Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Roberts, the daughter of a grocer, Alfred Roberts, was born in Grantham, Lincolnshire, on 13th October, 1925. She was educated at the Kesteven & Grantham Girls' School, and at 17 she won a place to study chemistry at Somerville College, where she was tutored by the future Nobel prizewinner Dorothy Hodgkin.

After graduating in 1947 from Oxford University she worked as a research chemist. A member of the Conservative Party, Thatcher was adopted as the parliamentary candidate for Dartford. In the 1950 General Election she argued: "We are going into one of the biggest battles this country has ever known - a battle between two ways of life, one which leads inevitably to slavery and the other to freedom. Our opponents like to try and make you believe that Conservatism is a privilege of the few. But Conservatism conserves all that is great and best in our national heritage. What is one of the first tenets of Conservatism? It is that of national unity. We say one nation, not one class against another. You cannot build a great nation or a brotherhood of man by spreading envy or hatred."

On 13th December, 1951 she married Denis Thatcher, a successful businessman. In 1953, their twins, Mark and Carol, were born. She was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1954 and was elected to represent the safe-seat of Finchley in October 1959. Two years later she joined the government of Harold Macmillan as joint parliamentary secretary for Pensions and National Insurance.

The Conservative Party was defeated in the 1964 General Election and Harold Wilson became the new prime minister. Edward Heath, the new leader of the Conservatives, appointed her as Opposition Spokesman on Pensions and National Insurance. She later held opposition posts on Housing (October 1965), Treasury (April 1966), Fuel and Power (October 1967), Transport (November, 1968) and Education (October, 1969).

Following the Conservative victory in the 1970 General Election, Thatcher became Secretary of State for Education and Science. In October 1970 she created great controversy by bringing an end to free school milk for children over seven and increasing school meal charges. However, she did allow the previous government's plan to establish the Open University to go ahead. She explained in her autobiography, The Path to Power (1995): "I thought that it was an inexpensive way of giving wider access to higher education, because I thought that trainee teachers in particular would benefit from it, because I was alert to the opportunities offered by technology to bring the best teaching to schoolchildren and students, and above all because it gave people a second chance in life. In any case, the university was due to take its first students that autumn, and cancellation would have been both expensive and a blow to many hopes. On condition that I agreed to reduce the immediate intake of students and find other savings, my Cabinet colleagues allowed the Open University to go ahead."

Edward Heath, the prime minister, came into conflict with the trade unions over his attempts to impose a prices and incomes policy. His attempts to legislate against unofficial strikes led to industrial disputes. In 1973 a miners' work-to-rule led to regular power cuts and the imposition of a three day week. Heath called a general election in 1974 on the issue of "who rules". He failed to get a majority and Harold Wilson and the Labour Party were returned to power.

In January 1975 Thatcher challenged Edward Heath for the leadership of the Conservative Party. She explained: "I felt sorry for Ted Heath personally. He had his music and a small circle of friends, but politics was his life.... Nonetheless, I had no doubt that Ted now ought to go. He had lost three elections out of four. He himself could not change and he was too defensive of his own past record to see that a fundamental change of policies was needed." On 4th February Thatcher defeated Heath by 130 votes to 119 and became the first woman leader of a major political party. Heath took the defeat badly and refused to serve in Thatcher's shadow cabinet.

Her election was welcomed by The Daily Telegraph: "What kind of leadership Mrs Thatcher will provide remains to be seen. But one thing is clear enough at this stage. Mrs Thatcher is a bonny fighter. She believes in the ethic of hard work and big rewards for success. She has risen from humble origins by effort and ability and courage. She owes nothing to inherited wealth or privilege. She ought not to suffer, therefore, from that fatal and characteristic twentieth-century Tory defect of guilt about wealth. All too often this has meant that the Tories have felt themselves to be at a moral disadvantage in the defence of capitalism against socialism. This is one reason why Britain has travelled so far down the collectivist road. What Mrs Thatcher ought to be able to offer is the missing moral dimension to the Tory attack on socialism. If she does so, her accession to the leadership could mark a sea-change in the whole character of the party political debate in this country."

James Callaghan replaced Harold Wilson as prime minister on 16th March 1976. Thatcher gradually adopted a more right-wing political programme placing considerable emphasis on the market economy. In January 1978 she was condemned for making a speech where she claimed that people feared being "swamped" by immigrants.

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In 1978 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey, controversially began imposing tight monetary controls. This included deep cuts in public spending on education and health. Critics claimed that this laid the foundations of what became known as monetarism. In 1978 these public spending cuts led to a wave of strikes (winter of discontent) and the Labour Party was easily defeated in the 1979 General Election.

Thatcher now became the first woman in Britain to become prime minister. Thatcher's government continued the monetarist policies introduced by Denis Healey. As Anne Perkins has pointed out: "Although monetarism had already been forced upon the preceding Labour government by the International Monetary Fund, under Thatcher it was presented as a crusade... In the first budget of the administration, VAT was nearly doubled to 15% while personal taxes were slashed – the top rate of income tax from 83% to 60%, and the standard rate from 33% to 30%. Over the next 10 years, the standard rate came down to 25%, and the top rate to 40%."

Inflation was reduced but unemployment doubled between 1979 and 1980. In 1981, Sir Geoffrey Howe, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced further public spending cuts. Larry Elliott has argued: "To her detractors, Thatcher is the prime minister who wiped out more than 15% of Britain's industrial base with her dogmatic monetarism, squandered the once-in-a-lifetime windfall of North Sea oil on unemployment pay and tax cuts, and made the UK the unbalanced, unequal country it is today." During this period public opinion polls suggested that Thatcher was the most unpopular prime minister in British history.

Thatcher's government also raised money by a programme of privatization. This included the denationalization of British Telecom, British Airways, Rolls Royce and British Steel. The political commentator, Anne Perkins, has suggested: "Privatisation, which came to be a fundamental of the Thatcherite mission, was only hinted at in 1979, and in the depression of the early 1980s caution prevailed. When the ailing nationalised motor manufacturer British Leyland ran into trouble in early 1980, Joseph, then Thatcher's industry minister, bailed it out like a Heathite. Nonetheless, in 1980-81 more than £400m was raised from selling shares in companies such as Ferranti and Cable and Wireless. Later came North Sea oil (Britoil) and British Ports, and from late 1984 the major sales of British Telecom, British Gas and British Airways, culminating at the end of the decade in water and electricity. By this time these sales were raising more than £5bn a year."

On 2nd April 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. The following day the United Nations passed resolution 502 demanding that Argentina withdrew from the Falklands. On 5th April the British Navy left Portsmouth for the Falklands. Britain declared a 200 mile exclusion zone around the Falklands and on 2nd May 1982 the Argentinean battleship General Belgrano was sunk. Two days later HMS Sheffield was hit by an exocet missile.

British troops landed on the Falkland Islands at San Carlos on 21st May. Fighting continued until Port Stanley was captured and Argentina surrendered on 14th June 1982. Thatcher's personal popularity was greatly boosted by the successful outcome of the war and the Conservative Party won the 1983 General Election with a majority of 144.

Thatcher gave support to any right-wing military dictatorship that kept the left from power. This included figures such as Augusto Pinochet. Thatcher also refused to criticise Apartheid in South Africa and described Nelson Mandela as a "terrorist". Michael White pointed out this was a sign that she had underestimated the changes that were taking place in the world: "A further sign of Thatcher losing her grip came when, as a frequent defender of the apartheid regime in South Africa, she dismissed Nelson Mandela as a 'terrorist' not long before he emerged from prison to become the hero of the peaceful transition to majority rule."

Thatcher developed a close relationship with President Ronald Reagan. They both agreed to take a firm stance with the Soviet Union. This resulted in her being dubbed the Iron Lady. However, Thatcher was furious in November 1983 when the United States invaded the British dependency of Grenada without prior consultation.

Thatcher's government continued its policy of reducing the power of the trade unions. Sympathy strikes and the closed shop was banned. Union leaders had to ballot members on strike action and unions were responsible for the actions of its members. The government took a firm stand against industrial disputes and the miners' strike that began in 1984 lasted for 12 months without success. This was followed by mass closures of mines and ultimately privatisation.

As Seumas Milne has pointed out: "The 1984-5 strike, the decisive social and economic confrontation of Britain's postwar era, is how we got where we are today. A generation on, it is now even clearer than it was at the time why the year-long struggle over the country's energy supply took place, and what interests were really at stake... It was about using the battering ram of state power to break the single greatest obstacle to the transformation of the economy in the interests of corporate privilege and wealth that Margaret Thatcher was determined to carry out. The offensive ushered in the full-blown neoliberal model that has failed to deliver for the majority, generated inequality and insecurity on a huge scale, and imploded with such disastrous consequences five-and-a-half years ago. For the miners, the strike was a defensive battle for jobs and communities. But it also raised the alternative of a different kind of Britain, rooted in solidarity and collective action. The crippling of the country's most powerful union opened the way for the systematic deregulation of the labour market – and the zero-hours contracts, falling real wages, payday loans and food banks we are living with today."

Hugo Young has argued: "I think by far her greatest virtue, in retrospect, is how little she cared if people liked her. She wanted to win, but did not put much faith in the quick smile.... This is a style whose absence is much missed. It accounted for a large part of the mark Thatcher left on Britain. Her unforgettable presence, but also her policy achievements. Mobilising society, by rule of law, against the trade union bosses was undoubtedly an achievement. For the most part, it has not been undone. Selling public housing to the tenants who occupied it was another, on top of the denationalisation of industries and utilities once thought to be ineluctably and for ever in the hands of the state. Neither shift of ownership and power would have happened without a leader prepared to take risks with her life. Each now seems banal. In the prime Thatcher years they required a severity of will to carry through that would now, if called on, be wrapped in so many cycles of deluding spin as to persuade us it hadn't really happened."

Others were much more critical of Margaret Thatcher. Andy McSmith has suggested: "This outsider's mentality made her admired - worshipped, almost - by members of the Conservative Party and its core supporters.... But to a very large minority of Britons - if not the majority - she was an increasingly unappealing embodiment of unfeeling middle-class self-righteousness. While it was her hostility to her fellow Europeans that most damaged her relations with senior Cabinet colleagues, what turned the public against her was the apparent glee with which she rode roughshod over sections of society, such as the miners and the unemployed."

At the funeral of Konstantin Chernenko on 13th March 1985, Thatcher met the new leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Thatcher's views on the Soviet Union changed after Gorbachev announced his new policy of Perestroika (Restructuring). This heralded a series of liberalizing economic, political and cultural reforms which had the aim of making the Soviet economy more efficient. Gorbachev also introduced policies with the intention of establishing a market economy by encouraging the private ownership of Soviet industry and agriculture.

At a meeting on 13th November 1985, Thatcher rejected the idea of entering the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. However, the following month she attended the Luxembourg European Council and during the meeting Thatcher agreed to sign the Single European Act. In April 1986 Thatcher was widely criticized for giving permission for US bombers to take off from Britain to bomb Libya following a series of Libyan inspired terrorist attacks.

Thatcher was returned to power for a third time when she won the 1987 General Election with a majority of 102 seats. The following year she became Britain's longest serving prime minister for over a hundred years. However, her popularity was severely damaged when the Community Charge (Poll Tax) was introduced in Scotland in April 1989 (the rest of Britain was to follow a year later). The new tax was extremely unpopular and led to public demonstrations.

In 1989 Anthony Gilberthorpe, a party activist, sent Margaret Thatcher a 40-page dossier accusing government ministers of being part of Tory paedophile ring. He claimed that in 1983 was given money to recruit young boys for sex parties. Gilberthorpe claims he named Keith Joseph, Rhodes Boyson, Peter Morrison, Michael Havers and at least one MP still serving today. He told the Mail on Sunday: “I outlined exactly what I had witnessed and informed her I intended to expose it.... I made it very clear to Mrs Thatcher most trusted ministers had been at these parties with boys who were between 15 and 16.... I also told her of the amount of illegal drugs like cocaine that were consumed."

Thatcher passed the dossier onto William Hague who invited Gilberthorpe to a meeting in a private room in the House of Lords tearoom. Gilberthorpe said: “I have no idea why William Hague was chosen to deal with my allegations... He introduced a high ranking civil servant who was also there." The civil servant then said "What you’ve said is extremely libelous and slanderous. This meeting is finished". Gilberthorpe added that “Mr Hague hardly said anything. I was ushered out and that was that. I was angry. I thought I’d hit a brick wall and there seemed no other place to go.”

In November 1990 Thatcher was challenged as leader of the Conservative Party. She won the first round of the contest but the majority is not enough to prevent a second round. On 28th November, 1990, Margaret Thatcher resigned as prime minister and was replaced by John Major. The Daily Telegraph, who supported her throughout her premiership commented: "Margaret Thatcher was the only British prime minister to leave behind a set of ideas about the role of the state which other leaders and nations strove to copy and apply. Monetarism, privatisation, deregulation, small government, lower taxes and free trade - all these features of the modern globalised economy were crucially promoted as a result of the policy prescriptions she employed to reverse Britain’s economic decline."

Thatcher left the House of Commons in March 1992. Soon afterwards she entered the House of Lords as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven.

Margaret Thatcher died at the Ritz Hotel in London on 8th April 2013.

The command economy required in wartime conditions had habituated many people to an essentially socialist mentality. Within the Armed Forces it was common knowledge that left-wing intellectuals had exerted a powerful influence through the Army Education Corps, which as Nigel Birch observed was "the only regiment with a general election among its battle honours". At home, broadcasters like J.B. Priestley gave a comfortable yet idealistic gloss to social progress in a left-wing direction. It is also true that Conservatives, with Churchill in the lead, were so preoccupied with the urgent imperatives of war that much domestic policy, and in particular the drawing-up of the agenda for peace, fell largely to the socialists in the Coalition Government. Churchill himself would have liked to continue the National Government at least until Japan had been beaten and, in the light of the fast-growing threat from the Soviet Union, perhaps beyond then. But the Labour Party had other thoughts and understandably wished to come into its own collectivist inheritance.

In I945 therefore, we Conservatives found ourselves confronting two serious and, as it turned out, insuperable problems. First, the Labour Party had us fighting on their ground and were always able to outbid us. Churchill had been talking about post-war "reconstruction" for some two years, and as part of that programme Rab Butler's Education Act was on the Statute Book. Further, our manifesto committed us to the so-called 'full employment' policy of the 1944 Employment White Paper, a massive house-building programme, most of the proposals for National Insurance benefits made by the great Liberal social reformer Lord Beveridge and a comprehensive National Health Service. Moreover, we were not able effectively to take the credit (so far as this was in any case appropriate to the Conservative Party) for victory, let alone to castigate Labour for its irresponsibility and extremism, because Attlee and his colleagues had worked cheek by jowl with the Conservatives in government since 1940. In any event, the war effort had involved the whole population.

I vividly remember sitting in the student common room in Somerville listening to Churchill's famous (or notorious) election broadcast to the effect that socialism would require "some sort of Gestapo" to enforce it, and thinking, "He's gone too far." However logically unassailable the connection between socialism and coercion was, in our present circumstances the line would not be credible. I knew from political argument on similar lines at an election meeting in Oxford what the riposte would be: "Who's run the country when Mr Churchill's been away? Mr Attlee." And such, I found, was the reaction now.

We are going into one of the biggest battles this country has ever known - a battle between two ways of life, one which leads inevitably to slavery and the other to freedom. You cannot build a great nation or a brotherhood of man by spreading envy or hatred.

Our policy is not built on envy or hatred, but on liberty for the individual man or woman. It is not our policy to suppress success: our policy is to encourage it and encourage energy and initiative. In 1940 it was not the cry of nationalization that made this country rise up and fight totalitarianism. It was the cry for freedom and liberty.

Reggie Maudling was thought to have the better chance. Although his performance as Chancellor of the Exchequer had incurred serious and in some ways justified criticism, there was no doubting Reggie's experience, brilliant intellect and command of the House. His main weakness, which grew more evident in later years, was a certain laziness - something which is a frequent temptation to those who know that they are naturally and effortlessly cleverer than those around them.

Ted had a very different character. He too had a very well organized mind. He was methodical, forceful and, at least on the one question which mattered to him above all others - Europe - a man of unyielding determination. As Shadow Chancellor he had the opportunity to demonstrate his capabilities in attacking the 1965 Finance Bill, which in those days was taken on the floor of the House. Ted was regarded as being somewhat to the right of Reggie (Maudling), but they were both essentially centrists in Party terms. Something could be made of the different approaches they took to Europe, with Reggie regarding EFTA more favourably and Ted convinced that membership of the EEC was essential. But their attitudes to specific policies hardly affected the question of which to support.

I was hailed in a modest way as the saviour of the Open University. In Opposition both lain Macleod and Edward Boyle, who thought that there were educational priorities more deserving of Government help, had committed themselves in public against it. And although its abolition was not in the manifesto, many people expected it to perish. But I was genuinely attracted to the concept of a "University of the Airwaves", as it was often called, because I thought that it was an inexpensive way of giving wider access to higher education, because I thought that trainee teachers in particular would benefit from it, because I was alert to the opportunities offered by technology to bring the best teaching to schoolchildren and students, and above all because it gave people a second chance in life. On condition that I agreed to reduce the immediate intake of students and find other savings, my Cabinet colleagues allowed the Open University to go ahead.

I felt sorry for Ted Heath personally. He had his music and a small circle of friends, but politics was his life. That year, moreover, he had suffered a series of personal blows. His yacht, Morning Cloud, had sunk and his godson had been among those lost. The election defeat was a further blow.

Nonetheless, I had no doubt that Ted now ought to go. He himself could not change and he was too defensive of his own past record to see that a fundamental change of policies was needed.

I arranged to see Ted on Monday 25 November. He was at his desk in his room at the House. I need not have worried about hurting his feelings. I went in and said: 'I must tell you that I have decided to stand for the leadership.' He looked at me coldly, turned his back, shrugged his shoulders and said: "If you must." I slipped out of the room.

I was attacked (as Education Secretary) for fighting a rear-guard action in defence of "middle-class interests". The same accusation is levelled at me now, when I am leading Conservative opposition to the socialist Capital Transfer Tax proposals. Well, if "middle-class values" include the encouragement of variety and individual choice, the provision of fair incentives and rewards for skill and hard work, the maintenance of effective barriers against the excessive power of the state and a belief in the wide distribution of individual private property, then they are certainly what I am trying to defend ... If a Tory does not believe that private property is one of the main bulwarks of individual freedom, then he had better become a socialist and have done with it. Indeed one of the reasons for our electoral failure is that people believe too many Conservatives have become socialists already. Britain's progress towards socialism has been an alternation of two steps forward with half a step back. And why should anyone support a party that seems to have the courage of no convictions?

What kind of leadership Mrs Thatcher will provide remains to be seen. If she does so, her accession to the leadership could mark a sea-change in the whole character of the party political debate in this country.

Mrs Thatcher is a confident and, I would say, a self-confident woman, the gentle charm and feminine facade disguising a rather tough and pragmatic politician. His nickname the 'Iron Lady' is very apt. I told Mrs Thatcher: "I know you are a person of staunch beliefs, someone who adheres to certain principles and values. This commands respect. But please consider that next to you is a person of your own ilk. And I can assure you that I am not under instructions from the Politburo to persuade you to join the Communist Party."

After that statement she burst into a hearty laugh, and the stiff, polite and somewhat acerbic conversation flowed naturally into more interesting talk, which continued after lunch. The subject turned to disarmament problems. We started by using our prepared notes, but eventually I put mine aside while Mrs Thatcher stuffed hers into her handbag. I unfolded a large diagram representing all nuclear arsenals, grouped into a thousand little squares.

"Each of these squares," I told Mrs Thatcher, "suffices to eradicate all life on earth. Consequently, the available nuclear arsenals have a capacity to wipe out all life a thousand times."

Her reaction was very eloquent and emotional. I believe she was quite sincere. Anyway, this conversation was a turning point towards a major political dialogue between our countries.

