Saturday, December 11, 2010

Margaret Thatcher

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The Right Honourable The Baroness Thatcher 
A professional photograph of a lady with ginger-blonde hair, sitting in a traditional style and wearing jewellery.

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

In office
11 February 1975 – 4 May 1979
Monarch Elizabeth II
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
James Callaghan
Preceded by Edward Heath
Succeeded by James Callaghan

In office
11 February 1975 – 28 November 1990
Preceded by Edward Heath
Succeeded by John Major

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

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

Born 13 October 1925 (1925-10-13) (age 85)
Grantham, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom
Birth name Margaret Hilda Roberts
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Denis Thatcher (1951–2003)
(his death)
Children Carol Thatcher
Mark Thatcher
Alma mater Somerville College, Oxford
Profession Chemist
Religion Church of England
(Since 1951)[1]
Methodism (Before 1951)
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, LG, OM, PC, FRS (née Roberts; born 13 October 1925) served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990 and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990. Thatcher is the only woman to have held either post.[2]
Born in Grantham in Lincolnshire, United Kingdom, Thatcher went to school at Kesteven and Grantham Girls' School in Grantham, where she was head girl in 1942–43.[3] She read chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford and later trained as a barrister. She won a seat in the 1959 general election, becoming the MP for Finchley as a Conservative. When Edward Heath formed a government in 1970, he appointed Thatcher Secretary of State for Education and Science. Four years later, she backed Keith Joseph in his bid to become Conservative Party leader but he was forced to drop out of the election. In 1975 Thatcher entered the contest herself and became leader of the Conservative Party. At the 1979 general election she became Britain's first female Prime Minister.
In her foreword to the 1979 Conservative manifesto, Thatcher wrote of "a feeling of helplessness, that a once great nation has somehow fallen behind."[4] She entered 10 Downing Street determined to reverse what she perceived as a precipitate national decline. Her political philosophy and economic policies emphasised deregulation, particularly of the financial sector, flexible labour markets, and the selling off and closing down of state owned companies and withdrawing subsidy to others. Amid a recession and high unemployment, Thatcher's popularity declined, though economic recovery and the 1982 Falklands War brought a resurgence of support and she was re-elected in 1983. She took a hard line against trade unions, survived the Brighton hotel bombing assassination attempt and opposed the Soviet Union (her tough-talking rhetoric gained her the nickname the "Iron Lady"); she was re-elected for an unprecedented third term in 1987. The following years would prove difficult, as her Poll tax plan was largely unpopular, and her views regarding the European Community were not shared by others in her Cabinet. She resigned as Prime Minister in November 1990 after Michael Heseltine's challenge to her leadership of the Conservative Party.
Thatcher's tenure as Prime Minister was the longest since that of Lord Salisbury and the longest continuous period in office since Lord Liverpool in the early 19th century.[5] She was the first woman to lead a major political party in the United Kingdom, and the first of only four women to hold any of the four great offices of state. She holds a life peerage as Baroness Thatcher, of Kesteven in the County of Lincolnshire, which entitles her to sit in the House of Lords.

