The first female Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Thatcher’s hugely influential politics continue to divide opinion in the UK.
The first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is still regarded as one of the most divisive figures in British political history. Known as the ‘Iron Lady’, Thatcher became known for her direct and uncompromising manner.
Born Margaret Hilda Roberts in 1925, Thatcher was a British Conservative politician. She studied chemistry at Oxford University before qualifying as a lawyer and specializing in tax law. Thatcher was elected as a Member of Parliament in 1959 and served as Secretary of State for Education under Edward Heath. After serving in the Cabinet, Thatcher was elected as leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 and became Prime Minister 4 years later in 1979.
Thatcher was supported by the right wing of the Conservative Party. As Prime Minister, she implemented policies of deregulation and the reduction of government subsidies, which led to a rapid increase in unemployment as many manufacturing firms were forced to close. Thatcher also privatized state-owned industries and sold off social housing, causing widespread anger and discontent.
One of the industries hit hardest by Thatcher’s policies was coal mining. The miners’ strikes in protest of closures of coal mines throughout the UK led to violent clashes with the police. The economic and social impact of pit closures and a lingering bitterness towards Thatcher’s policies continue to be felt in former coal-mining communities.
Thatcher’s popularity was extremely low during her first term in office and it looked like she would be defeated in the 1983 general elections. When the Falklands War prompted an outpouring of nationalistic support for Thatcher and her government, she won. Thatcher was one of the longest serving Prime Ministers, holding office for a total of eleven years and 209 days.
Thatcher established a close relationship with US President Ronald Reagan and they both vehemently opposed Communism. She was heavily criticized for her opposition to sanctions against then apartheid South Africa. Domestic tensions resurfaced in 1989 when she introduced the controversial ‘poll tax’; the policy led to rioting and public disorder across the UK and Thatcher started to lose the support of her party. In 1990, Thatcher was forced to resign.
Thatcher continued to be active in politics before suffering a series of strokes and retiring from public life in 2002. She died from a stroke in 2013, aged 87. ‘Thatcherism’, a staunch belief in free markets and a small state, continues to influence British politics to this day.
“If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”
“I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my way in the end.”
“This lady is not for turning.”