated from there, evolving into an amphibious and ground combat operation.[54] Argentina surrendered on 14 June and the operation was deemed a success for the British, despite 258 British casualties. Victory brought a wave of patriotic enthusiasm and support for the Thatcher government.[46]

1983 Election

The lasting effect of the Falklands War, along with an economic recovery in early 1983, bolstered Thatcher's popularity.[46] The Labour party at this time was experiencing troubles as the party was split;[46] Labour had lost many of its best political leaders to the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party, which presented a new challenge.[55] Labour leader Michael Foot was generally regarded as unelectable,[56] while Conservatives viewed Margaret Thatcher as "their greatest electoral asset."[57] In the June 1983 general election, the Conservatives won 42.4% of the vote, the Labour party 27.6% and the Alliance 25.4% of the vote.[58] Although the Conservatives' share of the vote had fallen slightly (1.5%) since 1979, Labour's vote had fallen by far more (9.3%) and in Britain's first past the post system, the Conservatives won a landslide victory with a massive majority.[55] This resulted in the Conservative Party having an overall majority of 144 MPs.[58]

Second government 1983–1987

Economic developments

After the 1983 election, the Conservative majority expanded, Thatcher continued to enact her economic policies.[46] The UK government sold most of the large national utilities to private companies.[46] The policy of privatisation, while anathema to many on the Left, was a main component of Thatcherism.

Many people took advantage of share offers, although many sold their shares immediately for a quick profit and therefore the proportion of shares held by individuals rather than institutions did not increase. By the mid 1980s, the number of individual stockholders had tripled, and the UK government had sold 1.5 million publicly owned housing units to their tenants.[42] In 1985, as a deliberate snub, the University of Oxford voted to refuse Thatcher an honorary degree in protest against her cuts in funding for higher education.[59]

Trade unions

Thatcher was committed to reducing the power of the trades unions. Several unions launched strikes in response to legislation introduced to curb their power, but these actions eventually collapsed, and gradually Thatcher's reforms reduced the power and influence of the unions.[60] According to the BBC, Thatcher "managed to destroy the power of the trade unions for almost a generation."[61]

In 1984 the National Union of Mineworkers ordered a strike, without a national ballot,[62] in opposition to proposals to close a large number of mines and cut thousands of jobs.[46] Thatcher refused to meet the demands of the unions[42] and famously referred to the strike, saying, "We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty."[61] Violence was common during the year-long miners' strike; controversial police tactics were used on strikers.[61] Two miners, Dean Hancock and Russell Shankland, were convicted of the murder of a taxi driver and were sentenced to life imprisonment.[63] After a year of striking, in 1985, the NUM leadership conceded without a deal.[46] The Conservative government proceeded to close 25 pits in 1985; by 1992, a total of 97 pits had been closed[64] with the remaining being sold off and privatised in 1994.[65] These actions had great effect on the industrial and political complexion of Great Britain.[62] The closing of the mines resulted in a loss of jobs and thus an increase in unemployment.[64]

In another display of her views of less-government control, Thatcher broke up the state-owned British shipbuilders and privatised the companies.[66] Only few British shipyards survive today.[66]

Brighton bombing

Thatcher with US First Lady Nancy Reagan at 10 Downing Street, 1986

On the early morning of 12 October 1984, the day before her 59th birthday, Thatcher narrowly escaped injury at the Brighton hotel when her hotel was bombed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army.[67] Five people were killed in the attack, including the wife of Cabinet Minister John Wakeham; a prominent member of the Cabinet, Norman Tebbit, was injured, and his wife Margaret was left paralysed. Thatcher was staying at the hotel to attend the Conservative Party Conference, and insisted that the conference open on time the next day.[67] She delivered her speech as planned in defiance of the bombers,[68] a gesture which won widespread approval across the political spectrum, and measurably enhanced her personal popularity with the public.[69]