I think by far her greatest virtue, in retrospect, is how little she cared if people liked her. She wanted to win, but did not put much faith in the quick smile. She needed followers, as long as they went in her frequently unpopular directions. This is a political style, an aesthetic even, that has disappeared from view. The machinery of modern political management – polls, consulting, focus groups – is deployed mainly to discover what will make a party and politician better liked, or worse, disliked. Though the Thatcher years could also be called the Saatchi years, reaching a new level of presentational sophistication in the annals of British politics, they weren't about getting the leader liked. Respected, viewed with awe, a conviction politician, but if liking came into it, that was an accident.

This is a style whose absence is much missed. In the prime Thatcher years they required a severity of will to carry through that would now, if called on, be wrapped in so many cycles of deluding spin as to persuade us it hadn't really happened.

These developments set a benchmark. They married the personality and belief to action. Britain was battered out of the somnolent conservatism, across a wide front of economic policies and priorities, that had held back progress and, arguably, prosperity. This is what we mean by the Thatcher revolution, imposing on Britain, for better or for worse, some of the liberalisation that the major continental economies know, 20 years later, they still need. I think on balance, it was for the better, and so, plainly did Thatcher's chief successor, Tony Blair. If a leader's record is to be measured by the willingness of the other side to decide it cannot turn back the clock, then Thatcher bulks big in history.

But this didn't come without a price. Still plumbing for the essence, we have to examine other bits of residue. Much of any leader's record is unremarkable dross, and Thatcher was no exception. But keeping the show on the road is what all of them must first attend to, because there's nobody else to do it. Under this heading, Thatcher left a dark legacy that, like her successes, has still not disappeared behind the historical horizon. Three aspects of it never completely leave my head.

The first is what changed in the temper of Britain and the British. What happened at the hands of this woman's indifference to sentiment and good sense in the early 1980s brought unnecessary calamity to the lives of several million people who lost their jobs. It led to riots that nobody needed. More insidiously, it fathered a mood of tolerated harshness. Materialistic individualism was blessed as a virtue, the driver of national success. Everything was justified as long as it made money – and this, too, is still with us.

Thatcherism failed to destroy the welfare state. The lady was too shrewd to try that, and barely succeeded in reducing the share of the national income taken by the public sector. But the sense of community evaporated. There turned out to be no such thing as society, at least in the sense we used to understand it. Whether pushing each other off the road, barging past social rivals, beating up rival soccer fans, or idolising wealth as the only measure of virtue, Brits became more unpleasant to be with. This regrettable transformation was blessed by a leader who probably did not know it was happening because she didn't care if it happened or not. But it did, and the consequences seem impossible to reverse.

Second, it's now easier to see the scale of the setback she inflicted on Britain's idea of its own future. Nations need to know the big picture of where they belong and, coinciding with the Thatcher appearance at the top, clarity had apparently broken through the clouds of historic ambivalence.

She was also lucky in her opponents. The miners' leader, Arthur Scargill, was a vain and often foolish strategist. So was General Leopoldo Galtieri, the Argentinian president who launched his Falklands invasion in the winter.

Jacques Delors, the fierce French socialist whom she came to see as embodying the ambitions of Brussels – "the Belgian empire" in Thatcher-speak – to destroy British sovereignty, was also a good whipping boy.

Most important was her good luck with events in domestic politics, whichhelped Thatcher, deeply unpopular as recession and inflation worsened in 1981, survive early challenges. Michael Foot succeeded the wily Callaghan as Labour leader, triggering the breakaway from Labour of the "Gang of Four" who formed the SDP. Its leader, Roy Jenkins, won the Hillhead byelection promising to "break the mould'' of British politics, just days before the Falklands crisis broke it in quite a different fashion.

Thatcher emerged from the recapture of Port Stanley and the 1983 election with a majority of 144, Labour almost beaten into third place in the popular vote but well ahead of the SDP-Liberal alliance in seats. Neil Kinnock succeeded Foot and began the long modernisation that culminated in Tony Blair's three victories of 1997-2005.

But Kinnock was never comfortable dealing with an aggressive older woman and lacked both her experience and her command of detail. Thatcher held him at bay, crucially so when he failed to land the killer blow that might have ended her premiership in the 1986 Commons debate over Westland. That followed Michael Heseltine's resignation as defence secretary over the fate of a Yeovil-based helicopter company: should it be merged into Europe or US partnership? Thatcher was mixed up in leaks and skulduggery, but escaped, damaged but still in charge...

All the while, Thatcher's nemesis was creeping up on her in the shape of the poll tax. The "community charge" represented her ambitious plan to replace unpopular household rates with a headcount tax that even council tenants would pay: it would dampen their enthusiasm for services paid for by others, she reasoned.

Ideologues, by now firmly in the ascendant, encouraged her to pilot the scheme in Scotland, which had stubbornly resisted both her analysis and English nationalist tone, then to introduce it in one fell swoop south of the border.

More unpopular even than water privatisation, the poll tax prompted riots in Trafalgar Square. There had been riots before in Brixton and Liverpool, triggered by unemployment and deprivation in the early 80s, but the rioters now were expressing doubts shared by mainstream voters.

A further sign of Thatcher losing her grip came when, as a frequent defender of the apartheid regime in South Africa, she dismissed Nelson Mandela as a "terrorist'' not long before he emerged from prison to become the hero of the peaceful transition to majority rule.

Reversing Britain's long-term economic decline. That was the daunting task Margaret Thatcher set herself when she arrived in Downing Street in May 1979 at the end of a traumatic decade that had seen a three-day week, inflation topping 25%, a bailout from the International Monetary Fund and the winter of discontent.

She gave it her best shot. The last remnants of the postwar consensus were swept away in the ensuing decade – a period that saw the crushing of the trade unions, the Big Bang in the City, council house sales, the privatisation of large chunks of industry, the encouragement of inward investment, tax cuts, attempts to roll back the state, a deep manufacturing recession, a boom in North Sea oil production, and support for the creation of a single market in Europe.

As far as her supporters are concerned, this radical transformation worked. Britain ceased to be the sick man of Europe and entered the 1990s with its reputation enhanced. The economy had become more productive, more competitive and more profitable. Deep-seated and long overdue reforms of the 1980s paved the way for the long 16-year boom between 1992 and 2008.

To her detractors, Thatcher is the prime minister who wiped out more than 15% of Britain's industrial base with her dogmatic monetarism, squandered the once-in-a-lifetime windfall of North Sea oil on unemployment pay and tax cuts, and made the UK the unbalanced, unequal country it is today.

The truth lies somewhere between these extremes. Thatcher came to power when the economy was approaching a moment of truth after three decades of poor performance relative to other western countries. Had Jim Callaghan won the 1979 election, he too would have faced the challenge of how to modernise an economy beset by high inflation, weak management and poor industrial relations.

Indeed, many of the policy innovations associated with Thatcher had already been pioneered by her predecessor. Full employment had been ditched in 1976, while Labour had introduced monetary targets and cash limits for Whitehall departments while Denis Healey was at the Treasury.

Nor, contrary to myth, did Thatcherism emerge fully formed in May 1979. Privatisation did not feature in the Conservative election campaign, while the tougher approach to trade union reform had only really become evident since the winter of discontent, and even then was a gradual process.

That said, by the mid-1980s it was clear that the Conservative government's economic policy was based on a handful of core principles. Firstly, control of inflation rather than the pursuit of full employment was the centrepiece of macro economic strategy. The government's job was to keep inflation low, not to boost growth through demand management.

Secondly, the balance of power in industrial relations was shifted decisively in favour of employers. Three separate pieces of legislation between 1980 and 1984 attacked the closed shop, toughened up the laws on picketing and imposed secret strike ballots. Symbolically, the key moment was the defeat of the miners after the year-long pit strike in March 1985.

Thirdly, industrial policy was all but abandoned. The state retained control of some nationalised industries – the railways, for example – but BT, British Airways, British Steel, British Gas and the British Airports Authority were among the big companies sold off. Thatcher did not believe in "picking winners"; instead she preferred to rely on market forces to ensure the survival of the fittest. To the extent that there was an industrial strategy, it was to sell Britain as a destination for Japanese car companies and to shift the focus of the economy away from manufacturing towards financial services.

Fourthly, policy was aimed at those who, according to the prime minister, wanted to get on in life. There were big tax cuts for those on the highest incomes, driven by the belief that this would encourage entrepreneurship. But there were also cuts for basic-rate taxpayers: the 1988 budget, for example, cut the top rate of tax from 60% to 40% and the standard rate from 27% to 25%. Council house sales and advertising campaigns that encouraged the public to buy shares in privatised companies were meant to broaden the appeal of capitalism.

Narrowly judged, the Thatcher economic revolution was a success. Britain's relative decline came to an end, although that was more due to slowdowns in countries such as France and Germany than an acceleration in UK productivity growth. The number of days lost through strikes tumbled. Nissan's arrival in the north-east showed that Britain was no longer the west's industrial pariah.

On the other hand, growth has been depressed because weak trade unions can no longer ensure wage increases keep pace with inflation. The government's welfare bill has been swollen by tax credits and housing benefit caused by the labour market reforms and council house sales of the 1980s. Britain's record on innovation and investment have been extremely poor, while the hollowing out of manufacturing left the economy over-dependent on the de-regulated City. Oil helped Thatcher paper over the cracks, but Britain's age-old problem – finding a way to pay its way in the world – remains. The last time the UK ran a trade surplus was the year of the Falklands war.

Even more than the government’s trade union reforms, victory in this strike finally broke the back of militant trade unionism and established Britain’s reputation as a safe place in which to invest. Margaret Thatcher’s own steely resolve was again demonstrated by her conduct in the wake of the IRA bomb attack on the 1984 Brighton party conference: hours after the outrage she appeared on the platform to declare: “All attempts to destroy democracy will fail.”

Soon, though, her own position, and indeed her own integrity, were questioned as a result of the upheavals resulting from intra-Cabinet warfare surrounding the future of the Westland helicopter company. The loss of two Cabinet Ministers - Michael Heseltine and Leon Brittan — and doubts about the veracity of Mrs Thatcher’s own accounts of events constituted a blow which many imagined that she would not survive.

The anti-Americanism upon which Heseltine had drawn in his campaign over Westland was also fuelled by widespread political opposition to Britain’s support for America’s raids on Libya in the spring of 1986. Thatcher had needed much persuading by the Reagan administration that the action was required (the raids would be carried out by American F-111s based in the UK). Indeed, Thatcher’s support for Reagan throughout their partnership was never unqualified: she had, for example, disapproved of American policy in Lebanon, and had sharply disagreed with Reagan’s invasion of Grenada. But in public she now robustly defended her old friend’s decision. Although unpopular ar home, her loyalty to the United States at this juncture secured her a unique standing in Washington for as long as Reagan was President.

In fact, from about this time the Prime Minister’s position began to improve domestically as well. The economy was growing; meanwhile, Neil Kinnock was proving an erratic and unconvincing Leader of the Opposition. Above all, by her “discovery” of the future Soviet Leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, with whom she formed a close personal empathy and political friendship, Mrs Thatcher had ensured for herself a unique position on the world stage. Gorbachev, she had claimed in December 1984, was someone with whom the West could “do business”, and her other political friend, Reagan, was prepared to take her word for it. In March 1987 Thatcher made a triumphant five-day tour of the USSR.

That June’s general election was not, however, Thatcher’s finest hour. She was often tetchy (partly the result of toothache) and she became involved in a dispute about private health insurance at the expense of other, less prickly, issues. Some of the radical reforms in the manifesto turned out to have been insufficiently refined. This led to a disagreement with Kenneth Baker, the Education Secretary, over the details of the new Grant Maintained (GM) Schools. It would also later lead to the disaster of the community charge or poll tax - devised as an ambitious replacement for local authority rates. But the Conservatives and Thatcher were, for the present, untouchable. The party was returned with a healthy majority of 102.

There has been no other leader quite like Margaret Thatcher in post-war Britain. No other post-war Prime Minister has been so admired, or so reviled. She was the first woman to lead a major political party in Britain, the longest-serving Prime Minister of the 20th century, and almost the only Prime Minister whose name is synonymous with an ideology. "Thatcherism" remained in political diction when the holder of that name was an elderly frail, lonely widow.

She was never much loved, though she would have liked to have been. She believed that she had a direct line to the British people, or at least the section of it from which she sprang: the hardworking, law-abiding, self-denying lower middle class. Although she dominated her party and the government machine, her self-image was of an outsider battling with an inert establishment. Evening visitors to the flat above Downing Street would sometimes find her and her husband, Denis, watching the news, and grumbling about the state of the nation, wanting something done.

This outsider's mentality made her admired - worshipped, almost - by members of the Conservative Party and its core supporters. Others felt grudging respect for her immense willpower. Even the satirists who thrived during the Thatcher years unwittingly enhanced the very reputation that they were mocking. One famous Spitting Image sketch showed Thatcher settling down to dinner with a collection of half-witted Cabinet ministers. Approached by the waiter, she ordered raw steak. "And what about the vegetables?" she is asked, to which she replied: "They'll have the same." Jokes such as this only reinforced her image as a strong leader. She was also lucky in the choice of enemies that fate threw in her path - the Kremlin, Argentina's General Galtieri, and the miners' leader, Arthur Scargill, all unwittingly helped her from success to success.

But to a very large minority of Britons - if not the majority - she was an increasingly unappealing embodiment of unfeeling middle-class self-righteousness. While it was her hostility to her fellow Europeans that most damaged her relations with senior Cabinet colleagues, what turned the public against her was the apparent glee with which she rode roughshod over sections of society, such as the miners and the unemployed.

For then United States president Ronald Reagan and his assistant secretary of state, Chester Crocker, combating communism was paramount. Underpinning "constructive engagement" was the conviction that, when it came to a choice between apartheid and democracy, the devil they knew was preferable. Thatcher reached the same conclusion from a different angle, perhaps because her South African roots ran deeper. Her curmudgeonly husband, Denis, had an uncle who was a Durban businessperson, a factor the prompted his extensive South African investments.

In 1972 they sent their son, Mark, to Johannesburg for a year's work experience, and two years later they went on a tour of the country. One of their hosts was Botha, who pronounced himself highly impressed with Mrs Thatcher. There is no record of the Thatchers expressing moral misgivings about the apartheid they witnessed, but how much of this blinkered response was a product of racism?

Bob Carr, Australia's foreign minister, said he was astonished by Thatcher's racial outbursts when she visited in the 1990s. He said she warned him against Asian immigration, saying: "You'll end up like Fiji, where the Indian migrants have taken over."

Back in the 1970s, her views on South Africa were being moulded by the racist attitudes of her friend Laurens van der Post. In addition to being a Jungian mystic, a teller of tall tales about himself and a man who fathered a child with a 14-year-old, he believed in innate racial characteristics. Mandela's Xhosas were treacherous; Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Zulus were noble savages. Thatcher therefore did her best to champion the latter's cause.

It is said in her favour that although she might have lacked moral repugnance for apartheid she opposed it because it represented a barrier to a free market. This was also her argument for so resolutely opposing sanctions and disinvestment. Even when Britain was forced to follow the minimalist Commonwealth sanctions programme, she stressed that she had warded off a more stringent stance.

In 1984, Thatcher became the first British prime minister in 23 years to host an apartheid head of state. Three years later, she declared: "The ANC is a typical terrorist organisation." Her stance fostered a toxic ethos within her party. Thatcher's most loyal Cabinet colleague, Norman Tebbit, called Mandela a "terrorist". South Africa hosted regular apartheid-sponsored visits from Tory MPs, and Young Conservative leaders wore "Hang Nelson Mandela" badges.

As a rule, the most effective trade unionists have to die before the mainstream media and politicians will say anything decent about them. That's certainly what has happened to the rail and seafarers' leader Bob Crow.

Instead of the industrial dinosaur, political throwback and strike-happy hypocrite demonised for more than a decade, it now turns out that Crow was in fact a modern and effective workplace champion. The scourge of the London commuter didn't just drive up rail workers' living standards, we are told, but fought successfully for low-paid contract cleaners into the bargain.

Part of that is about not speaking ill of someone cut off in their prime, of course. But it also reflects establishment awareness of the chord that an authentic workers' leader strikes with a public living the reality of the race to the bottom in pay and conditions – and a public life purged of working-class figures and populated by plastic political and corporate professionals.

As it happened, Crow died on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the start of the miners' strike. It is doubtful that even death will win Arthur Scargill the national treasure treatment currently being given to Crow, given the scale of his vilification and the extent of the challenge he represented to political and economic power from the 1970s to the 1990s.

But the 1984-5 strike, the decisive social and economic confrontation of Britain's postwar era, is how we got where we are today. A generation on, it is now even clearer than it was at the time why the year-long struggle over the country's energy supply took place, and what interests were really at stake.

The Thatcher government's war on the miners – her chancellor Nigel Lawson described preparations for the strike as "like re-arming to face the threat of Hitler" – wasn't just about class revenge for the Tories' humiliating defeats at the hands of the miners in the early 1970s. The offensive ushered in the full-blown neoliberal model that has failed to deliver for the majority, generated inequality and insecurity on a huge scale, and imploded with such disastrous consequences five-and-a-half years ago.

For the miners, the strike was a defensive battle for jobs and communities. The crippling of the country's most powerful union opened the way for the systematic deregulation of the labour market – and the zero-hours contracts, falling real wages, payday loans and food banks we are living with today.

Every couple of years, evidence emerges to underline the unparalleled nature of the state onslaught and ruthless rule-breaking to overcome resistance in the mining communities, bought at a cost of £37bn in today's prices.

In January, newly released cabinet papers confirmed that, just as Scargill had warned at the time, there was indeed a secret hit list to close 75 collieries with the loss of 75,000 jobs when the strike began. Thatcher lied about it and planned to send thousands of troops into the coalfields, as her government faced imminent defeat.

In media and establishment mythology, of course, it was the insurrectionary incompetence of the miners' leadership that led to the breakneck destruction of the mining communities, rather than the government that ordered it. That is abject nonsense.

There was simply no option of a gentle rundown of the industry in 1984, with or without a national ballot, as the treatment of pits that worked during the strike demonstrated. The only choice was between the certainty of mass closures and the chance of halting the assault.


Past Prime Ministers

13 October 1925, Grantham, Lincolnshire

Dates in office

Political party

Major acts

Housing Act 1980: gave security of tenure, and the right to buy homes, to tenants of local authorities and other bodies.

Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the 'Iron Lady', was the first female British Prime Minister and the longest serving PM for over 150 years.

Margaret Thatcher’s father, a shopkeeper and Mayor of Grantham, was a major influence in her childhood. She was educated at the local grammar school and studied Chemistry at Oxford University, where she became president of the university Conservative association.

Thatcher read for the Bar before being elected as the Conservative MP for Finchley in 1959. She held junior posts before becoming Shadow Spokesperson for Education, and entered the Cabinet as Education Secretary in 1970.

In Opposition she stood against Edward Heath for the party leadership in 1975 and won. Her victory was considered a surprise by many. In 1979, the Conservative Party won the General Election and Thatcher became PM, taking over from James Callaghan.

Her first 2 years in office were not easy - unemployment was very high, but the economy gradually showed improvement. She brought more of her supporters into the Cabinet, and added to her reputation by leading the country to war against Argentina in the Falkland Islands.

The Conservatives went on to win the 1983 election by an overwhelming majority, helped by a divided opposition. Her government followed a radical programme of privatisation and deregulation, reform of the trade unions, tax cuts and the introduction of market mechanisms into health and education. The aim was to reduce the role of government and increase individual self-reliance.

She also became a familiar figure internationally, creating a famous friendship with US President Reagan and gaining the praise of Soviet leader Gorbachev.

One great difficulty during her time in office was the issue of Europe. Her long-serving Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe resigned in November 1990 in protest at her attitude to Europe. His resignation speech brought about events which were to lead to her exit from 10 Downing Street later that month.