Early life and education

The corner of a terraced street in a suburban setting. The lower storey is a corner shop, advertising as a chiropractic clinic. The building is two stories high, with some parts three storeys high.
The house where Margaret Thatcher was born in Grantham.
Commemorative plaque at the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Hilda Roberts was born on 13 October 1925 to Alfred Roberts, originally from Northamptonshire, and his wife, the former Beatrice Ethel Stephenson from Lincolnshire.[6][7] Thatcher spent her childhood in the town of Grantham in Lincolnshire, where her father owned two grocery shops.[8] She and her older sister Muriel (born 1921, Grantham;[9] died December 2004; married name Cullen)[10] were raised in the flat above the larger of the two located near the railway line.[11] Her father was active in local politics and religion, serving as an Alderman and Methodist lay preacher. He came from a Liberal family but stood—as was then customary in local government—as an Independent. He lost his post as Alderman in 1952 after the Labour Party won its first majority on Grantham Council in 1950.[12]
Margaret Roberts was brought up a strict Methodist by her father.[13] Having attended Huntingtower Road Primary School, she won a scholarship to Kesteven and Grantham Girls' School.[14] Her school reports show hard work and commitment, but not brilliance. Outside the classroom she played hockey and also enjoyed swimming and walking.[15] Finishing school during the Second World War, she applied for a scholarship to attend Somerville College, Oxford, but was only successful when the winning candidate dropped out.[16] She went to Oxford in 1943 and studied chemistry.[8][17] She became President of the Oxford University Conservative Association in 1946, the third woman to hold the post. At Oxford she read Friedrich von Hayek's recently published (1944) The Road to Serfdom. " I cannot claim that I fully grasped the implications of Hayek's little masterpiece at this time, [but] at this stage it was the..unanswerable criticisms of socialism in The Road to Serfdom which had an impact." In 1946 Roberts took the Final Honour School examination, graduating with a Second Class Bachelor of Arts degree. She subsequently studied crystallography and received a postgraduate BSc degree in 1947. Three years later, in 1950, she achieved a Master of Arts degree, according to her entitlement as an Oxford BA of seven years' standing since matriculation.[8]
Following graduation, Roberts moved to Colchester in Essex, to work as a research chemist for BX Plastics.[18] During this time she joined the local Conservative Association and attended the party conference at Llandudno in 1948, as a representative of the University Graduate Conservative Association.[19] She was also a member of the Association of Scientific Workers. In January 1949, a friend from Oxford, who was working for the Dartford Conservative Association, told her that they were looking for candidates.[19] After a brief period, she was selected as the Conservative candidate, and she subsequently moved to Dartford, Kent, to stand for election as a Member of Parliament. To support herself during this period, she went to work for J. Lyons and Co., where she helped develop methods for preserving ice cream and was paid £500 per year.[19]

Early political career (1950–1970)

At the 1950 and 1951 elections, she fought the safe Labour seat of Dartford.[8] Although she lost out to Norman Dodds, she reduced the Labour majority in the constituency by 6,000.[20] She was, at the time, the youngest ever female Conservative candidate and her campaign attracted a higher than normal amount of media attention for a first time candidate.[8][21] While active in the Conservative Party in Kent, she met Denis Thatcher, whom she married in 1951,[22] conforming to his Anglicanism.[23] Denis was a wealthy divorced businessman who ran his family's firm;[22] he later became an executive in the oil industry.[8] Denis funded his wife's studies for the Bar.[24] She qualified as a barrister in 1953 and specialised in taxation.[8] In the same year her twins, Carol and Mark, were born,[25] delivered by Caesarean section while their father watched a Test match at the Oval. With a mother climbing the political ladder, the children were left to a nanny. "My mother was prone to calling me by her secretaries' names and working through each of them until she got to Carol", recalled her daughter.[26]
Thatcher began to look for a safe Conservative seat in the mid-1950s and was narrowly rejected as candidate for the Orpington by-election in 1955, and was not selected as a candidate in the 1955 election.[25] She had several further rejections before being selected for Finchley in April 1958. She won the seat after hard campaigning during the 1959 election and was elected as a Member of Parliament (MP).[27] Her maiden speech was in support of her Private Member's Bill (Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960) requiring local councils to hold meetings in public, which was successful. In 1961 she went against the Conservative Party's official position by voting for the restoration of birching.[28]
Within two years, in October 1961, she was given a promotion to the front bench as Parliamentary Undersecretary at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance.[17] She held this post throughout the administration of Harold Macmillan, until the Conservatives were removed from office in the 1964 election.[8] When Sir Alec Douglas-Home stepped down, Thatcher voted for Edward Heath in the leadership election of 1965 over Reginald Maudling.[29] She was promoted to the position of Conservative spokesman on Housing and Land; in this position, she advocated the Conservative policy of allowing tenants to buy their council houses.[30] The policy would prove to be popular.[31] She moved to the Shadow Treasury team in 1966. As Treasury spokesman, she opposed Labour's mandatory price and income controls, which she argued would produce contrary effects to those intended and distort the economy.[30]
Thatcher established herself as a potent conference speaker at the Conservative Party Conference of 1966, with a strong attack on the high-tax policies of the Labour Government as being steps "not only towards Socialism, but towards Communism".[30] She argued that lower taxes served as an incentive to hard work.[30] Thatcher was one of few Conservative MPs to support Leo Abse's Bill to decriminalise male homosexuality and voted in favour of David Steel's Bill to legalise abortion,[32] as well as a ban on hare coursing.[33][34] She supported the retention of capital punishment and voted against the relaxation of divorce laws.[35]
In 1967 she was selected by the Embassy of the United States in London to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program (then called the Foreign Leader Program), a professional exchange programme in which she spent about six weeks visiting various US cities, political figures, and institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.[36] Later that year, Thatcher joined the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Fuel spokesman. Shortly preceding the 1970 general election, she was promoted to Shadow Transport and, finally, Education.[37]