Cold War

Thatcher took office during the later period of what was known as the Cold War, a period of frosty relations primarily between the capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union. During her first year as prime minister, Mrs Thatcher supported NATO's decision to deploy US cruise and Pershing missiles in Western Europe.[60] She became very closely aligned with the policies of US President Ronald Reagan (1981–1989), and their closeness produced transatlantic cooperation.[60] His policy of deterrence against the Soviets contrasted with the policy of détente which the West had pursued during the 1970s, and caused friction with allies who still adhered to the idea of détente. Thatcher permitted US forces to station more than 160 nuclear cruise missiles at Greenham Common, arousing mass protests by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament; Thatcher took a hard line against the protestors.[60] She modernized the British naval fleet with Trident II nuclear submarines.[60]

On 19 December 1984, Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping of the People's Republic of China signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which committed Hong Kong to the status of a Special Administrative Region. Britain agreed to leave the region in 1997.[70] In April 1986, Thatcher permitted US military forces to utilize British Royal Air Force bases amid the US bombing of Libya.[46] In July 1986, Thatcher expressed her belief that economic sanctions against South Africa would be immoral because they would make thousands of black workers unemployed.[71]

Thatcher was among the first of Western leaders to respond warmly to reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. They met in London in 1984, three months before he became General Secretary. Thatcher declared that she liked him, and told Ronald Reagan, saying, "we can do business together."[60] Following the Reagan-Gorbachev summit meetings from 1985 to 1988, as well as multiple reforms enacted by Gorbachev in the USSR, Thatcher declared in November 1988, "We're not in a Cold War now" but rather in a "new relationship much wider than the Cold War ever was."[72] She continued, "I expect Mr Gorbachev to do everything he can to continue his reforms. We will support it."[72] Thatcher was initially opposed to German reunification, as she worried that a united Germany would align itself closer with the Soviet Union and move away from NATO.[73]

Her liking for defence ties with the United States was demonstrated in the Westland affair when she acted with colleagues to allow the helicopter manufacturer Westland, a vital defence contractor, to refuse to link with the Italian firm Agusta in order for it to link with the management's preferred option, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation of the United States. Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine, who had pushed the Agusta deal, resigned in protest after this, and remained an influential critic and potential leadership challenger. Thatcher's premiership outlasted the Cold War, which ended in 1989, and those who share her views on it credit her with a part in the West's victory, by both the deterrence and détente postures.

Other domestic issues

In 1986, in a controversial move, the Thatcher government abolished the Greater London Council, then led by the left-wing Ken Livingstone, as well as six Labour controlled metropolitan county councils.[74] The government stated that they ordered this to decrease bureaucracy and increase efficiency, and encouraged transferring power to local councils for increased electoral accountability.[74] Thatcher's opponents, however, held that the move was politically motivated, as the GLC had become a powerful centre of opposition to her government, and the county councils were in favour of higher local government taxes and public spending.

As Prime Minister, Thatcher met weekly with Queen Elizabeth II to discuss government business.[75] She was just six months older than the Queen, and their relationship was one of much scrutiny; though there was never any personal animosity between the two,[76] the consensus was that they did not get along overly well.[77] While they displayed public images that largely contrasted,[78] Tim Bell, a former Thatcher advisor, recalled, "Margaret has the deepest respect for the Queen and all her family".[79] She was said to greet the Queen with a curtsey every time they met.[79]

1987 Election

At the time of the 1987 general election, Labour leader Neil Kinnock presided over a party deeply divided on policy agendas.[80] Margaret Thatcher, in turn, led her party to victory, winning an unprecedented third term[81] with a 102 seat majority,[82] and became the longest continuously serving Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since Lord Liverpool (1812 to 1827), as well as the only Prime Minister of the 20th century to serve three terms.[46] She was elected riding on an economic boom against a weak Labour opposition. The Conservatives won 42.2% of the popular vote, while the Labour party won 30.8% and Alliance won 22.6 %.[82]

Third government 1987–1990

Environmental issues

Thatcher, the former chemist, became publicly concerned with environmental issues in the late 1980s. In 1988, she made a major speech communicating the problems of global warming, ozone depletion and acid rain.[83]

Continuation of economic changes

Thatcher introduced a new system for the government to raise revenue; she replaced local government taxes with a Community Charge or 'Poll tax', in which property tax rates were made uniform, in that the same amount was charged to every individual resident, and the residential property tax was replaced with a head tax whose rate would be established by local governments.[84] Thatcher's revolutionary system was introduced in Scotland in 1989 and in England and Wales the following year.[46]