Michael Heseltine challenged her for the leadership, and while he failed to win, he gained 152 votes – enough to make it evident that a crucial minority favoured a change. Thatcher was eventually persuaded not to go forward to the second ballot, which was won by her Chancellor of the Exchequer, John Major.

She left the House of Commons in 1992, and was appointed a life peerage in the House of Lords in the same year, receiving the title of Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven.

In 1995 she was appointed as Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter, the highest order of Chivalry in the UK.

Her writings include 2 volumes of memoirs: The Downing Street Years and The Path to Power.

Thatcher died on 8 April 2013 at The Ritz Hotel in London, after suffering a stroke. She received a ceremonial funeral including full military honours, with a church service at St Paul’s Cathedral.


Contents

Thatcher suffered several small strokes in 2002 and was advised by her doctors not to engage in any more public speaking. [1] On 23 March she announced the cancellation of her planned speaking engagements and that she would accept no more. [2] Despite her illness she pre-recorded a eulogy for the funeral of Ronald Reagan in June 2004, and attended her 80th birthday celebration in 2005 with the Queen and 650 other guests in attendance. [3] However, her health continued to decline she was briefly hospitalised in 2008 after feeling unwell during a dinner, and again after falling and fracturing her arm in 2009. In June 2009, her daughter Carol spoke to the press of her mother's struggle with dementia. [4] [5]

Thatcher died at 11:28 BST (10:28 UTC) on 8 April 2013, [6] at the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly after suffering a stroke. [7] [8] She had been staying in a suite there since December 2012, after having difficulty using the stairs at her house in Chester Square. [9] She had been invited to stay at the Ritz by its owners David and Frederick Barclay, who were long-time supporters. [10] Lord Bell, Thatcher's spokesman, confirmed her death to the Press Association, who issued the first wire report to newsrooms at 12:47 BST (11:47 UTC). The Union Flag was flown at half-mast at Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, Parliament and other palaces, [11] and flowers were laid outside her home. [12]

Planning Edit

Planning for the funeral began in 2009. The committee was originally chaired by Sir Malcolm Ross, former Master of the Royal Household. Following the 2010 general election that brought the coalition government into power, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude was made the new chairman of the committee the codename given to the plans was changed to True Blue from Iron Bridge to give it "a more Conservative feel". [13] [14]

Details of Thatcher's funeral had been agreed with her in advance. [15] She had chosen the hymns, among them Charles Wesley's "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling", which reflected her Methodist upbringing. [16] She also stipulated that the prime minister of the day would read a lesson from the Bible. [17]

Thatcher had previously vetoed a state funeral reasons included cost, parliamentary deliberation, [18] and that it suggested similar stature to Winston Churchill (with which she disagreed). [19] Instead, with her and her family's agreement, she received a ceremonial funeral, [20] including military honours, [21] a guard of honour, and a service at St Paul's Cathedral, London. The arrangements were similar to those for Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 2002 and for Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997, except with greater military honours as she had been a former head of government. Thatcher's body was cremated after the funeral, in accordance with her wishes. [22]

Some of Thatcher's supporters expressed disappointment that she would not be given a full state funeral. [18] However, Peter Oborne in The Daily Telegraph argued that the scale of the ceremony amounted to a de facto state funeral and disagreed with the status of a ceremonial funeral. Oborne contended that the Queen's attendance might be seen as "partisan" since she had not attended Labour prime minister Clement Attlee's funeral. [14]

The scale and the cost to the taxpayer of the funeral, inaccurately estimated before the event at up to £10 million in total, was also criticised by public figures including the Bishop of Grantham, Tim Ellis Lord Prescott and George Galloway. [23] [24] [25] Thatcher's family agreed to meet part of the cost of the funeral, unspecified but thought to cover transport, flowers and the cremation. The government would fund the remaining costs, including security. [26] After the event, it was reported by 10 Downing Street that in fact the total public spending on the funeral was £3.6 million, of which £3.1 million (86 per cent) had been the costs of police and security. [27]

Anticipating possible protests and demonstrations along the route, police mounted one of the largest security operations since the 2012 Summer Olympics. [28] [29] Against the backdrop of the bombings at the Boston Marathon two days earlier, it was announced that over 4,000 police officers would be deployed. [30] In the event, the crowds were peaceful, with supporters drowning out most of the scattered protests with cheers and applause. [31] : 10.02 am, 10.32 am, 10.40 am, 10.45 am [32] A few hundred people turned up to protest at Ludgate Circus, some shouting and others turning their backs, with other protesters picketing along the route. [33]

Day of the funeral and aftermath Edit

Flags along Whitehall were lowered to half-mast at 08:00, [31] and as a rare mark of respect the chimes of the Palace of Westminster's Great Clock, including Big Ben, were silenced from 09:45 for the duration of the funeral. [34] At the Tower of London, a 105 mm gun fired every 60 seconds during the procession. [31] : 10.43 am Muffled bells tolled at St Margaret's Church at Westminster Abbey, [31] : 10.02 am and at St Paul's.

The funeral cortège commenced at the Houses of Parliament, where Thatcher's coffin had lain overnight in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft beneath St Stephen's Hall at the Palace of Westminster. [35] The funeral procession was as follows:

  • From the Palace of Westminster, a motor hearse travelled down Whitehall, across Trafalgar Square and down the Strand and Aldwych
  • At St Clement Danes, the central church of the RAF, at the eastern end of the Strand the coffin was transferred to a gun carriage drawn by the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery
  • The cortège continued along Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill before it arrived at St Paul's Cathedral [31][36]
  • At St Paul's, the coffin was carried into the Cathedral by members of the Armed Forces and borne down the nave preceded by her grandchildren, Michael and Amanda, who carried cushions bearing Thatcher's insignia of the Order of the Garter and the Order of Merit.

The bidding (introductory words) was given by the Dean of St Paul's, David Ison. Amanda Thatcher gave the first Bible reading the second reading was given by the prime minister, David Cameron. [37] The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, also gave an address. [38]

It was expected that there would be about 2,300 mourners within St Paul's for the funeral. Invitations were decided by the Thatcher family and their representatives, together with the government and the Conservative Party. The guest list included her family and friends former colleagues, including former British Cabinet members and personal staff who worked closely with her. Invitations were also sent to representatives of some 200 countries, and to all five living presidents of the United States [39] and all four living British prime ministers. Two current heads of state, 11 serving prime ministers, and 17 serving foreign ministers were present. [40]

The Queen, Elizabeth II, led mourners at the funeral. [41] It marked only the second time in the Queen's reign that she attended the funeral of one of her prime ministers, the only other time was for that of Churchill in 1965. [42] Her presence at the funeral was interpreted by some as having elevated "the status [of the funeral] to that of state funeral in all but name". [42] The Queen and her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, were led in and out of the cathedral by the Lord Mayor of London, Roger Gifford, bearing the Mourning Sword. The sword had last been used at Churchill's funeral. [43]

Following the church service, the coffin was taken by motor hearse from St Paul's to Mortlake Crematorium, where Denis Thatcher had been cremated nearly a decade before. The cremation service was only attended by the immediate family. On 28 September 2013, a private and unpublicised service for Thatcher was held in the All Saints Chapel of the Royal Hospital Chelsea's Margaret Thatcher Infirmary. Afterwards, Thatcher's ashes were interred in the hospital's grounds, next to those of her husband. [44] [45]

Family Edit

On 10 April, two days following Thatcher's death, her son Mark spoke of his mother's death on the steps of her Chester Square home. He told a gathering of journalists that his family was "proud and equally grateful" that her funeral service would be attended by the Queen, whose presence he said his mother would be "greatly honoured as well as humbled by". He expressed gratitude for all the messages of support and condolences from far and wide. [46] Three days later on 13 April her daughter Carol thanked US president Barack Obama and others for their tributes and all those who had sent messages of sympathy and support. [47]

Domestic Edit

Political reaction Edit

A Buckingham Palace spokesman reported the Queen's sadness on hearing the news of her death and that she would be sending a private message to the family. [48]

Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader David Cameron cut short a visit to Spain and ordered flags to be flown at half-mast. He issued a statement lamenting Britain's loss of "a great prime minister, a great leader, a great Briton". [49] [50] The deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, eulogised Thatcher as having defined modern British politics and that, while she may have "divided opinion" during her time, there would be scant disagreement about "the strength of her personality and the radicalism of her politics". [48]

Leader of the Opposition and Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said that she would be remembered for having "reshaped the politics of a whole generation [and moving] the centre ground of British politics" and for her stature in the world. He said that, although the Labour Party had disagreed with much of what she did, "we can disagree and also greatly respect her political achievements and her personal strength". [48]

Sir John Major, her successor as prime minister, credited Thatcher's leadership with turning Britain around in large measure: "Her reforms of the economy, trades union law, and her recovery of the Falkland Islands elevated her above normal politics." [48] Former Labour prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown said that even those who disagreed with her would admire her strength of character, her convictions, her view of Britain's place in the world and her contribution to British national life. [51]

Scottish first minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond acknowledged that "Margaret Thatcher was a truly formidable prime minister whose policies defined a political generation". [52] Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, while expressing sympathy to her family, criticised her policies' effects on Wales. [53]

Former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas voiced regret that, although Thatcher was the first female prime minister, "she did little for women either inside or outside the House of Commons". [54] UKIP leader Nigel Farage expressed his sympathy in a tweet, paying homage to "a great patriotic lady". [55]

Wider reaction Edit

The House of Commons was recalled in order to hold a special session discussing Thatcher's legacy. [56] While current and former cabinet ministers struck a conciliatory tone in their speeches, some in the Labour Party attacked Thatcher's legacy. [26] [57] [58] Over half of all Labour MPs chose to boycott the tribute to Thatcher, [59] with many saying it would have been hypocritical for them to honour her as their constituents continued to suffer from some of the decisions she made. [60] [54] Former MP Tony Benn, former London mayor Ken Livingstone and Paul Kenny, general-secretary of the GMB trade union, stated that her policies were divisive and her legacy involved "the destruction of communities, the elevation of personal greed over social values and legitimising the exploitation of the weak by the strong", [61] however Benn did acknowledge some of her personal qualities. [62]

Many reactions were unsympathetic, [63] particularly from her former opponents. [64] [65] [66] Residents in Orgreave, South Yorkshire, site of the Battle of Orgreave between striking coal miners and police in June 1984, declared that their village had been "decimated by Thatcher". [67] The Associated Press quoted a number of miners as responding to her death simply with "good riddance". [68] Chris Kitchen, general-secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, stated that miners would "not be shedding a tear for her". [69] A mock funeral was held in the pit village of Goldthorpe in South Yorkshire, in which an effigy of Thatcher was burned alongside the word "scab" spelled out in flowers. [70]

Spontaneous street parties were held by some across Britain, comparable to the enthusiasm shown for the assassination of sitting prime minister Spencer Perceval in 1812 [71] celebrations of her death took place in Glasgow, Brixton, Liverpool, Bristol, Leeds, Belfast, Cardiff and elsewhere [72] [73] [74] [75] [76] Glasgow City Council advised citizens to stay away from street parties organised without their involvement or consent out of safety concerns. [77] [78] A larger demonstration with around 3,000 protesters took place at Trafalgar Square in London on 13 April. [79] [80] [81] [82] Graffiti was posted calling for her to "rot in hell". [58] [83] [84] Left-wing film director Ken Loach suggested privatising her funeral and tendering it for the cheapest bid. [85] The Daily Telegraph website closed comments on all articles related to her death due to spamming by online trolls. [86]

The issue of whether to fly the flag at half-mast for her funeral caused controversy for some councils where local feelings remained hostile. The government's national flag protocol dictates that union flags should be lowered to half mast on the funeral days of all former prime ministers [87] however most Scottish councils did not lower the flag for the funeral. [88] Councils in England that refused to lower the flag included Barnsley, Sheffield and Wakefield in Yorkshire, [89] as well as Coventry in the West Midlands. [90]

Whilst business leaders, including Alan Sugar, Richard Branson, Archie Norman and CBI chief John Cridland, credited her for creating a climate favourable to business in Britain, and lifting the UK "out of the economic relegation zone", [91] [92] the Premier League and the Football League rejected having a minute's silence around the country's football grounds, a move backed by the Football Supporters' Federation and the Hillsborough Family Support Group, the latter in reaction to her perceived lack of interest in uncovering abuse committed by the police during the 1989 disaster. [93] However, Saracens and Exeter Chiefs held a minute's silence for her before their Premiership rugby union games. [94]

International politics Edit

Along with the eulogies and expressions of condolence, there were less than sympathetic reactions in Argentina, due to her role in the Falklands War, [96] and in South Africa, given her support for constructive engagement with apartheid South Africa. [97] [98]

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, described Thatcher as "a great model as the first woman Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who not only demonstrated her leadership but has given such great hope for many women for equality, gender equality in Parliament". [99] The message from Pope Francis "recalls with appreciation the Christian values which underpinned her commitment to public service and to the promotion of freedom among the family of nations". [100]

US president Obama lamented the loss of "a true friend". His statement praised her as "an unapologetic supporter of our transatlantic alliance, she knew that with strength and resolve we could win the Cold War and extend freedom's promise". [101]

Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper acknowledged Thatcher as having "define[d] the age in which she served [as well as] contemporary conservatism itself". [102]

French president François Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel remarked that Thatcher left "a deep impression on her country's history". [103] Merkel went on to hail Thatcher's belief in the freedom of the individual as having contributed to "overcoming Europe's partition and the end of the Cold War". [48]

Irish president Michael D. Higgins extended his condolences, saying: "She will be remembered as one of the most conviction-driven British prime ministers" and that "her key role in signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement will be recalled as a valuable early contribution to the search for peace and political stability". [104] Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Enda Kenny said he was "saddened" to learn of Thatcher's death, [105] while Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams criticised "the great hurt done to the Irish and British people during her time as British prime minister", adding: "Here in Ireland, her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering". [64]

Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said she was "an ideologue among pragmatists". [106]

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy hailed her as a 20th-century landmark and said it was a sad day for Europe. [107]

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe called her a great statesperson. [108] Australian prime minister Julia Gillard expressed admiration for Thatcher's achievements as a woman. [109]

New Zealand prime minister John Key praised Thatcher's determination and expressed his "[sadness] for her family and Great Britain". [110] Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu lamented losing "a true friend of the Jewish people and Israel". [111]

Romanian president Traian Băsescu and the premier and foreign minister of Bulgaria, Marin Raykov, cited her influence on them and sent their condolences. They recognised Thatcher as a central figure in modern European history, and that her application of the law and economically liberal principles contributed to the downfall of communism in the Eastern Bloc. [112] [113]

Polish foreign minister Radosław Sikorski said she was a "fearless champion of liberty". [114]

At the wishes of Thatcher's family, Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was not invited to the funeral. Argentine foreign minister Héctor Timerman said that any invitation would have been "just another provocation". [115] The Argentine ambassador, Alicia Castro, was invited in line with diplomatic protocol, [39] but declined the invitation. [116]

Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and South African president Jacob Zuma expressed their "deepest sympathies". [117] [118] as did Russian president Vladimir Putin, who said that Thatcher was "a pragmatic, tough and consistent person". [119] Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev expressed sadness at the loss of a "great" politician "whose words carried great weight". [12]

Social media Edit

Social media played a significant role in the aftermath of her death, with celebrities channelling polarised views about Thatcher on Twitter, [120] and endorsing campaigns and demonstrations. [121] Anti-Thatcher sentiment prompted a campaign on social media networks to bring the song "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" from The Wizard of Oz into the UK Singles Chart, [122] followed by a counter-campaign adopted by Thatcher supporters in favour of the 1979 tongue-in-cheek punk song "I'm in Love with Margaret Thatcher" by the Notsensibles, which had been started by the band's lead singer. [123] [124] On 12 April 2013, "Ding-Dong!" charted at number 2 across the UK (it made number 1 in Scotland), [125] and "I'm in Love with Margaret Thatcher" at number 35. [126] [127] BBC Radio 1 controller Ben Cooper said that the station's chart show would not play the No. 2 song but that a portion of it would be aired as part of a news item. [128] [129] Cooper explained that its delicate compromise balanced freedom of speech and sensitivity for a family grieving for a loved one yet to be buried. [126]


How should history remember Margaret Thatcher?

Margaret Thatcher’s speech on the steps of No 10 Downing Street on 4 May 1979, quoting St Francis of Assisi – “Where there is discord, let there be harmony” – is often seen as deeply hypocritical. And yet in the next two sentences she captured her philosophy rather more accurately: “Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith.”

For it is as a warrior, determined to impose her version of faith and truth on her enemies, that she will go down in history, and that was precisely why she was so politically successful: she was a figure of her time, benefiting from the deep social divisions and anger of the 1970s. But since 2008 it has become increasingly evident that she did not lay the foundations for a prosperous Britain. Indeed, her approach to the major political and economic questions – much of which was inherited by New Labour – has left Britain in deep trouble.

Britain was only one of several industrialised countries in the 1970s to be hit by a global economic crisis: too much smoke-stack industry galloping inflation inefficient state-owned companies government deficits high levels of worker unrest business investment strikes. It was clear that economies needed to be retooled to take account of a new economic environment. The question was how this was to be achieved.

Some governments – like the German and the Swedish – sought to create a social consensus behind a programme of gradual restructuring. But Thatcher – like her fellow militant Ronald Reagan – launched a ‘shock therapy’, hiking interest rates and implementing austerity budgets at a time of recession, most controversially in 1981. These policies cut a swathe through industry, and rapidly accelerated Britain’s ‘deindustrial revolution’. At the same time Thatcher did all she could to help the City of London, inaugurating the structural shift from industry to finance that we are struggling to reverse today.

Thatcher also embraced confrontation with the unions, and rejected the wage policies and negotiations so common on the continent. Of course, she was not alone in her militancy. She had stubborn rivals in union leaders like Arthur Scargill. British industrial relations had a deeply troubled history, and reaching agreements was very difficult. But she and her mentor, Keith Joseph, were not even interested in trying. Ideologically opposed to government involvement, they were determined to achieve victory, and they did so by means of high interest rates, recession and anti-strike laws.

Yet the economic results of Thatcher’s policies were disappointing. Growth rates between 1979 and 1990 were barely higher than those of the 1970s (and would have probably been lower without the North Sea oil windfall) and while productivity rose by 11 per cent (largely because of high unemployment), it failed to match increases in Germany (25 per cent).

The one economic policy that has stood the test of time is the privatisation of industries such as British Telecom and British Gas. But the drawbacks of the other major privatisation – of council houses – has become very clear today. One of the main reasons for the ballooning welfare budget is the shortage of state housing and the huge sums the state has to pay to private landlords (including those who now own a large proportion of the ex-council houses).

These weaknesses were not so obvious during the 1990s and 2000s, and had Margaret Thatcher died five years ago, the plaudits would have been more fulsome. Then it seemed that the Falklands War and the Reagan-Thatcher Cold War alliance had initiated a new era of British influence in the world. It also appeared that the finance-heavy, deindustrialised economic model adopted in Britain and the United States was the way of the future. It took the disaster of Iraq in 2003 for the reality of British military weakness to become clear. But it was only in 2008 that the true economic state of affairs became evident: the model built by Thatcher was being sustained by debt.

In recent years, some historians have sought to ‘revise’ Margaret Thatcher in reality, they claim, she was much less of an ‘iron lady’ than she claimed. And of course, like all politicians, she had to make compromises – especially before the Falklands War when she had ‘wets’ in her cabinet and her position was relatively weak.

But more accurate is John Major’s assessment of Thatcher as a “profoundly unconservative” figure with “warrior characteristics”. And while we sometimes need warrior-leaders – normally at times of foreign threat – they can rarely solve complex domestic problems. So I therefore believe that while the Queen was right to attend the funeral of Winston Churchill – a fighter of foreign wars – she should not have done the same for Margaret Thatcher, a wager of ‘civil war’.

