Margaret Thatcher is the second daughter of a grocer and a dressmaker who became the first woman in European history to be elected Prime Minister. She then went on to become the first British Prime Minister in the twentieth century to win three consecutive terms in office and, at the time of her resignation in 1990, the nation's longest-serving prime minister since 1827. Some people have seen her as a true political revolutionary in that she broadened the base of the Conservative Party to include the middle class along with the wealthy aristocracy.

Thatcher was born Margaret Hilda Roberts on October 13, 1925, in Grantham, Lincolnshire. A clever child whose father was an ardent worker in local politics, she decided early in life to become a member of Parliament. She was educated at Somerville College and at Oxford University, where she was the first woman president of the Oxford University Conservative Association.

She earned a master of arts degree from Oxford in 1950 and worked briefly as a research chemist. In 1950 she unsuccessfully ran for Parliament, although she did increase the Conservative Party vote by 50 percent in her district. The following year she married Denis Thatcher, a director of a paint firm. After her marriage she read for the bar and specialised in tax law.

On her second attempt, in 1959, Thatcher won a seat in Parliament. Analytical, articulate, and ambitious, she soon became prominent among other politicians. Because of her debating skills she was frequently called upon by fellow conservatives to respond to the policies of the Labour Party, their political opponents.

She served as joint parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance from 1961 to 1964, then as secretary of state for education and science under Prime Minister Edward Heath from 1970 to 1974. However, Thatcher's political career was not always well regarded. In 1972, when she was at the Ministry of Education, for instance, she was referred to in the Sun newspaper as "the most unpopular woman in Britain" after abolishing free milk for schoolchildren and gaining the nickname "Milk-Snatcher Thatcher". And yet she continued to rise in the ranks, and after the Conservative Party lost two general elections in 1974 she succeeded Heath as party leader.

When the conservatives won a decisive victory in the 1979 general elections Thatcher became prime minister. Upon entering office she advocated measures that would limit government control, such as giving individuals greater independence from the state, ending government interference in the economy, and reducing public expenditure. Although her conservative philosophy met with approval, during her first two terms unemployment nearly tripled, the number of poor people increased, and numerous bankruptcies resulted from her efforts to curb inflation.

Thatcher became known as the "Iron Lady" because of her strict control over her cabinet and the country's economic policies. The well-known phrase "cast-iron bitch" may also have played a part. Extending her firm approach into foreign relations, she helped Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) establish independence in 1980 and two years later she oversaw the successful British seizure of the Falkland Islands from Argentina. This victory led to her landslide re-election in 1983.

During her third term Thatcher continued the "Thatcher revolution" by increasing private control over education, health care, and housing. She also supported the campaign to keep Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, a position that could have been fatal: In 1984 terrorist bombers nearly succeeded in killing Thatcher and several members of her administration in Brighton, Sussex. The bombing was allegedly the work of members of the I.R.A.. Several members of the government were killed or seriously injured, such as Norman Tebbitt.

In 1990, when a split within the Conservative Party was costing Thatcher political support, she resigned from office. During her tenure as prime minister, however, she set historic precedents and, according to political observers, she brought long-needed changes to British government and society.

Looking back, Thatcher achieved a great deal although her tyrranical attitudes, disregard for the suffering of others and fanatical conservatism were certainly not pleasant to live through. The argument that she went too far in breaking the spirit of Trade Unions and giving employers absolute power over employees is well reasoned and very convincing. However, Margaret Thatcher should certainly be remembered for renewed economic presence she gave the UK as well as the harm she did to too many.

In 1992 she was elevated to the House of Lords to become Baroness Thatcher and in 1995 she was made a member of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. Since resigning as prime minister, Thatcher has written 2 volumes of memoirs, The Downing Street Years (1993) and The Path to Power (1995), a book of collected speeches, and a collection of quotes.

Editors note: Margaret Thatcher died in the morning of the 8th of April 2013 due to a stroke. She was 87 years old.

Sources:

  • Thatcher, Margaret, The Path to Power, HarperCollins, 1995.
  • Young, Hugo, One of Us: A Biography of Margaret Thatcher, Macmillan, 1989.
  • U·X·L® Biographies, U·X·L, 1996.
An incomplete, but still massive list of songs mentioning Margaret Thatcher:

There's also a band called Thatcher On Acid.