The Thatchers with the Reagans standing at the North Portico of the White House prior to a state dinner, 16 November 1988

A sceptical British public was disenchanted with Thatcher's system[84] and it was to be among the most unpopular policies of her premiership. What the Thatcher government did not anticipate was that local councils would raise their total shares from the taxes.[84] As a result, the central Government capped rates that seemed out of line, resulting in charges of partisanship and the alienation of small-government Conservatives.[84] The Prime Minister's popularity declined in 1989 as she continued to refuse to compromise on the tax.[46] Unrest mounted and culminated in a number of riots, the most serious of which occurred at Trafalgar Square, London, on 31 March 1990; more than 100,000 protesters attended and more than 400 people were arrested.[85]


At Bruges, Belgium, in 1988, Thatcher made a speech in which she outlined her opposition to proposals from the European Community, a forerunner to the European Union, for a federal structure and increasing centralisation of decision-making.[86] Though she had supported British membership in the EC, Thatcher believed that the role of the organisation should be limited to ensuring free trade and effective competition, and feared that the EC approach to governing was at odds with her views of smaller government and deregulatory trends;[87] in 1988, she remarked, "We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level, with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels".[87] A split was emerging over European policy inside the British Government and her Conservative Party.[3]

On 30 November 1988, when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Britain's detention provisions were in breach of European law, the policy split extended to parliament with the presentation of a petition calling for a written British constitution. Thatcher reacted angrily to the ECHR ruling, and to the failure of Belgium and Ireland to extradite a suspected terrorist, Father Patrick Ryan, to face charges in Britain. She told the Commons: "We shall consider the judgment carefully and also the human rights of the victims and potential victims of terrorism."[88]

At a meeting before the Madrid European Community summit in June 1989, Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson and Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe sought to persuade Thatcher to agree to circumstances under which Great Britain would join the Exchange Rate Mechanism, a preparation for monetary union, and abolish the pound sterling as British currency. At the meeting, they both said they would resign if their demands were not met.[89] Thatcher, as well as her economic advisor Alan Walters, was opposed to this notion and felt that the pound sterling should be able to float freely,[90] and that membership would constrain the UK economy.[91] Both Lawson and Howe eventually resigned[90] and Thatcher remained firmly opposed to British membership in the European Monetary System.[91]

1989 Leadership election

Thatcher was challenged for the leadership of the Conservative Party by virtually unknown backbench MP Sir Anthony Meyer in the 1989 leadership election.[92] Of the 374 Conservative MPs eligible to vote, 314 voted for Thatcher while 33 voted for Meyer; there were 27 abstentions.[92] Thatcher noted, "I would like to say how very pleased I am with this result and how very pleased I am to have had the overwhelming support of my colleagues in the House and the people from the party in the country", while Meyer said he was delighted as well: "The total result I think is rather better than I had expected".[92] Her supporters in the Party viewed the results as a success, and rejected suggestions that there was discontent within the Party.[92]

Gulf War

Thatcher reviews Bermudian troops, 12 April 1990

Thatcher was visiting the United States when she received word that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had invaded neighbouring Kuwait.[93] She met with US President George H. W. Bush, who had succeeded Ronald Reagan in 1989, during which Bush asked her, "Margaret, what is your view?" She recalled in an interview that she felt "that aggressors must be stopped, not only stopped, but they must be thrown out. An aggressor cannot gain from his aggression. He must be thrown out and really, by that time in my mind, I thought we ought to throw him out so decisively that he could never think of doing it again."[93] She put pressure on Bush to deploy troops to the Middle East to drive the Iraqi army out of Kuwait.[94] Bush was somewhat apprehensive about the plan, so Thatcher remarked to him during a telephone conversation, "This was no time to go wobbly!"[95] Thatcher's government provided military forces to the international coalition in the Gulf War to pursue the ouster of Iraq from Kuwait.[96]

Fall from power

By 1990, opposition to Thatcher's policies on local government taxation (the poll tax),[97] and the divisions opening in the Conservative Party over European integration[46] made her seem increasingly politically vulnerable and her party increasingly divided.