David Priestland is a historian at Oxford and the author of Merchant, Soldier, Sage: A New History of Power (Allen Lane, 2012)

Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II: what was their relationship like?

Margaret Thatcher’s relationship with Queen Elizabeth II has always fascinated their biographers. What did the two women think of one another? Did they get on?

“Thatcher got many tough decisions right. Yet perhaps her most remarkable achievement was becoming PM in the first place,” writes Dominic Sandbrook

In the summer of 1970, the Finchley Press sent a journalist to interview its local MP. Did she, he wondered, fancy a crack at becoming Britain’s first woman prime minister? “No,” Margaret Thatcher said emphatically, “there will not be a woman prime minister in my lifetime – the male population is too prejudiced.”

We know now how wrong she was. Indeed, the thought of Britain without Margaret Thatcher seems unimaginable today. But she was not merely the most dominant political personality since David Lloyd George, she was a transcendent cultural figure who inspired more songs, books, plays and films than any other British leader since Oliver Cromwell.

As her biographer John Campbell astutely remarked, if you want to see her legacy, just look around. Yet what was that legacy? Even now, more than 20 years after her tearful exit from Number 10, Britain cannot agree. Margaret Thatcher called herself a conservative, but she led the most radical government in living memory. She promised to restore law and order, yet she presided over the worst riots Britain had ever seen. She talked of bringing back Victorian values, yet her decade in office saw divorce, abortion and illegitimacy reach unprecedented heights. She hated profligacy and even paid for her own Downing Street ironing board, yet she also unleashed the power of casino capitalism. And although she talked of rolling back the frontiers of the state, public spending actually rose in all but two of her years in office.

In the future, when historians look back at the Thatcher years, the familiar landmarks will surely loom largest: the savage battle over the economy in the early 1980s, the stunning victory in the Falklands in 1982, the bitter struggle with the miners in 1984–85, the deregulation of the City in 1986, the disastrous introduction of the poll tax, and the high drama of her resignation in 1990. Yet none of this makes sense without a bit of context.

For when Margaret Thatcher won power in May 1979, it was against the backdrop of the gloomiest decade in modern British history. During the 1970s, Britain had cut a very miserable figure on the world stage. Our major cities seemed shabby and seedy our newspapers were full of strikes and walkouts almost every week seemed to bring some new atrocity in Northern Ireland. Over the course of the 1970s, two prime ministers, Edward Heath and James Callaghan, had been broken by the trade unions, while a third, Harold Wilson, descended into paranoia. Foreign papers talked of Britain as the ‘Sick Man of Europe’. Callaghan himself told his colleagues: “If I were a young man, I would emigrate”.

Margaret Thatcher’s supreme achievement, as even her opponents now admit, was to blow away the stale winds of decline. At first, with unemployment soaring, she seemed certain to go down as a one-term fluke. But victory in the Falklands changed her political image. The lame duck had become Britannia incarnate military success had won her the time she needed.

By the time she left office, Britain was unquestionably a more open, dynamic, entrepreneurial and colourful society than it had been in the 1970s. Taxes were lower, strikes were down, productivity growth was much improved and far from fleeing Britain, as they had once threatened to do, foreign investors were now queuing to get in. Of course this came at a very heavy cost, especially in the ravaged industrial north. But in reality, Britain in the 1980s was always facing an immensely painful transition, partly because so many difficult decisions had been postponed for so long, but also because the stark reality of globalisation meant that major industries – notably car-making, ship-building and coal-mining – were doomed even before she took power. Thatcher became a convenient scapegoat. But she did not deserve all the blame.

In the end, you are left with the woman herself. Indeed, the very fact that she was a woman may well have been the most remarkable thing about her. There is a supreme irony in the fact that Thatcher, who loathed feminism, came to embody the extraordinary expansion in the horizons of Britain’s women – the single biggest social change of the 20th century. And in several centuries’ time, I suspect that what Britain will remember about Margaret Thatcher is the simple fact of her femininity. Thatcher herself might not agree. But in the end, the interesting thing about the Iron Lady was not that she was made of iron. It was that she was a lady.

Dominic Sandbrook is a historian who has written widely on postwar Britain and has made several BBC documentaries. His latest book is Who Dares Wins (Allen Lane, 2019), which tells the story of the years of Margaret Thatcher’s first administration in the early 1980s


Margaret Thatcher

British Prime Minister (and the first woman to hold that position) for 11 years, Margaret Thatcher is the most divisive figure in recent British political history. Think Ronald Reagan, but British, female, and not particularly cuddly, and you have a fuzzy concept of her.

When she entered Number 10 it was with a mandate to reverse the UK's economic decline. She did this by reducing government spending, encouraging entrepreneurs, moving towards a more free market and selling off a lot of government-owned industries and enterprises, although all these measures pale in comparison to the biggest change of all: the central bank's very conservative monetary policy, which raised interest rates to extremely high levels. This single measure is the most responsible for both the low inflation and the large unemployment of the 1980s.

On the other hand, her economic policies came under fire - and not just from her opponents. Her policies had the initial effect of exacerbating the early 1980s recession. Unemployment rose to its highest level since the Great Depression. Three hundred and sixty-four leading economists released a statement in 1981, criticising her handling of the economy. Even when the economy began to recover, unemployment still hovered around the three million mark and the British heavy industrial sector took a major hit, with manufacturing output declining by 30% since 1978. If it was not for the outbreak of The Falklands War, Thatcher probably wouldn't have been re-elected.

She ordered the (re)taking of The Falkland Islands from Argentina, weakened the power of British trade unions, survived an assassination attempt by the IRA (she'd left the room shortly before the bomb went off), forced the EU to give the UK a rebate due to the vast amounts of subsidies other nations got and was an ardent opponent of communism and the Soviet Union. Her 11 year term was the longest in over 150 years, but towards the end, her popularity began to plummet. Many people will still refuse to vote Tory based on her policies, the results of which are debated as Flame Bait.

What can be said is her time as Prime Minister resulted in a significant disembowelment of the trade union movement. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on what your views on unions are. Similarly, Britain's heavy industry sector was sidelined, and the UK became a net importer of goods for the first time in modern history. Again, whether you think this is good or not depends on whether you think the UK should have a manufacturing economy or a service economy.

She was notorious for claiming she was a follower of classically liberal economist Frederich von Hayek. However, unlike Hayek, she opposed the legalization of illicit drugs and denationalization of the money supply.

As you can imagine, she's very divisive.

Thatcher's nickname of "the Iron Lady" originated from the Soviet military newspaper Red Star, bestowed on her for an anti-communist speech in 1976 and not intended as a compliment.

Whatever you think of her, no one can deny that she was a strong leader, able to steer a cabinet of men for 11 years. And, of course, she was not only the first and only female Prime Minister, but the first and only female leader of the Conservative Party, a body not particularly noted as a bastion of female empowerment. That said, when the suggestion of a state funeral was mooted recently, there were some very unkind suggestions for a manner of burial (including not waiting for her to die). The student union of King's College, Cambridge voted to set aside funds for a party to celebrate her death (though they reversed the decision after a hostile reaction). There is sure to be both heartfelt mourning and much rejoicing when she kicks the bucket.

It is worth noting that, despite much of the country despising her, she is the only recent PM commonly referred to by the media as "Mrs Thatcher" rather than just by her surname, and is always the cited comparison for any other female leader in any other country, regardless of how tenuous the comparison.

Also, she was a dear friend of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. And then he died.

The subject of Margaret Thatcher in Fiction is large enough to get a page to itself.

Margaret Thatcher is the Trope Namer for:

Thatcher personifies the tropes of:

 Tito: Women shouldn't meddle in politics!

Thatcher: Mr. Tito, I don't meddle in politics, I am politics.


Contents

Thatcher was Britain and Europe's first female prime minister. [a] She appointed few women to high office and did not make women's issues a priority, [1] but her pioneering election was widely hailed as an achievement for women in general. [10]

Thatcher, having to share the media spotlight with the Queen and Diana, Princess of Wales, [b] increasingly assumed regal poses, such as taking the salute at the victory parade after the Falklands War, and becoming the centre of attraction on foreign visits. [12] : 464–467 Tensions between the two were kept hidden until 1986, when the Sunday Times reported on the Queen's alleged criticism of Thatcher's policies, especially regarding the people of the Commonwealth, as "uncaring, confrontational and socially divisive." Thatcher often ridiculed the Commonwealth, which the Queen held in very high esteem. [13] : 575–577, 584

Economic affairs Edit

Biographer John Campbell reports that in July 1978, before Thatcher became prime minister, when asked by a Labour MP in the Commons what she meant by socialism:

[S]he was at a loss to reply. What in fact she meant was Government support for inefficient industries, punitive taxation, regulation of the labour market, price controls – everything that interfered with the functioning of the free economy. [14] : 95

Deflationary strategy Edit

Under Margaret Thatcher's government, the taming of inflation displaced high employment as the primary policy objective. [15] : 630

As a monetarist, Thatcher started out in her economic policy by increasing interest rates to slow the growth of the money supply and thus lower inflation. She had a preference for indirect taxation over taxes on income, and value-added tax (VAT) was raised sharply to 15%, with a resultant actual short-term rise in inflation. [c] The fiscal and monetary squeeze, combined with the North Sea oil effect, appreciated the real exchange rate. [15] : 630 These moves hit businesses—especially the manufacturing sector—and unemployment exceeded 2 million by the autumn of 1980, up from 1.5 million at the time of Thatcher's election just over a year earlier.

Political commentators harked back to the Heath government's "U-turn" and speculated that Thatcher would follow suit, but she repudiated this approach at the 1980 Conservative Party conference, telling the party: "To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say: You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning". [17] That she meant what she said was confirmed in the 1981 budget, when, despite concerns expressed in an open letter from 364 leading economists, [18] taxes were increased in the middle of a recession, leading to newspaper headlines the following morning of "Howe it Hurts", a reference to the Chancellor Geoffrey Howe.

Unemployment Edit

In 1981, as unemployment soared (exceeding 2.5 million by the summer and heading towards 3 million before Christmas) and the Government's popularity plunged, the party chairman, Lord Thorneycroft, and two cabinet ministers, Lord Carrington and Humphrey Atkins, confronted the Prime Minister and suggested she should resign according to her adviser, Tim Bell, "Margaret just told them to go away". [19] Thatcher's key ally in the party was Home Secretary, and later Deputy Prime Minister, William Whitelaw. His moral authority and support allowed her to resist the internal threat from the "Heathite" wets. [20] : 85

After the Brixton riot in West London in April 1981, employment secretary Norman Tebbit, responding to a suggestion that rioting was caused by unemployment, observed that the unemployment of the 1930s was far worse than that of the 1980s—and that his father's generation never reacted by rioting. "I grew up in the 1930s with an unemployed father", Tebbit said. "He did not riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and he went on looking until he found it." [21]

Over two million manufacturing jobs were ultimately lost in the recession of 1979–81. [15] : 630 This labour-shedding helped firms deal with long-standing X-inefficiency from over-manning, [15] : 630 enabling the British economy to catch up to the productivity levels of other advanced capitalist countries. [15] : 630

The link between the money supply and inflation was proven accurate, and by January 1982, the inflation rate had dropped back to 8.6% from earlier highs of 18%. [15] : 630 Interest rates were then allowed to fall. Unemployment continued to rise, passing 3 million by January 1982 and remaining this high until early 1987. However, Tebbit later suggested that, due to the high number of people claiming unemployment benefit while working, unemployment never reached three million.

By 1983, manufacturing output had dropped by 30% from 1978, although economic growth had been re-established the previous year. The productivity turnaround from labour-shedding proved to be a one-off and was not matched by growth in output. [15] : 628 The industrial base was so reduced that thereafter the balance of payments in manufactured goods was in deficit. [15] : 630 Chancellor Nigel Lawson told the Lords' Select Committee on Overseas Trade: "There is no adamantine law that says we have to produce as much in the way of manufactures as we consume. If it does turn out that we are relatively more efficient in world terms at providing services than at producing goods, then our national interest lies in a surplus on services and a deficit on goods." [22]

Defence spending Edit

In her first six months as prime minister, Thatcher repeatedly prioritised defence spending over economic policy and financial control. However, in 1980, she reversed this priority and tried to cut the defence budget. The 1981 Defence Review by John Nott, the defence minister, dramatically cut the capabilities of the Royal Navy's surface fleet. She replaced Francis Pym as defence secretary because he wanted more funding. The cuts were cancelled when the ships destined for cuts proved essential in the Falklands War. [23] [24] [25] : 660–61

Housing and urban enterprise Edit

One of Thatcher's largest and most successful policies assisted council tenants in public housing to purchase their homes at favourable rates. The "Right to Buy" had emerged in the late 1940s, but was too great a challenge to the post-war consensus to win Conservative endorsement. Thatcher from her earliest days in politics favoured the idea because it would lead to a "property-owning democracy". Some local Conservative-run councils introduced profitable [ clarification needed ] [ for whom? ] local sales schemes during the late 1960s. By the 1970s, many working-class people had ample incomes for home ownership, and eagerly accepted Thatcher's invitation to purchase their homes at a sizeable discount. The new owners were more likely to vote Conservative, as Thatcher had hoped. [26] [27]

To deal with economic stagnation in the inner cities, the Government introduced "enterprise zones" starting in 1981 the idea began in Britain and was adopted by the United States and some EU countries. It targeted designated small, economically depressed neighbourhoods and exempted them from some regulations and taxes. The goal was to attract private capital and new business activity that would bring jobs and progress to declining areas. Important projects included those in London Docklands, Salford and Gateshead. [28] [29] [ page needed ]

Foreign relations Edit

Rhodesia, 1979 Edit

Before the 1979 election Thatcher was on record as supporting the all-white government of Ian Smith in Rhodesia. [30] : 150–154 [25] : 369–370, 449 Under intense world pressure it held elections that included some black voters. One of them, Methodist Bishop Abel Muzorewa, became prime minister of "Zimbabwe-Rhodesia" in June 1979 with Smith's support. Thatcher, new to 10 Downing Street, praised the bishop. White Rhodesians expected Britain to recognise the Muzorewa regime and end crippling sanctions. However, Thatcher reversed herself. She withheld recognition and manoeuvred the Muzorewa government into accepting new elections. They had to include Joshua Nkomo and his Zimbabwe African People's Union as well as Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union. These were revolutionary movements that Rhodesian security forces had been trying to suppress for years. Under her direction, foreign secretary Lord Carrington brokered the Lancaster House Agreement of December 1979. It resumed British control of Rhodesia, declared a ceasefire, ended guerrilla action, and quickly led to the creation of the Republic of Zimbabwe. Thus Thatcher's refusal to recognise the Muzorewa government ultimately allowed Mugabe to take power, an outcome that outraged whites in Rhodesia but which satisfied British opinion and was applauded internationally. Hugo Young (p. 183) states, "She had been instrumental in creating another Third World country." [31] : 175–183 [25] : 449–52, 502–503 [32] [33]

According to Robert Matthews, the success of the Lancaster House negotiations can be explained by four factors:

A balance of forces on the battlefield that clearly favoured the nationalists international sanctions and their adverse effects on Rhodesia's economy and Salisbury's ability to wage war a particular pattern of third party interests and finally, the skill and resources that Lord Carrington as mediator brought to the table. [34] : 317

Iranian Embassy siege, 1980 Edit

Thatcher's determination to face down political violence was first demonstrated during the 1980 siege of the Embassy of Iran, London, when the armed forces were for the first time in 70 years authorised to use lethal force on the British mainland. For six days in May, 26 hostages were held by six gunmen the siege came to a dramatic end with a successful raid by SAS commandos. Later that day, Thatcher went to congratulate the SAS men involved and sat among them watching a re-run of the attack. [35] : 40 The breaking of the siege by the SAS was later ranked by the public as one of television's greatest moments. [36]

Her decisiveness—christened the "resolute approach" by the Prime Minister herself—became Thatcher's trademark and a source of her popularity. [37] In the words of one historian:

The mood reflected Mrs Thatcher's Iron Lady stance, her proclaimed intention of laying the "Suez Syndrome" to rest and again projecting Britain as a great power. Celebration of the SAS was a key component in the popular militarism of the 1980s, fuelled by the continuing "war" against international terrorism and by the Falklands conflict and Gulf War. The storming of the Iranian Embassy had shown that Britain could meet terror with counter-terror: Mrs Thatcher's black-clad "terminators" would protect us. [35] : 40

Commenting on the SAS's action, social services secretary Norman Fowler agreed: "Mrs Thatcher attracted public support because she seemed to be taking action which the public overwhelmingly thought was right but never thought any government would have the nerve to carry out". [20] : 88–89

Afghanistan and Poland Edit

When the Soviet Union troops entered Afghanistan in December 1979, Thatcher saw it as a typical example of relentless Communist imperialism. However, the foreign ministry said the Kremlin was desperately trying to save its failing ally there. Thatcher supported the American plan to boycott the Moscow Olympics, as did Parliament. However, the athletes disagreed, and they went to Moscow anyway. [25] : 560–63 [38]

Thatcher gave the go ahead for Whitehall to approve MI6 (and the SAS) to undertake 'disruptive action' in Afghanistan. [39] : 752 Supporting the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Operation Cyclone, they also supplied weapons, training and intelligence to the mujaheddin. Thatcher visited Pakistan in October 1981 meeting with Pakistan leader General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq. She visited some of the many hundreds of thousands of Afghans gathered in refugee camps there giving a speech stating that the 'hearts of the free world were with them'. Five years later two of the Mujaheddin warlords Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Haq met Thatcher in Downing Street. [40]

The Polish crisis of 1980 and 1981 involved large-scale anti-Communist protests in the heartland of Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe. Thatcher recognised that Soviet hegemony was vulnerable in Poland and offered public support for Lech Wałęsa and his Solidarity labour union, in close co-operation with the United States and Pope John Paul II (a long-time leader of Polish Catholicism). Thatcher considered Poland as a key centre of Soviet vulnerability. She offered limited help to Solidarity in tandem with the United States. Success came with the thaw in superpower relations, the consolidation of Thatcherism at home and the march of neo-liberal ideas internationally. [41] [25] : 574–76

Falklands War, 1982 Edit

On 2 April 1982, the ruling Argentine military junta invaded the Falkland Islands, and on 3 April invaded South Georgia, British Crown Colonies that Britain had always ruled but which Argentina had claimed. [42] Thatcher had not previously shown concern for the islands and had proposed large-scale cuts to her naval forces. Thatcher listened primarily to Admiral Henry Leach, the First Sea Lord and to Admiral Sir Terence Lewin, the Chief of the Defence Staff. She immediately decided to expel the invaders. [25] : 656–758 (667, 670) She replaced foreign minister Lord Carrington with Francis Pym and rounded up diplomatic support. The United Nations Security Council denounced Argentina's aggression, and France and other allies provided diplomatic and military support. In the United States, Reagan was supportive, but he also launched diplomatic initiatives to resolve the crisis without a war. Thatcher assembled and sent a naval task force to take back control in three days.

