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.
- 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.