Her combative personality and willingness to override colleagues' opinions contributed to the discontent.[98] On 1 November 1990, Geoffrey Howe, once one of Thatcher's staunchest supporters, resigned from his position as Deputy Prime Minister in protest of Thatcher's European policy.[99] His resignation speech in the House of Commons on 13 November led to the beginning of Mrs Thatcher's fall from power.[99]

Thatcher's former cabinet colleague Michael Heseltine subsequently challenged her for the leadership of the party, and attracted sufficient support in the first round of voting to prolong the contest to a second ballot.[3] Though she initially stated that she intended to contest the second ballot,[3] she consulted with her Cabinet and decided to withdraw from the contest.[1] Thatcher said that pressure from her colleagues helped her to conclude that the unity of the Conservative Party and the prospect of victory in the next general election would be more likely if she resigned.[100] On 22 November, at 09.34, the 65 year old Prime Minister announced to the Cabinet that she would not be a candidate in the second ballot.[98] A statement was soon released from 10 Downing Street:

"The Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Margaret Thatcher, F.R.S., has informed the Queen that she does not intend to contest the second ballot of the election for leadership of the Conservative Party and intends to resign as Prime Minister as soon as a new leader of the Conservative Party has been elected... Having consulted widely among my colleagues, I have concluded that the unity of the Party and the prospects of victory in a General Election would be better served if I stood down to enable Cabinet colleagues to enter the ballot for the leadership. I should like to thank all those in Cabinet and outside who have given me such dedicated support."[98]

The British public was stunned.[98] Thatcher went to Buckingham Palace to inform the Queen of her decision.[98] She later arrived at the House of Commons to a debate; Neil Kinnock, Leader of the Opposition, proposed a motion of no confidence in the government, and Thatcher displayed her combativeness.[98] She said:

"Eleven years ago we rescued Britain from the parlous state to which socialism had brought it. Once again Britain stands tall in the councils of Europe and of the world. Over the last decade, we have given power back to the people on an unprecedented scale. We have given back control to people over their own lives and over their livelihoods, over the decisions that matter most to them and their families. We have done it by curbing the monopoly power of trade unions to control, even victimize the individual worker."[98]

Later career

Mrs Thatcher retained her parliamentary seat in the House of Commons as MP for Finchley for two years despite returning to the backbenches after leaving the premiership. She supported John Major as her successor and he duly won the leadership contest, although in the years to come her approval of Major would fall away.[101] She occasionally spoke in the House of Commons after she was Prime Minister, commenting and campaigning on issues regarding her beliefs and concerns.[46] In 1991, she was given a five minute, unprecedented standing ovation at the party's annual conference.[102] She retired from the House at the 1992 election, at the age of 66 years; she said that leaving the Commons would allow her more freedom to speak her mind.[103]

After Parliament

Margaret Thatcher became a peer in House of Lords in 1992 by the bestowal of a life peerage as Baroness Thatcher, of Kesteven in the County of Lincolnshire.[103][104] Thatcher had already been honoured by the Queen in 1990, shortly after her resignation as Prime Minister, when awarded the Order of Merit, one of the UK's highest distinctions and in the personal conferment of the sovereign.[105] At the same time it was announced that her husband, Denis, would be given a baronetcy, which was confirmed in 1991[105][106] (ensuring that their son, Mark, would inherit a title). In 1995, Baroness Thatcher was appointed a Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter, the United Kingdom's highest order of Chivalry.[107]

After leaving the House of Commons, Thatcher remained active in politics. She authored her memoirs in two volumes: The Path to Power and The Downing Street Years, the former released in 1995 and the latter two years prior. She later published a third book, Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World, detailing her thoughts on international relations since her resignation in 1990. The chapters on the European Union were particularly controversial; she called for a fundamental renegotiation of Britain's membership to preserve the UK's sovereignty and, if that failed, for Britain to leave and join NAFTA.