In the six weeks it took to arrive, she engaged in diplomatic efforts moderated by Reagan's secretary of state Alexander Haig, but Argentina rejected all compromise proposals. Public opinion, and both major parties, backed Thatcher's aggressive response. [43] The task force sank an Argentine cruiser, forcing the Argentine Navy back to its home harbours. However, it had to deal with a nearby land-based Argentine Air Force, using primarily surface-to-air heat-seeking missiles, Harriers, and V bombers, the last to crater the Port Stanley runway. Argentine forces in the Falklands surrendered on 14 June the operation was hailed as a great triumph, with only 258 British casualties. [44] [ page needed ] Victory brought a wave of patriotic enthusiasm and contributed to Thatcher's re-election, with one poll showing that 84% of the electorate approved of the Prime Minister's handling of the crisis. [45] [d]

Restoring British control over a small colony was a response to aggression, but it also represented a sensibility that Britain had a responsibility to protect its "kith and kin." Thatcher saw the issue as freedom versus oppression and dictatorship. Her sensibility was widely shared in the UK. Historian Ezequiel Mercau argues that the islanders' demands for decolonisation were weak. Instead their predominant sentiment was a close "kith and kin" identification with the people of Great Britain that gave the Falklanders a "loyalty to the Crown." [46] [47] : 2, 9, 73, 78 [48] : 207

Northern Ireland Edit

In May 1980, one day before Thatcher was due to meet the Irish Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, to discuss Northern Ireland, she announced in Parliament that "the future of the constitutional affairs of Northern Ireland is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland, this government, this parliament, and no-one else". [49] [25] : 595–603

In 1981, a number of Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Irish National Liberation Army prisoners in Northern Ireland's Maze Prison (also known in Northern Ireland as Long Kesh, its previous official name) went on hunger strike to regain the status of political prisoners, which had been revoked five years earlier under the preceding Labour government. Bobby Sands, the first of the strikers, was elected as an MP for the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone a few weeks before he died of starvation. Thatcher refused to countenance a return to political status for republican prisoners, famously declaring "Crime is crime is crime it is not political". [50] After nine more men had died, most rights were restored to paramilitary prisoners, but official recognition of their political status was not granted. [51] Thatcher later asserted: "The outcome was a significant defeat for the IRA." [52] : 393

Thatcher also continued the "Ulsterisation" policy of the previous Labour government and its Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Roy Mason, believing that the Unionists of Northern Ireland should be at the forefront in combating Irish republicanism. This meant relieving the burden on the mainstream British Army and elevating the role of the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

1983 general election Edit

The "Falklands Factor", along with the resumption of economic growth by the end of 1982, bolstered the Government's popularity and led to Thatcher's victory in the most decisive landslide since the general election of 1945. [53]

The Labour Party at this time had split, and there was a new challenge in the SDP–Liberal Alliance, formed by an electoral pact between the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party. However, this grouping failed to make its intended breakthrough, despite briefly holding an opinion poll lead. [54]

In the June 1983 general election, the Conservatives won 42.4% of the vote, the Labour Party 27.6% and the Alliance 25.4%. Though the gap between Labour and the Alliance was narrow in terms of votes, the Alliance vote was scattered, and they won only a fraction of the seats that Labour held, with its concentrated base. The Conservatives' share of the vote fell slightly (1.5%) since 1979. Labour's vote had fallen by far more (9.3%), and the Conservatives now had an overall majority of 144 MPs.

The second term saw Thatcher in full charge. [e]

Domestic affairs Edit

Contaminated blood scandal Edit

Thatcher was prime minister during what The Guardian described as "the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS." [55] [56] Thousands of haemophiliacs were infected with HIV, Hepatitis C, or both, via the clotting-agent Factor VIII. [57] Britain had imported infected supplies of Factor VIII from risky overseas commercial sources [58] it is generally thought that this was because the Thatcher government had not made public funding available for the NHS sufficient in creating its own supplies. [59] [60]

It has been alleged that the Thatcher cabinet attempted to "cover up" the events of the scandal. [61] In 2017, the Infected Blood Inquiry was announced into the scandal and a group legal action (Jason Evans & Ors) was brought at the High Court. [62]

Strikes miners and newspaper printers Edit

Thatcher was committed to reducing the power of the trade unions but, unlike the Heath government, adopted a strategy of incremental change rather than a single Act. Several unions launched strikes in response, but these actions eventually collapsed. Gradually, Thatcher's reforms reduced the power and influence of the unions. The changes were chiefly focused upon preventing the recurrence of the large-scale industrial actions of the 1970s but were also intended to ensure that the consequences for the participants would be severe if they took any future action. The reforms were also aimed, Thatcher claimed, to democratise the unions and return power to the members. The most significant measures were to make secondary industrial action illegal, to force union leadership to first win a ballot of the union membership before calling a strike, and to abolish the closed shop. Further laws banned workplace ballots and imposed postal ballots.

Coal miners were highly organised and had defeated Prime Minister Heath. Thatcher expected a major confrontation, planned ahead for one, and avoided trouble before she was ready. In the end the miners' strike of 1984–85 proved a decisive victory for her—one that permanently discouraged trade unionists. [63] [ page needed ] The National Coal Board received the largest amount of public subsidies going to any nationalised industry: by 1984 the annual cost to taxpayers of uneconomic pits had reached £1 billion. [64] : 143–4, 161 The year-long confrontation over strikes carried out from April 1984 by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), in opposition to proposals to close a large number of unprofitable mines, proved a decisive victory for Thatcher. The Government had made preparations to counter a strike by the NUM long in advance by building up coal stocks, keeping many miners at work, and co-ordinating police action to stop massive picketing. Her policies defeated the NUM strategy of causing severe cuts in the electricity supply—the legacy of the industrial disputes of 1972 would not be repeated. [65] [66] [ page needed ]

The images of crowds of militant miners attempting to prevent other miners from working proved a shock even to some supporters of the strikes. The NUM never held a strike vote, which allowed many miners to keep working and prevented other unions from supporting the strike. The mounting desperation and poverty of the striking families led to divisions within the regional NUM branches, and a breakaway union, the Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM), was soon formed. More and more frustrated miners resigned to the impending failure of the strike and, worn down by months of protests, began to defy the union's rulings, starting splinter groups and advising workers that returning to work was the only viable option. [67] : ch. 7

The miners' strike lasted a full year before the NUM leadership conceded without a deal. Conservative governments proceeded to close all but 15 of the country's pits, with the remaining 15 being sold off and privatised in 1994. Since then, private companies have acquired licences to open new pits and open-cast sites, with the majority of the original mines destroyed and the land redeveloped.

The defeat of the miners' strike led to a long period of demoralisation in the whole of the trade union movement. [68] : 476

The 51-week miners' strike of 1984–85 was followed a year later by the 54-week Wapping dispute launched by newspaper printers in London. [69] : 360–71 It resulted in a second major defeat for unions and another victory for Thatcher's union policies, especially her assurance that the police would defend the plants against pickets trying to shut them down. [f] The target was Britain's largest privately-owned newspaper empire, News International (parent of The Times and News of the World and others, all owned by Rupert Murdoch). He wanted to introduce technological innovations that would put 90% of the old-fashioned typesetters out of work. The company offered redundancy payments of £2,000 to £30,000 to each printer to quit their old jobs. The union rejected the offer, and on 24 January 1986, its 6,000 members at Murdoch's papers went on strike. Meanwhile, News International had built and clandestinely equipped a new printing plant in the London district of Wapping. The principal print unions—the National Graphical Association (NGA), the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (SOGAT 82) and the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers (AUEW)—ran closed shops: only union members could be hired at the old Fleet Street plants most were sons of members. However, the new plant in Wapping did not have a closed shop contract. The company activated its new plant with the assistance of another union, the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union (EETPU). Most journalists (members of the National Union of Journalists) moved to Wapping, and NUJ Chapels continued to operate. However, the NUJ urged them not to work there the "refuseniks" refused to go to Wapping. Enough printers did come—670 in all—to produce the same number of papers that it took 6,800 men to print at the old shop. The efficiency was obvious and frightened the union into holding out an entire year. Thousands of union pickets tried to block shipments out of the plant they injured 574 policemen. There were 1,500 arrests. The pickets failed. The union tried an illegal secondary boycott and was fined in court, losing all its assets which had been used for pensions. In the next two years, Britain's national newspapers opened new plants and abandoned Fleet Street, adopting the new technology with far fewer employees. They had even more reason to support Thatcherism. [70] : 676 [71] [ page needed ] [72] [ page needed ]

Privatisation Edit

Thatcher's political and economic philosophy emphasised reduced state intervention, free markets, and entrepreneurialism. Since gaining power, she had experimented in selling off a small nationalised company, the National Freight Company, to its workers, with a surprisingly positive response. One critic on the left dismissed privatisation as "the biggest electoral bribe in history". [20] : 88 After the 1983 election, the Government became bolder and, starting with British Telecom, sold off most of the large utilities which had been in public ownership since the late 1940s. Many people took advantage of share offers, although many sold their shares immediately for a quick profit therefore, the proportion of shares held by individuals rather than institutions did not increase. The policy of privatisation, while anathema to many on the left, has become synonymous with Thatcherism and was also followed by Tony Blair's government. Wider share-ownership and council house sales became known as "popular" capitalism to its supporters (a description coined by John Redwood). [73] [74]

According to Jacob Ward, the privatisation of British Telecom was a "landmark moment for neoliberalism." It became a model for other countries that sold their state utilities. Planners in the Long Range Planning Department used new computer models to support the transition of telecommunications and, more generally, the dramatic move from social democracy to neoliberalism, from monopoly to market. The telecommunications network was essential to plans for the digitalisation of the economy. Computer simulations were needed to support neoliberalism, both as a managerial tool that could simulate free markets, as well as a technology that enabled the contraction of the government's role in the private sector. [75]

Establishment criticism Edit

In February 1985, in what was generally viewed as a significant snub from the centre of the British establishment, [76] the University of Oxford voted to refuse Thatcher an honorary degree in protest against her cuts in funding for higher education. [77] This award had previously been given to all prime ministers since the Second World War. [78] Although the Government's counter-claim of increased expenditure was also challenged, [79] the decision of the Oxford dons was widely condemned as "petty" and "vindictive". [80] The chancellor of the university, former prime minister Harold Macmillan (now Lord Stockton), noted that the decision represented a break with tradition, and predicted that the snub would rebound on the university. [81]

In December 1985 Thatcher was criticised from another former Tory bastion when the Church of England report Faith in the City blamed decay of the inner cities on the Government's financial stringency and called for a redistribution of wealth. However the Government had already introduced special employment and training measures, [82] and ministers dismissed the report as "muddle-headed" and uncosted. [83] [84] The breach with the Church and its liberal bishops remained unhealed until William Hague called for renewed co-operation in 1998. [84]

Soon after, Thatcher suffered her government's only defeat in the House of Commons, with the failure of the Shops Bill 1986. The bill, which would have legalised Sunday shopping, was defeated by a Christian right backbench rebellion, with 72 Conservatives voting against the Government Bill. [85] As well as Thatcher's only defeat, it was the last occasion on which a government bill fell at second reading. [86] The defeat was immediately overshadowed by the US intervention in Libya. [85]

Westland affair Edit

Thatcher's preference for defence ties with the United States was demonstrated in the Westland affair when, despite ostensibly maintaining a neutral stance, she and Trade and Industry secretary Leon Brittan allowed the helicopter manufacturer Westland, a vital defence contractor, to link with the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation of the United States. Defence secretary Michael Heseltine had organised a consortium of European and British firms, including the Italian firm Agusta, to make a rival bid. He claimed that Thatcher had prevented proper discussion by cancelling a promised meeting of the Cabinet Economic Affairs Committee early in December 1985. Cabinet eventually (19 December 1985) forbade any minister from actively campaigning for either option. [70] : 449–96

Thatcher thought Heseltine too powerful and popular a figure to sack. After a period in early January 1986 in which Heseltine and the Thatcher/Brittan camp leaked material damaging to each other's case to the press, Cabinet agreed (9 January) that all statements on the matter, including repetitions of those already made, must be cleared through the Cabinet Office. Heseltine resigned and walked out of the meeting in protest, claiming that Thatcher had broken the conventions of cabinet government. He remained an influential critic and potential leadership challenger and would eventually prove instrumental in Thatcher's fall in 1990. Brittan was then forced to resign for having, earlier that month and with the agreement of Thatcher's press adviser Bernard Ingham, ordered the leak of a confidential legal letter critical of Heseltine. For a time, Thatcher's survival as prime minister seemed in doubt, but her involvement in the leak remained unproven, and she survived after a poor debating performance in the Commons (27 January) by Opposition leader Neil Kinnock. [70] : 449–96

Local government Edit

In April 1986, Thatcher, enacting a policy set out in her party's 1983 manifesto, [87] abolished the Greater London Council (GLC) and six top-tier Metropolitan County Councils (MCCs): [70] : 371–72

The GLC was the biggest council in Europe under the leadership of the Labour socialist Ken Livingstone it had doubled its spending in three years, and Thatcher insisted on its abolition as an efficiency measure, transferring most duties to the boroughs, with veto power over major building, engineering and maintenance projects being given to the environment secretary. [88] The Government also argued that the transfer of power to local councils would increase electoral accountability. [89] Critics contended that the "excesses" of a few "loony left" councils helped Mrs Thatcher to launch a party-political assault', [90] as all the eliminated councils were controlled by the Labour Party, favoured higher local government taxes and public spending, and were vocal centres of opposition to her government. The GLC also warned that the break-up of the county councils would lead to the creation of "endless joint committees and over 60 quangos". [91] Several of the councils including the GLC had however rendered themselves vulnerable by committing scarce public funds to controversial causes such as Babies Against the Bomb, the Antiracist Year, and lesbian mothers seeking custody of their children the Save the GLC campaign itself was estimated to have cost ratepayers £10 million, [88] climaxing in a final defiant week of festivities that cost ratepayers £500,000. [92]

Economic boom, 1984–1988 Edit

During the 1980s there was a great improvement in the United Kingdom's productivity growth relative to other advanced capitalist countries. [15] : 628 Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson identified inflation as "the judge and jury of a government's record", [15] : 630 but while the country also improved its OECD inflation ranking from fifteenth in 1979 to tenth in the Lawson Boom year of 1987, when inflation had fallen to 4.2%, in the decade as a whole the country still had the second highest inflation rate of the G7 countries. [15] : 631 Unemployment had peaked at nearly 3,300,000 in 1984, [93] but had fallen below 3,000,000 by June 1987, [94] in early 1989 it fell below 2,000,000 and by December 1989 it stood at just over 1,600,000. [95]

The United Kingdom's growth rate was more impressive, ranking first in the OECD-16 in 1987, a statistical achievement that Thatcher and her government exploited to the full in the general election campaign of that year. [15] : 631 However, the balance of payments record had deteriorated, faring even worse than those of non-oil-exporting countries, and there was a decline in the country's relative standing in terms of unemployment. [15] : 631 The resulting welfare payments meant that even though Thatcher and her ministers in 1979 had taken the view that "public expenditure is at the heart of Britain's present economic difficulties", it was not until the boom year of 1987 that the expenditure ratio fell below the 1979 level. [15] : 635 For most of the 1980s, the average tax take was higher than in 1979. [15] : 636

Ireland and Northern Ireland issues Edit

Brighton bombing Edit

On the early morning of 12 October 1984, the day before her 59th birthday, Thatcher escaped injury in the Brighton hotel bombing during the Conservative Party Conference when the hotel was bombed by the Provisional IRA. Five people died in the attack, including Roberta Wakeham, wife of the Government's Chief Whip John Wakeham, and Conservative MP Sir Anthony Berry. A prominent member of the Cabinet, Norman Tebbit, was injured, and his wife Margaret was left paralysed. Thatcher herself escaped assassination by sheer luck. She insisted that the conference open on time the next day and made her speech as planned in defiance of the bombers, a gesture which won widespread approval across the political spectrum. [96] [70] : 309–16

Anglo-Irish Agreement Edit

On 15 November 1985, Thatcher signed the Hillsborough Anglo-Irish Agreement with Irish Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, the first time a British government gave the Republic of Ireland a say (albeit advisory) in the governance of Northern Ireland. The agreement was greeted with fury by Northern Irish unionists. The Ulster Unionists and Democratic Unionists made an electoral pact and, on 23 January 1986, staged an ad hoc referendum by resigning their seats and contesting the subsequent by-elections, losing only one, to the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). However, unlike the Sunningdale Agreement of 1974, they found they could not bring the agreement down by a general strike. This was another effect of the changed balance of power in industrial relations.

Foreign affairs Edit

Cold War Edit

In the Cold War, Thatcher supported US president Ronald Reagan's policies of rollback against the Soviets, which envisioned the end of Communism in Europe (which happened in 1989–91). This contrasted with the policy of détente (or "live and let live") which the West had pursued during the 1970s. In a decision that came under heavy attack from the Labour Party, American forces were permitted by Thatcher to station nuclear cruise missiles at British bases, arousing mass protests by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. A critical factor was Thatcher's idea that Mikhail Gorbachev was the key to the solution. She convinced Reagan that he was "a man we can do business with. " This was a start of a move by the West to force a dismantling of Soviet control over Eastern Europe, which Gorbachev realised was necessary if he was to reform the weak Soviet economy. [97] Those who share her views on it credit her with a part in the West's victory, by both the deterrence and détente postures. According to Thatcher, the West won the Cold War "without firing a shot" because the Kremlin would not risk confrontation with NATO's superior forces. [98]

Thatcher played a major role as a broker between Reagan and Gorbachev in 1985–87, with the successful negotiation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). The INF Treaty of December 1987, signed by Reagan and Gorbachev, eliminated all nuclear and conventional missiles, as well as their launchers, with ranges of 500–1,000 kilometres (310–620 mi) (short-range) and 1,000–5,500 kilometres (620–3,420 mi) (intermediate-range). The treaty did not cover sea-launched missiles of the sort Britain possessed. By May 1991, after on-site investigations by both sides, 2700 missiles had been destroyed. [99] [70] : 23–26, 594–5 [100] : 252–53

US bombing of Libya Edit

In the aftermath of a series of terrorist attacks on US military personnel in Europe, which were believed to have been executed at Colonel Gaddafi's command, President Reagan decided to carry out a bombing raid on Libya. Both France and Spain refused to allow US aircraft to fly over their territory for the raid. Thatcher herself had earlier expressed opposition to "retaliatory strikes that are against international law" and had not followed the US in an embargo of Libyan oil. However, Thatcher felt that as the US had given support to Britain during the Falklands and that America was a major ally against a possible Soviet attack in Western Europe, she felt obliged to allow US aircraft to use bases situated in Britain. [30] : 279–80

Later that year in America, President Reagan persuaded Congress to approve of an extradition treaty which closed a legal loophole by which IRA members and Volunteers escaped extradition by claiming their killings were political acts. This had been previously opposed by Irish-Americans for years but was passed after Reagan used Thatcher's support in the Libyan raid as a reason to pass it. [30] : 282 [70] : 513–20

US invasion of Grenada Edit

Grenada was a former colony and current independent Commonwealth nation under the Queen. The British government exercised no authority there and did not object when Maurice Bishop took control in a coup in 1979. [101] The small Caribbean island had been ruled by Bishop, a radical Marxist with close ties to Cuba. In October 1983 he was overthrown by dissident Marxists and killed. This alarmed other small countries in the region who had a regional defence organisation, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), which formally asked the United States for help in removing the new regime. Reagan promptly agreed and almost overnight ordered a major invasion of Grenada. He notified Thatcher a few hours before the invasion, but he did not ask her consent. She was privately highly annoyed, but in Cabinet and Parliament she announced that Britain supported the Americans, saying "We stand by the United States". [70] : 117–35 When it became clear that the American rollback of the upstart Communist regime had been a striking success, Thatcher "came to feel that she had been wrong to oppose it". [30] : 279

Apartheid in South Africa Edit

Thatcher resisted international pressure to impose economic sanctions on South Africa, where the United Kingdom was the biggest foreign investor and principal trading partner. This meant that the status quo remained, and British companies continued to operate in South Africa, although other European countries continued trading to a lesser degree. According to Geoffrey Howe, one of her closest allies, Thatcher regarded the African National Congress (ANC), which fought to end apartheid, as a "typical terrorist organisation" as late as 1987. [102]

At the end of March 1984, four South Africans were arrested in Coventry, remanded in custody, and charged with contravening the UN arms embargo, which prohibited exports to South Africa of military equipment. Thatcher took a personal interest in the Coventry Four, and 10 Downing Street requested daily summaries of the case from the prosecuting authority, HM Customs and Excise. [103] Within a month, the Coventry Four had been freed from jail and allowed to travel to South Africa, on condition that they return to England for their trial later that year. However, in August 1984, South African foreign minister Pik Botha decided not to allow the Coventry Four to return to stand trial, forfeiting £200,000 bail money put up by the South African embassy in London.