Note that most of these songs are very negative towards Thatcher - apparently, she wasn't real popular with the artists over there. Thanks to The International Lyrics Server, Napster, Google, Metacognizant, conform, wertperch and my former co-worker Trevor for helping me compile this.
We used to have a playground rhyme concerning Margaret Thatcher. It went a little like this:
Here's Maggie Thatcher,
(open hand to reveal stick figure drawn on palm)
Throw her up and catch her,
(make corresponding movements)
Squish her, squash her, scratch her,
(as if crushing something particularly nasty between your palms)
Here's Maggie Thatcher.
(open other hand to show scribbled mess on palm)

Posted on April 9th, 2013

Yesterday, Margaret Thatcher died... It was long expected, and the obituaries had largely already been written. This one wasn't.

In history's eye, Margaret Thatcher is the dominant figure of Britain's 1980's. This was the decade I grew up in and it was the formative political experience of my lifetime. Much of my politics is rooted in how it sits within my gut. But in this piece I'm not going to address the moral implications of her government's policies, or the social changes that took place over the course of the era, one individual does not make history alone. I wish instead to talk about her manner of politics, because that was pure Margaret Thatcher and no-one else.

She possessed a key political talent, and it was noticed and supported by her allies in the press (in particular Rupert Murdoch)... Through a combination of how she projected her personality and subtly divisive policy decisions, she was capable of provoking her political opponents and their supporters into fits of foaming incoherent fury. They would become little more than caricatures, and throughout the resulting onslaught she managed to maintain an austere and composed manner. She would then sit down, dignity intact, and continue to be the one with all the power. This trick only works when you're the incumbent, and in my lifetime the only politician I've seen with a comparable skill for making their opponents implode was George W Bush.

In Thatcher's case her adversaries would then be ruthlessly presented to the people as caricatures by her press friends. With incumbency and a plurality-based political system, she could exploit this portrayal in the seats both sides needed to win to ensure victory come election time (comparable to Ohio or Florida in a US presidential contest, and in Britain this was largely the suburbs of Southern England). She would enrage opponents who weren't empathic figures to the locals in these key marginals, and the opposing tribes' resulting unpalatability would allow her to sail home in election after election. She only ever had minority support, but it was the right minority, and in a country without term-limits it looked like she could do this indefinitely. Margaret was blessed with political opponents who were keen, even enthusiastic, to smash themselves against the rock of her implacability. Let's list a few of the opponents who left themselves strewn like roadkill behind her Ford Sierra.

  • The Provisional IRA
  • The National Union Of Mineworkers
  • The National Union of Teachers
  • The Argentinian Junta
  • Saddam Hussain of Iraq
  • The Militant Tendency of the Labour Party
  • The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
  • The Greater London Council

Or some individuals who are indelibly linked to the tribal wars of the 1980s: Arthur Scargill, Dennis Skinner, General Galtieri, Bobby Sands, Ben Elton, Ken Loach, Steve Bell.

There is a fine line between victim-blaming and identifying her talent for making her opponents auto-caricature, and so I'll acknowledge that in areas where she had little political investment her policy of provocation often moved into outright social devastation. From these tactical considerations came an entire approach to policy that was instinctively against inclusion or compassion. The Provisional IRA in particular were ruthlessly painted into a corner until they bit-back and from then on could be presented as demon-figures. But acknowledging the damage done doesn't mean I can't see the success of her divisive political strategy. Her opponents were half-crazed by the torment she inflicted on them.

Her greatest moment for the application of this technique was the aftermath of the Brighton Bombing. The Provisional IRA had just tried to assasinate her, and the entire government, by detonating a bomb beneath the hotel hosting the Conservative Party Conference. She immediately convened the conference, and spoke:

"The fact that we are gathered here now — shocked, but composed and determined — is a sign not only that this attack has failed, but that all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail."

For me, I cringe when I remember the self-defeating demonstrations and intellectually incoherent speeches of her opponents that drove them further and further away from the people they needed to win-over to end their torment. By the mid-80s, when I began to be aware, the battle-lines had hardened irrevocably and the anti-Thatcherites seemed incapable of perceiving how their tribe came across to the other side. I will, till the day I die, loath political tribalism of all stripes and plurality-based democracy. The only way to win the support of a whole country is to learn to see yourself through the eyes of everyone in it. In death, listening today to the frothing vitriol of her opponents, it appears she has used her key talent to benefit her political tribe one last time.

"Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Out, Out, Out" - a popular chant during the countless demonstrations of the era, from the Poll Tax to Nuclear Disarmament..

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