In August 1992 Thatcher called for NATO to stop the Serbian assault on Goražde and Sarajevo in order to end ethnic cleansing and to preserve the Bosnian state. She described the situation in Bosnia as "reminiscent of the worst excesses of the Nazis," warning that there could be a "holocaust" in Bosnia and described the conflict as a "killing field the like of which I thought we would never see in Europe again."[108] She made a series of speeches in the Lords criticising the Maastricht Treaty,[103] describing it as "a treaty too far" and stated "I could never have signed this treaty".[109] She cited A. V. Dicey, to the effect that, since all three main parties were in favour of revisiting the treaty, the people should have their say.[110]

Thatcher at the funeral of Ronald Reagan, June 2004
Thatcher (right) with Mikhail Gorbachev (left) and Brian Mulroney (centre) at the funeral service of Ronald Reagan, June 2004

From 1993 to 2000, Lady Thatcher served as Chancellor of the College of William and Mary in Virginia, which, established by Royal Charter in 1693, is the sole royal foundation in the contiguous United States. She was also Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, the UK's only private university.

After Tony Blair's election as Labour Party leader in 1994, Thatcher gave an interview in May 1995 in which she praised Blair as "probably the most formidable Labour leader since Hugh Gaitskell. I see a lot of socialism behind their front bench, but not in Mr Blair. I think he genuinely has moved."[111]

Lady Thatcher visited former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet, once a key British ally during the 1982 Falklands War, while he was under house arrest in Surrey in 1998. Pinochet was fighting extradition to Spain for alleged human rights abuses committed during his tenure.[112] Thatcher expressed her support and friendship for Pinochet,[112] thanking him for his support in 1982 and for "bringing democracy to Chile."[112]

In 1999, during Thatcher's first speech to a Conservative Party conference in nine years, she contended that Britain's problems came from continental Europe.[113] Her comments aroused some criticism from Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a former Foreign Secretary under Sir John Major, who said that Lady Thatcher's comments could give the impression that Britain is prejudiced against Europe.[113]

In the 2001 general election, Lady Thatcher supported the Conservative general election campaign but this time did not endorse Iain Duncan Smith in public as she had done previously for John Major and William Hague. In the Conservative leadership election shortly after, she supported Iain Duncan Smith because she believed he would "make infinitely the better leader" than Kenneth Clarke.[114]

Activities since 2003

Thatcher attends the official Washington, D.C. memorial service marking the 5th anniversary of the 11 September attacks, pictured with Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne Cheney.
Thatcher talks with then-US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace, 12 September 2006

Thatcher was widowed upon the death of Sir Denis Thatcher on 26 June 2003. A funeral service was held honouring him at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea on 3 July with Thatcher present, as well as her children Mark and Carol.[115] Thatcher paid tribute to him by saying, "Being Prime Minister is a lonely job. In a sense, it ought to be—you cannot lead from a crowd. But with Denis there I was never alone. What a man. What a husband. What a friend".[116]

The following year, on 11 June, Thatcher travelled to the United States to attend the state funeral service for former US President Ronald Reagan and one of her closest friends at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.[117] Thatcher delivered a eulogy via videotape to Reagan; in view of her failing mental faculties following several small strokes, the message had been pre-recorded several months earlier.[118] Thatcher then flew to California with the Reagan entourage, and attended the memorial service and interment ceremony for President Reagan at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.[119]

Thatcher marked her 80th birthday with a celebration at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hyde Park on 13 October 2005, where the guests included the Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Alexandra and Tony Blair.[120] There, Geoffrey Howe, now Lord Howe of Aberavon, said of his former boss, "Her real triumph was to have transformed not just one party but two, so that when Labour did eventually return, the great bulk of Thatcherism was accepted as irreversible."[121]

In 2006, Thatcher attended the official Washington, D.C. memorial service to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States. She attended as a guest of the US Vice President, Dick Cheney, and met with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her visit.[122] On 12 November, she appeared at the Remembrance Day parade at the Cenotaph in London, leaning heavily on the arm of Sir John Major. On 10 December she announced she was "deeply saddened" by the death of Augusto Pinochet.[123]

In February 2007, she became the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to be honoured with a statue in the Houses of Parliament while still living. The statue is made of bronze and stands opposite her political hero and predecessor, Sir Winston Churchill.[124] The statue was unveiled on 21 February 2007 with Lady Thatcher in attendance; she made a rare and brief speech in the members' lobby of the House of Commons, reposting, "I might have preferred iron — but bronze will do... It won't rust."[124][125] The statue shows her as if she were addressing the House of Commons, with her right arm outstretched. Thatcher said she was thrilled with it.[126]