In April 1984, Thatcher sent senior British diplomat, Sir John Leahy, to negotiate the release of 16 Britons who had been taken hostage by the Angolan rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi. At the time, Savimbi's UNITA guerrilla movement was financed and supported militarily by the apartheid regime of South Africa. On 26 April 1984 Leahy succeeded in securing the release of the British hostages at the UNITA base in Jamba, Cuando Cubango, Angola. [104]

In June 1984, Thatcher received a visit from P. W. Botha, the first South African premier to come to Britain since his nation had left the Commonwealth in 1961. [105] Neil Kinnock, Leader of the Labour Party, condemned the visit as a "diplomatic coup" for the South African government, [106] and Labour MEP Barbara Castle rallied European Socialists in an unsuccessful attempt to stop it. [107] In talks at Chequers, Thatcher told Botha the policy of racial separation was "unacceptable". [108] She urged him to free jailed black leader Nelson Mandela to halt the harassment of black dissidents to stop the bombing of ANC guerrilla bases in front-line states and to comply with UN Security Council resolutions and withdraw from Namibia. [30] : 324

Thatcher defended Botha's visit as an encouragement to reform, [108] but he ignored her concern over Mandela's continued detainment, [106] and although a new constitution brought coloured people of mixed race and Indians into a tricameral assembly, 22 million blacks continued to be excluded from the representation. [105] After the outbreak of violence in September 1984, Thatcher granted temporary sanctuary to six African anti-apartheid leaders in the British consulate in Durban. [109]

In July 1985, Thatcher, citing the support of Helen Suzman, a South African anti-apartheid MP, reaffirmed her belief that economic sanctions against Pretoria would be immoral because they would make thousands of black workers unemployed instead she characterised industry as the instrument that was breaking down apartheid. [111] : 6 [102] She also believed sanctions would disproportionately injure Britain [112] and neighbouring African countries, [113] and argued that political and military measures were more effective. [114]

Thatcher's opposition to economic sanctions was challenged by visiting anti-apartheid activists, including South African bishop Desmond Tutu, whom she met in London, and Oliver Tambo, an exiled leader of the outlawed ANC guerrilla movement, [115] whose links to the Soviet bloc she viewed with suspicion, [116] and whom she declined to see because he espoused violence and refused to condemn guerrilla attacks and mob killings of black policemen, local officials and their families. [113]

At a Commonwealth summit in Nassau in October 1985, Thatcher agreed to impose limited sanctions and to set up a contact group to promote a dialogue with Pretoria, [117] after she was warned by Third World leaders, including Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, that her opposition threatened to break up the 49-nation Commonwealth. [118] In return, calls for a total embargo were abandoned, and the existing restrictions adopted by member states against South Africa were lifted. [114] ANC president Tambo expressed disappointment at this major compromise. [119]

China and Hong Kong Edit

Hong Kong was ceded to the British Empire following the First Opium War and in 1898, Britain obtained a 99-year lease on the New Territories. In 1984 Thatcher visited China intending to resolve the difficulties that would inevitably be encountered as the New Territories were due to be returned to the Chinese in 1997. [120] She signed an agreement with Deng Xiaoping to hand back not simply the New Territories, but the whole colony, in exchange for China awarding the colony the special status within China of a "Special Administrative Region". Under the terms of the agreement, China was obliged to leave Hong Kong's economic status unchanged after the handover on 1 July 1997, for at least fifty years. [121] [ page needed ]

European rebate Edit

At the Dublin European Council in November 1979, Thatcher argued that the United Kingdom paid far more to the European Economic Community (EEC) than it received in spending. She famously declared at the summit: "We are not asking the Community or anyone else for money. We are simply asking to have our own money back". Her arguments were successful, and at the June 1984 Fontainebleau Summit, the EEC agreed on an annual rebate for the United Kingdom, amounting to 66% of the difference between Britain's EU contributions and receipts. Although Labour prime minister Tony Blair later agreed to reduce the rebate size significantly, this would remain in effect. It periodically caused political controversy among the member states of the European Union. [122]

Channel Tunnel Edit

P. M. H. Bell, France and Britain, 1940–1994, [123] p. 254

Thatcher, like many Britons, had long been fascinated by the idea of a tunnel under the English Channel linking to France. [30] : 312–14 The idea had been tossed around for over a century but was always vetoed, [ citation needed ] usually, by insularity-minded Englishmen. [ who? ] Opposition to the tunnel over the decades reflected the high value the British placed on their insularity, and their preference for imperial links that they controlled directly. By the 1960s, circumstances had changed radically. The British Empire collapsed, and the Suez crisis made clear that Britain was no longer a superpower and had to depend on its military allies on the continent. [124] The Conservatives could more carefully consider the long-term economic value to business and strategic value, and also the new sense of a European identity. Labour was worried that a tunnel would bring new workers and lower wage rates. Britain's prestige, security and wealth now seemed safest when tied closely to the continent. [125]

Thatcher and François Mitterrand agreed on the project and set up study groups. Mitterrand as a socialist said the French government would pay its share. Thatcher insisted on private financing for the British share, and the City assured her that private enterprise was eager to fund it. Final decisions were announced in January 1986. [126] [127]

Thatcher's third term started well but the economic boom faltered. Her mistakes [ which? ] multiplied and her enemies in her party and the general public [ examples needed ] multiplied. [ how? ] [g]

1987 general election Edit

Thatcher led her party to a landslide victory in the 1987 general election with a 102-seat majority. [128] [ page needed ] Her resolute personality played a key role in overcoming the well-organised, media-wise Labour campaign led by Neil Kinnock, who was weakened by his party's commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament at a time Thatcher was helping to end the Cold War. Fleet Street (the national newspapers) mostly supported her and were rewarded with regular press briefings by her press secretary, Bernard Ingham. [129] Polls showed that Thatcher's leadership style was more important for voters than party identification, economic concerns, and indeed all other issues. [130] She entered the record books, becoming the longest continuously-serving prime minister since Lord Liverpool (1812–1827), and the first to win three successive elections since Lord Palmerston in 1865.

Despite her third straight victory she remained a polarising figure. Performative hatred from the far left motivated scores of songs that "expressed anger, amusement, defiance and ridicule" towards her. [131] : 373 A common chant among protestors was "Maggie Out!" [132] : 79

Domestic policies Edit

Economics and welfare reforms Edit

With the battle against inflation and strikes long won, an economic boom was in its early stages. Unemployment had fallen below 3,000,000 during the spring of 1987, and the tax cuts by chancellor Nigel Lawson sent the economy into overdrive. By early 1988, unemployment was below 2,500,000. A year later, it fell below 2,000,000. By the end of 1989, it was down to 1,600,000. A residential property price surge saw the average home price in Britain double between 1986 and 1989.

However, this led to the government doubling interest rates during 1988 [133] and it chose to increase these further during 1989 and 1990 [134] as inflation increased. [134] In 1988, Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson reacted to a market fall with a reflationary budget, stoking inflation and precipitating a slide in the Government's fortunes. By the time of Thatcher's resignation in 1990, inflation had again hit 10%, the same level she had found it in 1979.

As early as September 1988, economists warned that the economic boom would soon be over and that 1989 could see a recession set in. For the moment, the economy defied these predictions it continued to grow throughout 1989, and unemployment continued to fall, despite the United States entering recession that year.

Employment was booming by the late 1980s, above all in the financial and retail sectors, particularly on new commercial developments built on old industrial sites. For example, the Merry Hill Shopping Centre in the West Midlands saw 6,000 retail jobs created between 1984 and 1989 on the former Round Oak Steelworks site that had shed just over 1,200 jobs when it closed in 1982. The comparable MetroCentre was built at Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, around the same time.

On 29 March 1988, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister of Trade and Industry, Kenneth Clarke, announced the sale to British Aerospace of the Rover Group, the new name of British Leyland, which had been nationalised in 1975 by the government of Harold Wilson. [135]

The threat of recession finally became a reality in October 1990, when it was confirmed that the economy had declined during the third quarter of the year. Unemployment started to rise again. Inflation, which the first Thatcher government had conquered by 1983, was touching 10% for the first time in eight years.

Overall, the economic record of Thatcher's government is disputed. In relative terms, it could be held there was a modest revival of British fortunes. Real gross domestic product (GDP) had grown by 26.8% over 1979–89 in the United Kingdom as against 24.3% for the EC-12 average. [15] : 627 Measured by total factor productivity, labour, and capital, British productivity growth between 1979 and 1993 compared favourably with the OECD average. [15] : 628

However, under Thatcherite management, the macro-economy was unstable, even by the standards of the Keynesian era of stop-go. The amplitude of fluctuations in GDP and real gross private non-residential fixed capital formation was greater in the United Kingdom than for the OECD. [15] : 631–34

In the Thatcher years the top 10% of earners received almost 50% of the tax remissions, [15] : 636 but there proved to be no simple trade-off between equality and efficiency. [15] : 636 The receipts ratio [ clarification needed ] did not fall below the 1979 level until 1992. [15] : 636 The expenditure ratio rose again after Thatcher's resignation in 1990, even climbing for a time above the 1979 figure. [15] : 635–36 The cause was the heavy budget charge of the recessions of 1979–81 and 1990–92 and the extra funding required to meet the higher level of unemployment. [15] : 636

In Thatcher's third term, welfare reforms created an adult Employment Training system that included full-time work done for the dole plus a £10 top-up, on the workfare model from the United States.

Section 28 Edit

Though an early backer of decriminalisation of male homosexuality, at the 1987 Conservative Party conference, Thatcher's speech read: "Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay". Backbench Conservative MPs and peers had already begun a backlash against the "promotion" of homosexuality and, in December 1987, the controversial "Section 28" was added as an amendment to what became the Local Government Act 1988. [136] This legislation was eventually repealed by the Blair government between 2000 and 2003.

Environment Edit

Thatcher, a trained chemist, became publicly concerned with environmental issues in the late 1980s. [137] In 1988, she made a major speech [138] accepting the problems of global warming, ozone depletion, and acid rain. In 1990, she opened the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research. [139] In her book Statecraft (2003), she described her later regret in supporting the concept of human-induced global warming, outlining the negative effects she perceived it had upon the policy-making process. "Whatever international action we agree upon to deal with environmental problems, we must enable our economies to grow and develop, because without growth you cannot generate the wealth required to pay for the protection of the environment". [140] : 452 [141]

Foreign affairs Edit

European integration Edit

At Bruges, Belgium, in 1988, Thatcher made a speech in which she outlined her opposition to proposals from the European Community for a federal structure and increasing centralisation of decision-making. Although she had supported British membership, Thatcher believed that the role of the EC should be limited to ensuring free trade and effective competition, and feared that new EC regulations would reverse the changes she was making in the UK, stating that she had "not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain" only to see her reforms undermined by "a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels". [142] She was specifically against Economic and Monetary Union, through which a single currency would replace national currencies, and for which the EC was making preparations. [h] The speech caused an outcry from other European leaders and exposed for the first time the deep split that was emerging over European policy inside her Conservative Party. [67] : 230–48

In 1987–88, Chancellor Nigel Lawson had been following a policy of "shadowing the Deutschmark", i.e. cutting interest rates and selling pounds to try to prevent the pound rising above DM 3.00 (as a substitute for joining the European Exchange Rate Mechanism which Thatcher had vetoed in 1985) in an interview for the Financial Times, in November 1987, Thatcher claimed not to have been told of this and disapproved. [143] By 1989 the economy was suffering from high interest rates (they peaked at 15% in autumn 1989) imposed to temper a potentially unsustainable boom, which she believed had been exacerbated by Lawson's policies. Thatcher's popularity once again declined.

At a meeting before the European Community summit in Madrid in June 1989, Lawson and foreign secretary Geoffrey Howe forced Thatcher to agree to the circumstances under which she would join the Exchange Rate Mechanism. At the meeting, they both threatened they would resign if Thatcher did not meet their demands. [52] : 712 Thatcher responded by moving Howe to Leader of the House of Commons (despite giving him the title Deputy Prime Minister he was now effectively removed from decision-making over Europe) and by listening more to her adviser Sir Alan Walters on economic matters. Lawson resigned that October, feeling that Thatcher had undermined him.

South Africa and release of Mandela Edit

Thatcher continued to be the leading international advocate of a policy of contact with apartheid South Africa, [144] and the most forthright opponent of economic sanctions against the country, which a white minority government ruled. [145] Her stand had divided the Commonwealth 48–1 at three conferences since 1985, but had brought her influence in South Africa's white community. Rejecting the US policy of disinvestment as a mistake, she argued a prosperous society would be more receptive to change. [144]

In October 1988, Thatcher said she would be unlikely to visit South Africa unless black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela was released from prison. [146] In March 1989 she stressed the need to release him for multi-party talks to take place, [147] urging that the ANC's promise to suspend violence should be enough to permit his release and that the "renunciation of violence" should not be an absolute condition for negotiations for a settlement. [148] At the end of March 1989, Thatcher's six-day, 10,000-mile tour through southern Africa—a follow-up to her "look and learn" exercise in Kenya and Nigeria in 1988—did not include South Africa because Mandela had not yet been released. [149]

Thatcher met reformist F. W. de Klerk in London in June 1989 and stressed that Mandela must be freed and reforms put in place before she would visit the country. [150] In July 1989 she called for the release not only of Mandela but also Walter Sisulu and Oscar Mpetha before all-group talks could continue. [151] [152]

Thatcher, therefore, welcomed de Klerk's decision in February 1990 to release Mandela and lift the ban on the ANC, and said the change vindicated her positive policy: "We believe in carrots as well as sticks". [144] [153] [145] However Thatcher had also set the freeing of Mandela as a condition of friendship with the white government. [154]

Thatcher said the European Community's voluntary ban on new investment should be lifted when Mandela was released. [155] However her call to the world to reward reforms was countered by Mandela himself, who while still in jail argued sanctions must be maintained until the end of white rule, [145] and criticised her decision to lift a ban on new investment unilaterally. [156] Mandela declared: "We regard the attitude of the British Government on the question of sanctions as of primary importance . My release from prison was the direct result of the people inside and outside South Africa. It was also the result of the immense pressure exerted on the South African Government by the international community, in particular from the people of the UK." [157]

However, foreign secretary Douglas Hurd was adamant: "We needed to make a practical response to a man, President F. W. de Klerk, who has taken his political life into his hands". [158] Nevertheless, as a gesture of goodwill Thatcher agreed to begin aid to the ANC, which until its suspension of violence she had criticised as "a typical terrorist organisation", [159] her disapproval reinforced by her anti-socialism. [160]

Thatcher's opposition to sanctions left her isolated within the Commonwealth and the European Community, and Mandela did not take up an early offer to meet her, [161] opposing her proposed visit to his country as premature. [162] Mandela rejected all concessions to the South African government, [163] which he accused of seeking the easing of sanctions before it had offered "profound and irreversible change". [164]

Mandela delayed meeting Thatcher until he had gathered support for sanctions from other world leaders in the course of a four-week, 14-nation tour of Europe and the United States. [165] [166] Their first meeting failed to resolve differences over her unilateral lifting of sanctions and his refusal to renounce armed struggle until existing conditions for the black majority in South Africa changed. [167] In their economic discussions, Mandela initially favoured nationalisation as a preferred method for redistributing wealth between blacks and whites, but with British investment in South Africa in 1989 accounting for half of the total, and with bilateral trade worth just over $3.2 billion, [167] Thatcher successfully urged him to adopt free-market solutions, arguing they were necessary to maintain the kind of growth that would sustain a liberal democracy. [168]

German reunification and the Gulf War Edit

The NATO nations were in general agreement on delicately handling the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, the reunification of Germany in 1990–91, and the end of communism and the Soviet Union in 1991. There was no gloating or effort to humiliate Gorbachev. While US president George H. W. Bush wanted to make NATO more of a political than a military alliance, Thatcher spoke out for the importance of the military role. Like Mitterrand in France, she was nervous about the reunification of Germany, repeating the quip from Lord Ismay, NATO's first secretary-general: "The purpose of NATO is to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down." [169] : 401, 407 Thatcher and Mitterrand had a more specific worry. Bush said: "Margaret still feared the worst from reunification and, like Mitterrand, worried that the Germans might "go neutral" and refuse to permit stationing nuclear weapons on their soil." That is, Chancellor Kohl might trade neutralisation of united Germany as part of the price the Kremlin wanted to approve unification. In the event, Germany was reunited and there was no neutralisation. [170] : 152

Thatcher pushed President Bush to take strong military action in reversing Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, to which she sent over 45,000 troops. In the following year, they saw combat under her successor John Major in Operation Granby. [30] : 670–71

Decline and fall Edit

1989 leadership challenge Edit

In November 1989, Thatcher was challenged for the Conservative Party's leadership by Sir Anthony Meyer, a 69-year-old back-bencher. 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 sixty ballot papers either cast for Meyer or abstaining, a surprisingly large number for a sitting prime minister. However, her supporters in the Party viewed the results as a success, claiming that after ten years as prime minister and with approximately 370 Conservative MPs voting, the opposition was surprisingly small. [171]

Poll tax Edit

Thatcher was fiercely committed to a new tax—commonly called the "poll tax"—that would apply in equal amounts to rich and poor alike, despite intense public opposition. Her inability to compromise undermined her leadership in the Conservative Party, which turned decisively against her. Thatcher sought to relieve what she considered the unfair burden of property tax on the property-owning section of the population and outlined a fundamental solution as her flagship policy in the Conservative manifesto for the 1987 election. Local government rates (taxes) were replaced by the community charge, popularly known as the "poll tax", which levied a flat rate on all adult residents. [172] : 297 Almost every adult, irrespective of income or wealth, paid the same, which would heavily redistribute the tax burden onto the less well-off. [173]

She defended the poll tax, firstly, on the principle of marginality, that all voters should bear the burden of extra spending by local councils secondly, on the benefit principle, that burdens should be proportional to benefits received. [172] : 298 Ministers disregarded political research which showed potential massive losses for marginal Conservative-voting households. [174]

The poll tax was introduced in Scotland in 1989 and England and Wales in 1990. This highly visible redistribution of the tax burden onto the less well-off proved to be one of the most controversial policies of Thatcher's premiership. Additional problems emerged when many of the tax rates set by local councils proved to be much higher than earlier predicted. Opponents organised to resist bailiffs and disrupt court hearings of community charge debtors. One Labour MP, Terry Fields, was jailed for 60 days for refusing to pay.

An indication of the unpopularity of the policy was given by a Gallup poll in March 1990 that put Labour 18.5 points ahead. [175] As the crisis deepened and the Prime Minister stood her ground, opponents claimed that up to 18 million people were refusing to pay. [176] Enforcement measures became increasingly draconian. Unrest mounted and culminated in a number of riots. The most serious of these happened on 31 March 1990, during a protest at Trafalgar Square, London. More than 100,000 protesters attended and more than 400 people were arrested. [177]

Labour continued to benefit from the situation as their lead in the opinion polls widened, and they made gains from the Tories in local council elections and more than once in by-elections. The new Liberal Democrats, after a weak start, were starting to gain ground in the opinion polls and seized the safe Eastbourne seat in its by-election in October.