On 13 September 2007, Thatcher was invited to 10 Downing Street to have tea with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife, Sarah. Brown referred to Lady Thatcher as a "conviction politician" and said of himself, "I'm a conviction politician just like her."[127] William Hague attacked this decision, saying to Brown, "You may fawn now at the feet of our greatest prime minister – but you are no Margaret Thatcher. Margaret Thatcher would never have devastated the pension funds of this nation, nor kicked its small businesses in the teeth. We, Gordon, backed her when she rescued our country in the face of every denunciation and insult from the likes of you.[128] Brown's spokesman insisted that the meeting was "not unusual", that it was customary for Prime Ministers to invite their predecessors to tea and that Mr Brown would be "happy" to meet any former Prime Minister.[129]

On 30 January 2008, Thatcher met incumbent Tory Leader David Cameron at an awards ceremony at London's Guildhall where she was presented with a 'Lifetime Achievement Award'.[130]

Health concerns

Thatcher suffered several small strokes in 2002 and she was advised by her doctors not to engage in any more public speaking.[131] As a result of the strokes, her short term memory began to falter.[132] Her former press spokesman Sir Bernard Ingham said in early 2007, "She's now got no short-term memory left, which is absolutely tragic."[133]

Thatcher was admitted to St Thomas' Hospital, Central London on 7 March 2008, for tests after collapsing at a House of Lords dinner.[132] She was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where she spent one night.[132] The incident was probably caused by her low blood pressure and stuffy conditions within the dining hall.[132][134]

On 24 August 2008 it was publicly disclosed that Thatcher has been suffering from dementia. Her daughter Carol described in her 2008 memoir, A Swim-on Part in the Goldfish Bowl, first observing in 2000 that Thatcher was becoming forgetful.[135] The condition later became more noticeable; at times, Thatcher thought that her husband Denis, who died in 2003, was still living.[136] Carol Thatcher recalls that her mother's memories of the time she spent as Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990 remain among her sharpest.[135]


Thatcher is well remembered for her famed remarks to the reporter Douglas Keay, for Woman's Own magazine, 23 September 1987:

I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand "I have a problem, it is the Government's job to cope with it!" or "I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!" "I am homeless, the Government must house me!" and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations...[137]

To her supporters, Margaret Thatcher remains a revolutionary figure who revitalized Britain's economy, impacted the trade unions, and re-established the nation as a world power.[138] She contributed greatly to the end of the Cold War and the fall of communism.[138] But Thatcher was also a controversial figure, in that her premiership was also marked by high unemployment and social unrest.[138] Many critics fault her economic policies for the unemployment level.[139]

The Labour Party has incorporated much of the economic, social and political tenets of Thatcherism.[140] Thatcher's program of privatising state-owned enterprises has not been reversed.[141] Indeed, successive Tory and Labour governments have further curtailed the involvement of the state in the economy and have further dismantled public ownership.[140]

After her resignation in 1990, a MORI poll found that 52% of Britons agreed that "On balance she had been good for the country", while 48% disagreed, thinking she had not.[142] In April 2008, the London Daily Telegraph commissioned a poll asking who Britons regard as the greatest post-World War II prime minister; Thatcher came in first, receiving 34% of the vote, while Winston Churchill ranked second with 15%.[143] Thatcher has been the subject of a number of television programs, documentaries, films and plays; among the most notable depictions of her are Patricia Hodge in The Falklands Play (1986) and Lindsay Duncan in Margaret (2009). She was also the inspiration for a number of protest songs.[144][145][146][147][148]


In addition to her conventional appointment as a Member of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council (PC) upon becoming Secretary of State for Education and Science in 1970[149] she has received numerous honours as a result of her career, including being named a Lady of the Most Noble Order of the Garter (LG). She is a Member of the Order of Merit (OM) as well as a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) and the first woman entitled to full membership rights as an honorary member of the Carlton Club, a gentlemen's club.

In 1999 Thatcher was among 18 included in Gallup's List of Widely Admired People of the 20th century, from a poll conducted of Americans. In a 2006 list compiled by New Statesman, she was voted 5th in the list of "Heroes of our time".[150] She was also named a "Hero of Freedom" by the libertarian magazine Reason.[151]

US President George Bush awards Thatcher the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1991

In the Falkland Islands, Margaret Thatcher Day is celebrated as a public holiday every 10 January, commemorating her visit on this date in 1983, seven months after the military victory;[152][153] the decision was taken by the Falklands Islands legislature in 1992.[154] Thatcher Drive in Stanley, the site of government, is also named for her. In South Georgia, Thatcher Peninsula, where the Task Force troops first set foot on Falklands soil, also bears her name.[155][156]

Upon her death, it has been suggested that Lady Thatcher be granted the rare honour of a state funeral.[157] However, this has proved controversial,[158] and the government has stated that they are undecided on the issue.[159]

Thatcher has also been awarded numerous honours from foreign countries. In 1990, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour awarded by the United States. She was also given the Republican Senatorial Medal of Freedom, Ronald Reagan Freedom Award, and named a patron of the Heritage Foundation.[160] She was also awarded the Grand Order of King Dmitar Zvonimir, the highest state order of the Republic of Croatia.

The arms of Margaret Thatcher. The admiral represents the Falklands War, the image of Sir Isaac Newton her background as a chemist and her birth town Grantham.


Styles and titles Baroness Thatcher has held from birth, in chronological order:

  • Miss Margaret Roberts (13 October 1925 – 13 December 1951)
  • Mrs Denis Thatcher (13 December 1951 – 8 October 1959)
  • Mrs Denis Thatcher, MP (8 October 1959 – 22 June 1970)
  • The Rt Hon. Margaret Thatcher, MP, PC (22 June 1970 – 7 December 1990)
  • The Rt Hon. Margaret Thatcher, OM, MP, PC (7 December 1990 – 4 February 1991)
  • The Rt Hon. Lady Thatcher, OM, MP, PC (4 February 1991 – 16 March 1992)
  • The Rt Hon. Lady Thatcher, OM, PC (16 March 1992 – 26 June 1992)
  • The Rt Hon. The Baroness Thatcher, OM, PC (26 June 1992 – 22 April 1995)
  • The Rt Hon. The Baroness Thatcher, LG, OM, PC (since 22 April 1995)


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  • Wapshott, Nicholas (2007). Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: A Political Marriage. Sentinel. ISBN 1595230475. 
  • Wheeler, Tony (2004). The Falklands and South Georgia Island. Lonely Planet. ISBN 1740596439. 
  • Young, Hugo (1986). The Thatcher Phenomenon. BBC. ISBN 0-563-20472-9. 
  • Young, Hugo (1989). One of Us: Life of Margaret Thatcher. Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-34439-1. 
  • Young, Hugo (1989). The Iron Lady: A Biography of Margaret Thatcher. Farrar Straus & Giroux. ISBN 0-374-22651-2. 
  • The image at the beginning of this article was provided by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation.

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Political offices
Preceded by
Patricia Hornsby-Smith
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Pensions
1961 – 1964
with Richard Sharples (1961–1962)
Lynch Maydon (1962–1964)
Succeeded by
Harold Davies
Norman Pentland
Preceded by
Edward Short
Secretary of State for Education and Science
1970 – 1974
Succeeded by
Reginald Prentice
Preceded by
Edward Heath
Leader of the Opposition
1975 – 1979
Succeeded by
James Callaghan
Preceded by
James Callaghan
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
4 May 1979 – 28 November 1990
Succeeded by
John Major
Preceded by
Ronald Reagan
United States
Chair of the G8
Succeeded by
Helmut Kohl
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Crowder
Member of Parliament for Finchley
Succeeded by
Hartley Booth
Party political offices
Preceded by
Edward Heath
Leader of the British Conservative Party
1975 – 1990
Succeeded by
John Major
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Edward Heath
Oldest UK Prime Minister still living
17 July 2005 – present
Preceded by
Bob Hope
Recipient of The Ronald Reagan Freedom Award
Succeeded by
Billy Graham
Academic offices
Preceded by
Warren E. Burger
Chancellor of The College of William & Mary
Succeeded by
Henry Kissinger

NAME Thatcher, Margaret Hilda, Baroness Thatcher
ALTERNATIVE NAMES Roberts, Margaret Hilda
SHORT DESCRIPTION Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1979–1990)
DATE OF BIRTH 13 October 1925
PLACE OF BIRTH Grantham, England

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