Constitutional commentators concluded from the tax fiasco that "the British state [became] dangerously centralised, to an extent that important policy developments can now no longer be properly debated". [172] : 299 The unpopularity of the poll tax came to be seen as an important factor in Thatcher's downfall, [178] by convincing many Conservative backbenchers to vote against her when she was later challenged for the leadership by Michael Heseltine. [174]

Following Thatcher's departure, her former chancellor Nigel Lawson labelled the poll tax as "the one great blunder of the Thatcher years". The succeeding Major government announced the abolition of the tax in spring 1991 and, in 1993, replaced it with Council Tax, a banded property tax similar in many respects to the older system of rates. [178] Former trade-and-industry secretary Nicholas Ridley agreed that Thatcher had suffered a massive defeat over the poll tax, but he argued that Major's repeal "vindicated the rioters and those who had refused to pay. Lawlessness seemed to have paid off". [20] : 91–92

1990 leadership challenge and resignation Edit

Thatcher's political "assassination" was, according to witnesses such as Alan Clark, one of the most dramatic episodes in British political history. [67] : 249–73 [30] : 709–47, 410 The idea of a long-serving prime minister, undefeated at the polls, being ousted by an internal party ballot might, at first sight, seem bizarre. However, by 1990, opposition to Thatcher's policies on local government taxation, her Government's perceived mishandling of the economy (in particular the high interest rates of 15% that eroded her support among homeowners and business people), and the divisions opening in the Conservative Party over European integration made her seem increasingly politically vulnerable and her party increasingly divided. A Gallup poll in October 1990 showed that while Thatcher remained personally respected, there was overwhelming opposition towards her final initiatives, [i] while various polls suggested the party was trailing Labour by between 6 and 11 points. Moreover, the Prime Minister's distaste for "consensus politics" and willingness to override colleagues' opinions, including that of her Cabinet, emboldened the backlash against her when it did occur. [179]

On 1 November 1990, Sir Geoffrey Howe, one of Thatcher's oldest allies and longest-serving Cabinet member, resigned from his position as Deputy Prime Minister in protest at Thatcher's open hostility both to moves towards European federalism and to her own government's policy advocating a "hard ecu", i.e. a new European currency which competed alongside existing national currencies. In his resignation speech in the House of Commons two weeks later, he likened having to negotiate against what he called the "background noise" of her rhetoric to trying to play cricket despite the team captain having broken her own team's bats. He ended by suggesting that the time had come for "others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties", with which he stated that he had wrestled "for perhaps too long".

Thatcher's former cabinet colleague Michael Heseltine then challenged her for the leadership of the party she led the first round of voting by Conservative MPs (20 November) with just under 55% of the vote but fell four votes short of the 15% margin needed to win outright. Though she initially stated that she intended to contest the second ballot, most of Thatcher's Cabinet colleagues offered her at best lukewarm support, and many warned her that she would very likely lose a second ballot to Heseltine. On 22 November, at just after 9.30 am, she announced to the Cabinet that she would not be a candidate in the second ballot after all. Shortly afterwards, her staff made public what was, in effect, her resignation statement, in which she stated that she had "concluded that the unity of the Party and the prospects of victory in a General Election would be better served" if she stood down as prime minister.

Leader of the Opposition Neil Kinnock proposed a motion of no confidence in the Government, and Margaret Thatcher seized the opportunity this presented on the day of her resignation to deliver one of her most memorable performances. Among other quips, she famously noted: "a single currency is about the politics of Europe, it is about a federal Europe by the back door. So I shall consider the proposal of the Honourable Member for Bolsover [that she be the first governor of the new European Central Bank]. Now where were we? I am enjoying this".

She supported John Major as her successor, and after he had won the leadership contest, she formally resigned as prime minister on 28 November. In the years to come, her approval of Major would fall away. After her resignation, a MORI poll found that 52% agreed with the proposition that "On balance she had been good for the country", while 48% disagreed thinking she had been bad. [180] : 134 In 1991, she was given a long and unprecedented standing ovation at the party's annual conference, although she politely rejected calls from delegates for her to make a speech. She "all but shunned" the House of Commons after losing power and gave no clue as to her future plans. [181] She retired from the House at the 1992 general election, at the age of 66 years.

Record in perspective Edit

Altogether, the eleven-year duration of her three terms in office make up the third to have outlasted a decade from start to finish, following Robert Walpole in the 1730s and William Pitt in the 1790s. Despite her electoral success in accumulating tens of millions of votes throughout Great Britain, only in Southern England and the Midlands did she ever win a majority of the popular vote. [6] : 26 [182] [183] The misery index—the addition of the unemployment rate to the inflation rate—in the UK in November 1990 was "13.92", [184] [185] an 11.8% decrease from the rate of "15.57" in April 1979. [184] [186]

Thatcher had broadened her interest in foreign policy since she became Conservative Party leader and would work with five foreign secretaries. [j]

As prime minister, she cautiously moved closer to the European Community, tried to limit disinvestment from South Africa and agreed to return Hong Kong to China. Having long denounced Soviet communism, she escalated her attacks when it invaded Afghanistan. [188] [ page needed ] However, Thatcher would seek détente with the reformist Gorbachev she later welcomed the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe during 1989. [188] She went to war with Argentina to recover the Falkland Islands and was a leader in the coalition opposing Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.

From the National Archives Edit

Under the thirty-year rule, various government documents relating to Thatcher's premiership have been declassified and released by the National Archives. These include:

GCSEs Edit

Papers released in December 2014 show that Thatcher completely disapproved of GCSEs which, in 1986, Sir Keith Joseph was trying to introduce in the face of fierce opposition from teaching unions. At very least she wanted a two-year delay to ensure rigorous syllabuses and adequate teacher training. However, when the unions who had been involved in a pay dispute for two years further criticised reforms at their conference, Joseph persuaded her to go ahead immediately to avoid appearing to take their side. According to Dominic Cummings, special advisor to Michael Gove, it was a catastrophic decision which led to a collapse in the integrity of the exam system. [189]

Cocaine production Edit

In July 1989, Thatcher called for research on the use of biological weapons against cocaine producers in Peru, in the context of the feared crack cocaine epidemic among black British people. Carolyn Sinclair, a policy adviser, suggested that Thatcher proceed cautiously in working with black communities because she believed they gave cannabis to babies. [190]

From inquiries Edit

In February 2020, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse reported that Thatcher was made aware of child abuse allegations against Conservative MP Peter Morrison. [191]


Thatcher was born in Lewisham, south London, as the first child of New Zealand-born British businessman Thomas Herbert "Jack" Thatcher [1] (15 October 1885 [2] – 24 June 1943 [3] ) and Lilian Kathleen Bird (7 July 1889 – 25 October 1976). [ citation needed ] [1] At age eight, Denis entered a preparatory school as a boarder in Bognor Regis, following which he attended the nonconformist public school Mill Hill School in north London. [1] At school he excelled at cricket, being a left-handed batsman. [4]

Thatcher left Mill Hill at age 18 to join the family paint and preservatives business, [1] Atlas Preservatives. [5] He also studied accountancy to improve his grasp of business, [6] and in 1935 was appointed works manager. [7] He joined the Territorial Army shortly after the Munich crisis, as he was convinced war was imminent [1] – a view reinforced by a visit he made to Nazi Germany with his father's business in 1937. [5]

During the Second World War, Thatcher was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the 34th Searchlight (Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment) of the Royal Engineers. He transferred to the Royal Artillery on 1 August 1940. [8] During the war he was promoted to war substantive captain and temporary major. He served throughout the Allied invasion of Sicily and the Italian campaign and was twice mentioned in dispatches, and in 1945 was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). The first mention in dispatches came on 11 January 1945, for service in Italy, [9] and the second on 29 November 1945, again for Italian service. [10]

His MBE was gazetted on 20 September 1945, [11] and was awarded for his efforts in initiating and supporting Operation Goldflake, the transfer of I Canadian Corps from Italy to the north-west European theatre of operations. By this time, Thatcher was based in Marseille, attached to HQ 203 sub-area. In the recommendation for the MBE (dated 28 March 1945), his commanding officer wrote: "Maj. Thatcher set an outstanding example of energy, initiative and drive. He deserves most of the credit for [. ] the excellence of the work done." [12]

Thatcher also received the French approximate equivalent of a mention when he was cited in orders at Corps d'Armée level for his efforts in promoting smooth relations between the Commonwealth military forces and the French civil and military authorities. [13] He was promoted to substantive lieutenant on 11 April 1945. [14] Demobilised in 1946, he returned to run the family business – his father having died (aged 57) on 24 June 1943, when Thatcher was in Sicily. Because of army commitments, Thatcher was unable to attend the funeral. [3]

He remained in the Territorial Army reserve of officers until reaching the age limit for service on 10 May 1965, when he retired, retaining the honorary rank of major. [15]

On 21 September 1982 he was awarded the Territorial Decoration (TD) for his service. [16]

Thatcher married twice, during wartime to Margot Kempson in 1942 (divorced in 1948), [5] and in 1951 to Margaret Roberts. [17]

Margot Kempson Edit

On 28 March 1942, Thatcher married Margaret Doris [17] "Margot" Kempson, the daughter of a businessman, [1] at St Mary's Church in Monken Hadley. They met at an officers' dance at Grosvenor House the year before. [18]

Although initially very happy, [ citation needed ] Thatcher and his first wife never lived together. [5] Their married life became confined to snatched weekends and irregular leaves as Thatcher was often abroad during the war. When Thatcher returned to England after being demobilised in 1946, his wife told him she had met someone else and wanted a divorce. [19]

Thatcher was so traumatised by the event that he completely refused to talk about his first marriage or the separation, even to his daughter, as she states in her 1996 biography of him. [20] [ page needed ] Thatcher's two children found out about his first marriage only in 1976, by which time their mother was Leader of the Opposition, and only when the media revealed it. [21]

Margaret Thatcher Edit

In February 1949, at a Paint Trades Federation function in Dartford, he met Margaret Hilda Roberts, a chemist and newly-selected parliamentary candidate. When she met Denis for the first time she described him as "not a very attractive creature" and "very reserved but quite nice". [22] They married on 13 December 1951, at Wesley's Chapel in City Road, London the Robertses were Methodists. Margaret Thatcher was elected Leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 and went on to win the 1979 general election to become the first female prime minister in British history. Denis became the first husband of a British prime minister. [23]

In 1953, they had twin children (Carol and Mark), who were born on 15 August at Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital in Hammersmith, seven weeks premature. [24] Thatcher was watching the deciding Test of the 1953 Ashes series at the time of the twins' birth. [25]

Not long after the 1964 general election, Thatcher suffered a nervous breakdown which put a severe strain on his marriage. [26] [27] The breakdown was probably caused by the increasing pressure of running the family business, caring for his relatives, and his wife's preoccupation with her political career, which left him lonely and exhausted. [26] Thatcher sailed to South Africa and stayed there for two months to recuperate. [26] His wife's biographer David Cannadine described it as "the greatest crisis of their marriage", but immediately after, he recovered and returned home, he maintained a happy marriage for the rest of his life. [26]

This second marriage for Thatcher led to the future prime minister being sometimes referred to as "Mrs Denis Thatcher" in such sources as selection minutes, [28] travel itineraries, [29] and society publications such as Queen, even after her election as a Member of Parliament. [29] [30] As Margaret's political career progressed, she preferred to be known only as "Mrs Thatcher".

According to John Campbell, a biographer of his wife, "their marriage was more a partnership of mutual convenience than a romance", [31] quoting their daughter Carol in her biography of Denis:

If marriage is either a takeover or a merger, then my parents enjoyed the latter. There was a great deal of common ground and a tacit laissez faire agreement that they would get on with their own interests and activities. There was no possessiveness, nor any expectation that one partner's career should take precedence. [32]

Thatcher was already a wealthy man when he met Margaret and financed her training as a barrister, and a home in Chelsea, London [1] he also bought a large house in Lamberhurst, Kent, in 1965. [1] His firm employed 200 people by 1957. [1]

Thatcher became managing director of his family's firm Atlas in 1947 and chairman in 1951, and led its overseas expansion. [ citation needed ] By the early 1960s he found being in sole control of the family company difficult [ citation needed ] this, his wife's political career, and their desire for financial security caused Thatcher to sell Atlas to Castrol in 1965 for £530,000 (£10,337,000 today). He continued to run Atlas and received a seat on Castrol's board after Burmah Oil took over Castrol in 1966, Thatcher became a senior divisional director, managing the planning and control department. [33] [ need quotation to verify ] He retired from Burmah in June 1975, [ citation needed ] four months after his wife won the Conservative Party leadership election.

In addition to being a director of Burmah Oil, Thatcher was vice-chairman of Attwoods from 1983 to January 1994, [ citation needed ] a director of Quinton Hazell from 1968 to 1998, [ citation needed ] and a consultant to AMEC and CSX. [ citation needed ] He was also a non-executive director of retail giant Halfords during the 1980s. [ citation needed ]

His wife's biographer Robin Harris concludes:

He was not, in fact, a particularly good businessman: he had inherited shares in a family firm which he managed, and he was lucky enough to sell his interest on terms that gave him a large pay-off and a good salary to boot. But it is significant that he left a very modest legacy at his death. This was because, throughout his life, and despite his training as an accountant and his eagle-eyed scrutiny of the Stock Exchange, he was a poor investor. Once his wife had become Prime Minister, and even after her retirement, it was Denis who lived off her and not vice versa. He matched Alf Roberts in his dislike of spending his own money. More generally, while (in contrast to certain of his successors) he did not raise eyebrows about exploiting his position, he certainly made the most of it. He was a celebrity exclusively because of whom he had married. [34]

Thatcher refused press interviews and made only brief speeches. When he did speak to the press, he called his wife "The Boss". She often acknowledged her husband's support. In her autobiography, Margaret wrote: "I could never have been Prime Minister for more than 11 years without Denis by my side." Thatcher saw his role as helping her survive the stress of the job, which he urged her to resign on the tenth anniversary of her becoming prime minister in 1989, [ citation needed ] sensing that otherwise she would be forced out.

In an interview with The Times in October 1970, Thatcher said: "I don't pretend that I'm anything but an honest-to-God right-winger – those are my views and I don't care who knows 'em." [35] His public image was shaped by the satirical "Dear Bill" columns appearing since 1979 in Private Eye, which portrayed him as a "juniper-sozzled, rightwing, golf-obsessed halfwit", and Thatcher found it useful to play along with this image to avoid allegations of unduly influencing his wife in political matters. [36]

Given his professional background, Thatcher served as an advisor on financial matters, warning Margaret about the poor condition of British Leyland after reviewing its books. He often insisted that she avoid overwork, to little avail, sometimes pleading, "Bed, woman!" [37] They otherwise usually kept their careers separate an exception was when Thatcher accompanied his wife on a 1967 visit to the United States sponsored by the International Visitor Leadership Program. [33]

Thatcher was consistent in his strong opposition to the death penalty, calling it "absolutely awful" and "barbaric", as well as saying that he was against because of innocent people being wrongly hanged and because juries could also be afraid to convict for fear of making a mistake. [ citation needed ] Like his wife, Thatcher was consistently anti-socialist. He told his daughter in 1995 that he would have banned trade unions altogether in Britain. [ citation needed ] He had low regard for the BBC, thinking it was biased against his wife and her government, as well as unpatriotic. In his most famous outburst about the corporation, he claimed his wife had been "stitched up by bloody BBC poofs and Trots" when she was questioned by a member of the public about the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano on Nationwide in 1983. [38]

Thatcher was reported by New Zealand (NZ) broadcaster and former diplomat Chris Laidlaw—at the time NZ High Commissioner to Zimbabwe—as leaning towards him during a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, asking "So, what do you think the fuzzy wuzzies are up to?" [39]

In December 1990, following the resignation of his wife as prime minister, it was announced that Thatcher would be created a baronet [40] (the first such creation since 1964). The award was gazetted in February 1991, giving his title as Sir Denis Thatcher, 1st Baronet, of Scotney in the County of Kent. [41] Thus his wife was entitled to style herself Lady Thatcher, while retaining her seat in the House of Commons however she made it known that she preferred to remain addressed as "Mrs Thatcher", [42] and would not use the style. She was created a life peeress as Baroness Thatcher (Lady Thatcher in her own right) shortly after she retired from the Commons in 1992.

In July 1991, Thatcher was created a Commander of the Order of St John his wife was also made a Dame of the order. [43]

Thatcher's baronetcy was a hereditary title that was to be inherited by his son on his death. The first British baronetage to be granted since 1964, there have been no baronetages created thereafter.

In the autumn of 1992, Thatcher was diagnosed with prostate cancer [44] but it was caught early. He responded well to treatment.

On 17 January 2003, Thatcher underwent a six-hour heart-bypass operation and aortic valve operation at a Harley Street clinic. He had complained of breathlessness for several weeks before Christmas 2002, and the problem was diagnosed in early January. He left the clinic on 28 January 2003, and after recuperation, appeared to have made a full recovery. Thatcher returned home on 14 February and visited his son Mark in South Africa in April, but in early June, he again complained of breathlessness and listlessness. Lady Thatcher's staff also thought he also looked unwell, and on 13 June he was admitted to the Royal Brompton Hospital for further tests. [45] Nothing wrong was found with his heart but terminal pancreatic cancer was diagnosed, [46] along with fluid in his lungs. He was told nothing could be done for him, and after seven days there, on 20 June he was transferred to the Lister Hospital. [45] He lost consciousness on 24 June [47] and never regained it. He died on the morning of 26 June. [47]

His funeral service took place on 3 July 2003, at the chapel of the Royal Hospital Chelsea in London, followed by a cremation at Mortlake Crematorium [48] in Richmond, London. On 30 October, a memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey. His ashes were buried under a white marble marker just outside the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. [49] His wife's ashes were later buried near his following her death in 2013. [50] [51]

Married to Maggie Edit

Produced by his daughter Carol, [52] Thatcher's single public interview (which took place in October 2002) [ citation needed ] was made into a documentary film titled Married to Maggie, [53] broadcast after his death. [54] In it he revealed that the spouses he liked were Raisa Gorbacheva, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush. [54] He called his wife's successor, John Major, "a ghastly prime minister", saying that "[i]t would have been a [. ] very good thing" had he lost the 1992 general election. He added that he thought his wife was "the best prime minister since Churchill." [54]

Below the Parapet Edit

Below the Parapet (1996) is the biography by his daughter Carol. In it he said that politics as a profession or way of life did not appeal to him. [20] [ page needed ] World leaders he got on with included George H. W. Bush, [55] F. W. de Klerk, [56] Hussein of Jordan [57] and Mikhail Gorbachev, [20] [ page needed ] whilst he disliked Indira Gandhi and Sir Sonny Ramphal. [58] Thatcher admitted that he was not sure where the Falkland Islands were until they were invaded in 1982. [59]


Contents

Thatcher suffered several small strokes in 2002 and was advised by her doctors not to engage in any more public speaking. [1] On 23 March she announced the cancellation of her planned speaking engagements and that she would accept no more. [2] Despite her illness she pre-recorded a eulogy for the funeral of Ronald Reagan in June 2004, and attended her 80th birthday celebration in 2005 with the Queen and 650 other guests in attendance. [3] However, her health continued to decline she was briefly hospitalised in 2008 after feeling unwell during a dinner, and again after falling and fracturing her arm in 2009. In June 2009, her daughter Carol spoke to the press of her mother's struggle with dementia. [4] [5]

Thatcher died at 11:28 BST (10:28 UTC) on 8 April 2013, [6] at the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly after suffering a stroke. [7] [8] She had been staying in a suite there since December 2012, after having difficulty using the stairs at her house in Chester Square. [9] She had been invited to stay at the Ritz by its owners David and Frederick Barclay, who were long-time supporters. [10] Lord Bell, Thatcher's spokesman, confirmed her death to the Press Association, who issued the first wire report to newsrooms at 12:47 BST (11:47 UTC). The Union Flag was flown at half-mast at Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, Parliament and other palaces, [11] and flowers were laid outside her home. [12]

Planning Edit

Planning for the funeral began in 2009. The committee was originally chaired by Sir Malcolm Ross, former Master of the Royal Household. Following the 2010 general election that brought the coalition government into power, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude was made the new chairman of the committee the codename given to the plans was changed to True Blue from Iron Bridge to give it "a more Conservative feel". [13] [14]

Details of Thatcher's funeral had been agreed with her in advance. [15] She had chosen the hymns, among them Charles Wesley's "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling", which reflected her Methodist upbringing. [16] She also stipulated that the prime minister of the day would read a lesson from the Bible. [17]

Thatcher had previously vetoed a state funeral reasons included cost, parliamentary deliberation, [18] and that it suggested similar stature to Winston Churchill (with which she disagreed). [19] Instead, with her and her family's agreement, she received a ceremonial funeral, [20] including military honours, [21] a guard of honour, and a service at St Paul's Cathedral, London. The arrangements were similar to those for Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 2002 and for Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997, except with greater military honours as she had been a former head of government. Thatcher's body was cremated after the funeral, in accordance with her wishes. [22]

Some of Thatcher's supporters expressed disappointment that she would not be given a full state funeral. [18] However, Peter Oborne in The Daily Telegraph argued that the scale of the ceremony amounted to a de facto state funeral and disagreed with the status of a ceremonial funeral. Oborne contended that the Queen's attendance might be seen as "partisan" since she had not attended Labour prime minister Clement Attlee's funeral. [14]

The scale and the cost to the taxpayer of the funeral, inaccurately estimated before the event at up to £10 million in total, was also criticised by public figures including the Bishop of Grantham, Tim Ellis Lord Prescott and George Galloway. [23] [24] [25] Thatcher's family agreed to meet part of the cost of the funeral, unspecified but thought to cover transport, flowers and the cremation. The government would fund the remaining costs, including security. [26] After the event, it was reported by 10 Downing Street that in fact the total public spending on the funeral was £3.6 million, of which £3.1 million (86 per cent) had been the costs of police and security. [27]

Anticipating possible protests and demonstrations along the route, police mounted one of the largest security operations since the 2012 Summer Olympics. [28] [29] Against the backdrop of the bombings at the Boston Marathon two days earlier, it was announced that over 4,000 police officers would be deployed. [30] In the event, the crowds were peaceful, with supporters drowning out most of the scattered protests with cheers and applause. [31] : 10.02 am, 10.32 am, 10.40 am, 10.45 am [32] A few hundred people turned up to protest at Ludgate Circus, some shouting and others turning their backs, with other protesters picketing along the route. [33]

Day of the funeral and aftermath Edit

Flags along Whitehall were lowered to half-mast at 08:00, [31] and as a rare mark of respect the chimes of the Palace of Westminster's Great Clock, including Big Ben, were silenced from 09:45 for the duration of the funeral. [34] At the Tower of London, a 105 mm gun fired every 60 seconds during the procession. [31] : 10.43 am Muffled bells tolled at St Margaret's Church at Westminster Abbey, [31] : 10.02 am and at St Paul's.

The funeral cortège commenced at the Houses of Parliament, where Thatcher's coffin had lain overnight in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft beneath St Stephen's Hall at the Palace of Westminster. [35] The funeral procession was as follows:

  • From the Palace of Westminster, a motor hearse travelled down Whitehall, across Trafalgar Square and down the Strand and Aldwych
  • At St Clement Danes, the central church of the RAF, at the eastern end of the Strand the coffin was transferred to a gun carriage drawn by the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery
  • The cortège continued along Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill before it arrived at St Paul's Cathedral [31][36]
  • At St Paul's, the coffin was carried into the Cathedral by members of the Armed Forces and borne down the nave preceded by her grandchildren, Michael and Amanda, who carried cushions bearing Thatcher's insignia of the Order of the Garter and the Order of Merit.

The bidding (introductory words) was given by the Dean of St Paul's, David Ison. Amanda Thatcher gave the first Bible reading the second reading was given by the prime minister, David Cameron. [37] The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, also gave an address. [38]

It was expected that there would be about 2,300 mourners within St Paul's for the funeral. Invitations were decided by the Thatcher family and their representatives, together with the government and the Conservative Party. The guest list included her family and friends former colleagues, including former British Cabinet members and personal staff who worked closely with her. Invitations were also sent to representatives of some 200 countries, and to all five living presidents of the United States [39] and all four living British prime ministers. Two current heads of state, 11 serving prime ministers, and 17 serving foreign ministers were present. [40]

The Queen, Elizabeth II, led mourners at the funeral. [41] It marked only the second time in the Queen's reign that she attended the funeral of one of her prime ministers, the only other time was for that of Churchill in 1965. [42] Her presence at the funeral was interpreted by some as having elevated "the status [of the funeral] to that of state funeral in all but name". [42] The Queen and her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, were led in and out of the cathedral by the Lord Mayor of London, Roger Gifford, bearing the Mourning Sword. The sword had last been used at Churchill's funeral. [43]

Following the church service, the coffin was taken by motor hearse from St Paul's to Mortlake Crematorium, where Denis Thatcher had been cremated nearly a decade before. The cremation service was only attended by the immediate family. On 28 September 2013, a private and unpublicised service for Thatcher was held in the All Saints Chapel of the Royal Hospital Chelsea's Margaret Thatcher Infirmary. Afterwards, Thatcher's ashes were interred in the hospital's grounds, next to those of her husband. [44] [45]

Family Edit

On 10 April, two days following Thatcher's death, her son Mark spoke of his mother's death on the steps of her Chester Square home. He told a gathering of journalists that his family was "proud and equally grateful" that her funeral service would be attended by the Queen, whose presence he said his mother would be "greatly honoured as well as humbled by". He expressed gratitude for all the messages of support and condolences from far and wide. [46] Three days later on 13 April her daughter Carol thanked US president Barack Obama and others for their tributes and all those who had sent messages of sympathy and support. [47]

Domestic Edit

Political reaction Edit

A Buckingham Palace spokesman reported the Queen's sadness on hearing the news of her death and that she would be sending a private message to the family. [48]

Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader David Cameron cut short a visit to Spain and ordered flags to be flown at half-mast. He issued a statement lamenting Britain's loss of "a great prime minister, a great leader, a great Briton". [49] [50] The deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, eulogised Thatcher as having defined modern British politics and that, while she may have "divided opinion" during her time, there would be scant disagreement about "the strength of her personality and the radicalism of her politics". [48]

Leader of the Opposition and Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said that she would be remembered for having "reshaped the politics of a whole generation [and moving] the centre ground of British politics" and for her stature in the world. He said that, although the Labour Party had disagreed with much of what she did, "we can disagree and also greatly respect her political achievements and her personal strength". [48]

Sir John Major, her successor as prime minister, credited Thatcher's leadership with turning Britain around in large measure: "Her reforms of the economy, trades union law, and her recovery of the Falkland Islands elevated her above normal politics." [48] Former Labour prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown said that even those who disagreed with her would admire her strength of character, her convictions, her view of Britain's place in the world and her contribution to British national life. [51]

Scottish first minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond acknowledged that "Margaret Thatcher was a truly formidable prime minister whose policies defined a political generation". [52] Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, while expressing sympathy to her family, criticised her policies' effects on Wales. [53]

Former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas voiced regret that, although Thatcher was the first female prime minister, "she did little for women either inside or outside the House of Commons". [54] UKIP leader Nigel Farage expressed his sympathy in a tweet, paying homage to "a great patriotic lady". [55]

Wider reaction Edit

The House of Commons was recalled in order to hold a special session discussing Thatcher's legacy. [56] While current and former cabinet ministers struck a conciliatory tone in their speeches, some in the Labour Party attacked Thatcher's legacy. [26] [57] [58] Over half of all Labour MPs chose to boycott the tribute to Thatcher, [59] with many saying it would have been hypocritical for them to honour her as their constituents continued to suffer from some of the decisions she made. [60] [54] Former MP Tony Benn, former London mayor Ken Livingstone and Paul Kenny, general-secretary of the GMB trade union, stated that her policies were divisive and her legacy involved "the destruction of communities, the elevation of personal greed over social values and legitimising the exploitation of the weak by the strong", [61] however Benn did acknowledge some of her personal qualities. [62]

Many reactions were unsympathetic, [63] particularly from her former opponents. [64] [65] [66] Residents in Orgreave, South Yorkshire, site of the Battle of Orgreave between striking coal miners and police in June 1984, declared that their village had been "decimated by Thatcher". [67] The Associated Press quoted a number of miners as responding to her death simply with "good riddance". [68] Chris Kitchen, general-secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, stated that miners would "not be shedding a tear for her". [69] A mock funeral was held in the pit village of Goldthorpe in South Yorkshire, in which an effigy of Thatcher was burned alongside the word "scab" spelled out in flowers. [70]

Spontaneous street parties were held by some across Britain, comparable to the enthusiasm shown for the assassination of sitting prime minister Spencer Perceval in 1812 [71] celebrations of her death took place in Glasgow, Brixton, Liverpool, Bristol, Leeds, Belfast, Cardiff and elsewhere [72] [73] [74] [75] [76] Glasgow City Council advised citizens to stay away from street parties organised without their involvement or consent out of safety concerns. [77] [78] A larger demonstration with around 3,000 protesters took place at Trafalgar Square in London on 13 April. [79] [80] [81] [82] Graffiti was posted calling for her to "rot in hell". [58] [83] [84] Left-wing film director Ken Loach suggested privatising her funeral and tendering it for the cheapest bid. [85] The Daily Telegraph website closed comments on all articles related to her death due to spamming by online trolls. [86]

The issue of whether to fly the flag at half-mast for her funeral caused controversy for some councils where local feelings remained hostile. The government's national flag protocol dictates that union flags should be lowered to half mast on the funeral days of all former prime ministers [87] however most Scottish councils did not lower the flag for the funeral. [88] Councils in England that refused to lower the flag included Barnsley, Sheffield and Wakefield in Yorkshire, [89] as well as Coventry in the West Midlands. [90]

Whilst business leaders, including Alan Sugar, Richard Branson, Archie Norman and CBI chief John Cridland, credited her for creating a climate favourable to business in Britain, and lifting the UK "out of the economic relegation zone", [91] [92] the Premier League and the Football League rejected having a minute's silence around the country's football grounds, a move backed by the Football Supporters' Federation and the Hillsborough Family Support Group, the latter in reaction to her perceived lack of interest in uncovering abuse committed by the police during the 1989 disaster. [93] However, Saracens and Exeter Chiefs held a minute's silence for her before their Premiership rugby union games. [94]

International politics Edit

Along with the eulogies and expressions of condolence, there were less than sympathetic reactions in Argentina, due to her role in the Falklands War, [96] and in South Africa, given her support for constructive engagement with apartheid South Africa. [97] [98]

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, described Thatcher as "a great model as the first woman Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who not only demonstrated her leadership but has given such great hope for many women for equality, gender equality in Parliament". [99] The message from Pope Francis "recalls with appreciation the Christian values which underpinned her commitment to public service and to the promotion of freedom among the family of nations". [100]

US president Obama lamented the loss of "a true friend". His statement praised her as "an unapologetic supporter of our transatlantic alliance, she knew that with strength and resolve we could win the Cold War and extend freedom's promise". [101]

Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper acknowledged Thatcher as having "define[d] the age in which she served [as well as] contemporary conservatism itself". [102]

French president François Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel remarked that Thatcher left "a deep impression on her country's history". [103] Merkel went on to hail Thatcher's belief in the freedom of the individual as having contributed to "overcoming Europe's partition and the end of the Cold War". [48]

Irish president Michael D. Higgins extended his condolences, saying: "She will be remembered as one of the most conviction-driven British prime ministers" and that "her key role in signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement will be recalled as a valuable early contribution to the search for peace and political stability". [104] Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Enda Kenny said he was "saddened" to learn of Thatcher's death, [105] while Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams criticised "the great hurt done to the Irish and British people during her time as British prime minister", adding: "Here in Ireland, her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering". [64]

Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said she was "an ideologue among pragmatists". [106]

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy hailed her as a 20th-century landmark and said it was a sad day for Europe. [107]

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe called her a great statesperson. [108] Australian prime minister Julia Gillard expressed admiration for Thatcher's achievements as a woman. [109]

New Zealand prime minister John Key praised Thatcher's determination and expressed his "[sadness] for her family and Great Britain". [110] Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu lamented losing "a true friend of the Jewish people and Israel". [111]

Romanian president Traian Băsescu and the premier and foreign minister of Bulgaria, Marin Raykov, cited her influence on them and sent their condolences. They recognised Thatcher as a central figure in modern European history, and that her application of the law and economically liberal principles contributed to the downfall of communism in the Eastern Bloc. [112] [113]

Polish foreign minister Radosław Sikorski said she was a "fearless champion of liberty". [114]

At the wishes of Thatcher's family, Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was not invited to the funeral. Argentine foreign minister Héctor Timerman said that any invitation would have been "just another provocation". [115] The Argentine ambassador, Alicia Castro, was invited in line with diplomatic protocol, [39] but declined the invitation. [116]

Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and South African president Jacob Zuma expressed their "deepest sympathies". [117] [118] as did Russian president Vladimir Putin, who said that Thatcher was "a pragmatic, tough and consistent person". [119] Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev expressed sadness at the loss of a "great" politician "whose words carried great weight". [12]

Social media Edit

Social media played a significant role in the aftermath of her death, with celebrities channelling polarised views about Thatcher on Twitter, [120] and endorsing campaigns and demonstrations. [121] Anti-Thatcher sentiment prompted a campaign on social media networks to bring the song "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" from The Wizard of Oz into the UK Singles Chart, [122] followed by a counter-campaign adopted by Thatcher supporters in favour of the 1979 tongue-in-cheek punk song "I'm in Love with Margaret Thatcher" by the Notsensibles, which had been started by the band's lead singer. [123] [124] On 12 April 2013, "Ding-Dong!" charted at number 2 across the UK (it made number 1 in Scotland), [125] and "I'm in Love with Margaret Thatcher" at number 35. [126] [127] BBC Radio 1 controller Ben Cooper said that the station's chart show would not play the No. 2 song but that a portion of it would be aired as part of a news item. [128] [129] Cooper explained that its delicate compromise balanced freedom of speech and sensitivity for a family grieving for a loved one yet to be buried. [126]


Margaret Thatcher's Career in Perspective

Roland Quinault offers an appraisal of the Iron Lady's legacy.

The death of Margaret Thatcher has unleashed a deluge of media comment on every aspect of her personality and politics. There has been general agreement that she was the most important prime minister in the second half of the twentieth century and one who made a distinctly personal impact on British politics. While there are good grounds for that assessment, both her critics and her admirers have exaggerated the nature of her contribution and achievement in various respects.

Her rise from modest beginnings to the premiership followed in the footsteps of her three prime ministerial predecessors. Like Wilson and Heath she went from a local selective school to Oxford, whereas Callaghan went to neither a grammar school nor university. Thatcher’s gender was not much of a political disadvantage either. At Oxford, she was the third woman to become President of the university Conservative association. At the 1950 general election she was one of 126 female candidates – a number not exceeded until 1974. Although not elected, she gained considerable press attention as a young and attractive candidate. She subsequently married a very wealthy businessman, which enabled her to pursue both a legal and a political career. It was her barrister friend and Tory MP, Airey Neave, who masterminded her successful party leadership campaign in 1975.

Before that campaign, Thatcher was a loyal supporter of the official party line. It was only the mistakes of Heath in his handling of the miners’ strike and of Callaghan with respect to ‘the winter of discontent’ that enabled Thatcher to become first the leader of her party and then the first female prime minister. But Barbara Castle had already demonstrated that a strong-minded, straight talking, woman could hold her own with men on the national political stage. Once in office, Thatcher relied on old-fashioned feminine charms as well as her robust powers of argument to win over her male Cabinet colleagues to her point of view. She promoted very few women to ministerial posts and did little to advance the prospects of women whether in politics, the economy or society.

Thatcher is widely regarded as a conviction politician who put principle before expediency. Before the 1979 general election she declared that she would not tolerate dissent and denounced the idea of consensus. Yet once in office, she included a wide range of Tories in her Cabinet and she relied heavily on the consensual skills of her deputy, Willie Whitelaw. For much of her premiership, moreover, caution was the hallmark of her policies. Her trade union reforms were gradual, while she avoided major changes to the National Health Service and the welfare system. Even her government’s privatisation of industry was selective for the coalmines, the railways and the Post Office remained in the public sector. Despite her rhetorical flirtation with the small-State views of Sir Keith Joseph and others, she followed her predecessors in strengthening, rather than weakening, the power of central government.

Claims that Thatcher was an anti-establishment figure – a right-wing radical, rather than a Conservative – are much exaggerated for her policies usually had an historical pedigree. Her belief in free market economics and in individual enterprise and responsibility had their origins in Victorian Liberalism – hence her desire for a return to ‘Victorian values’. Her support for leasehold enfranchisement and the sale of council houses to their tenants promoted the creation of a ‘property-owning democracy’, which had long been a Conservative objective. She was also conservative in her opposition to reform of both the electoral system and the House of Lords. Her strong support for the Union of the United Kingdom was also in accordance with Tory tradition, while the abolition of the Greater London Council reflected the Conservatives old mistrust of a unitary local authority for the capital. Thatcher’s trade union legislation followed on in the wake of earlier, though less successful, reforms by Edward Heath. Her attitude to the 1984-5 miners strike closely resembled that of Baldwin to the 1926 General Strike. Like Baldwin, she regarded the strike as a politically motivated challenge to democratic government and took measures before and during the strike to ensure that it did not succeed. Even the introduction of the Community Charge – a flat ‘poll tax’ on all residents of a kind not levied for centuries – reflected her determination to protect the financial interests of ratepayers, who had long been the backbone of the Tory grass roots.

Thatcher is often represented as a warrior premier – the ‘iron lady’ and a modern personification of Britannia or Boudicca. Yet her bellicosity has been much exaggerated. The Falklands war was not of her choosing and it was the pusillanimous stance of her government regarding the sovereignty of the islands that encouraged the Argentine Junta to invade them. Her decision to despatch a task force to regain the islands reflected the strength of public indignation and she was far from confident that it would succeed. Success in the Falklands war boosted her confidence and reputation but it did not tempt her to engage in further military operations. She subsequently agreed to surrender Hong Kong – a much more valuable colony than the Falklands – to China despite the reservations of its people. While Thatcher believed – like all premiers during the cold war - in the need for military strength in the face of the Soviet threat, she also sought détente when conditions were right. Consequently she invited Gorbachev to visit Britain and famously concluded that ‘we can do business together’.

With respect to Europe too, Thatcher’s stance has generally been misrepresented. She has been widely regarded as a ‘Eurosceptic’ or ‘Europhobe’ but for many years she was an enthusiastic supporter of the European Union. As a member of Heath’s government she supported Britain’s accession to the European Economic Community and she voted to stay in the union in the 1975 referendum. As prime minister she fought, hard and successfully, to lessen Britain’s financial contribution to the European Budget but she strongly supported the 1985 Single European Act, which promoted a free market within the EU. She also actively supported the accession of Spain and Portugal and later the ex-Communist countries of Easter European into the union. Although her speech at Bruges, in 1988, was critical of the bureaucracy and undemocratic features of the EU, neither then nor later did she call for Britain to withdraw from the union. She was wanted to redirect the European train but not to jump off it.

Ironically, Thatcher’s legacy was, in many respects, more ‘Thatcherite’ than her own ministry. John Major extended privatisation to sectors where she had feared to tread, while Tony Blair assumed the mantle of an ‘iron man’ in his pursuit of an interventionist foreign policy that went far beyond what she had countenanced. Even Gordon Brown adopted greater financial de-regulation than she had approved and invited her to tea at Downing Street. Each of them was misled by an image of Thatcher that exaggerated her characteristics and simplified her policies. In reality, her contribution to British politics was subtler but also less game changing than has been alleged.

Roland Quinault is editor of William Gladstone: New Studies and Perspectives


Resignation

Returning for a third term in 1987, Thatcher sought to implement a standard educational curriculum across the nation and make changes to the country&aposs socialized medical system. However, she lost a lot of support due to her efforts to implement a fixed rate local tax—labeled a poll tax by many since she sought to disenfranchise those who did not pay it. Hugely unpopular, this policy led to public protests and caused dissension within her party.

Thatcher initially pressed on for party leadership in 1990, but eventually yielded to pressure from party members and announced her intentions to resign on November 22, 1990. In a statement, she said, "Having consulted widely among 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." On November 28, 1990, Thatcher departed from 10 Downing Street, the prime minister&aposs official residence, for the last time.