Education Secretary (1970–1974)

When the Conservative party under Edward Heath won the 1970 general election, Thatcher became Secretary of State for Education and Science. In her first months in office, Thatcher came to public attention as a result of the administration of Edward Heath's decision to cut spending. She gave priority to academic needs in schools,[38] and imposed public expenditure cuts on the state education system, resulting in, against her private protests, the abolition of free milk for school-children aged seven to eleven.[39] She believed that few children would suffer if schools were charged for milk, however she agreed to give younger children a third of a pint, daily, for nutritional purposes.[39] This provoked a storm of protest from the Labour party and the press,[40] and led to the unflattering moniker "Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher".[39] Of the experience, Thatcher later wrote in her autobiography, "I learned a valuable lesson. I had incurred the maximum of political odium for the minimum of political benefit."[40]
She successfully resisted the introduction of library book charges. She did not volunteer spending cuts in her department, contrary to her later beliefs.[39] Her term was marked by support for several proposals for more local education authorities to close grammar schools and to adopt comprehensive secondary education. Thatcher, committed to a tiered secondary modern / grammar school system of education, was determined to preserve grammar schools, which prepared more students for admission to universities.[38] She abolished Labour's commitment to comprehensive schooling, and instead left the matter to local education authorities.[38]

Leader of the Opposition (1975–1979)

A black and white photo of Thatcher in a light coloured raincoat, sitting in a comfortable chair.
Margaret Thatcher elected as Leader of the Opposition on 18 September 1975.
The Heath government experienced many difficulties between 1970 and 1974.[8] The government executed a series of reversals in its economic policies, dubbed "U-turns".[8] The Conservatives were defeated in the February 1974 general election, and Thatcher's portfolio was changed to Shadow Environment Secretary.[17] In this position she promised to abolish the rating system that paid for local government services, which was a favoured policy proposal within the Conservative Party for many years.[41]
Thatcher thought that the Heath Government had lost control of monetary policy—and had lost direction.[42] After her party lost the second election of 1974 in October, Thatcher, determined to change the direction of the Conservative party, challenged Heath for the Conservative party leadership.[43] She promised a fresh start, and her main support came from the Conservative 1922 Committee.[43] Unexpectedly, she defeated Heath on the first ballot, and he resigned the leadership.[44] On the second ballot, she defeated Heath's preferred successor, William Whitelaw, and became Conservative Party leader on 11 February 1975.[45] She appointed Whitelaw as her deputy. Heath remained disenchanted with Thatcher to the end of his life for what he, and many of his supporters, perceived as her disloyalty in standing against him.[46]
Now that the Heath government had fallen, Thatcher, "renewed reading of the seminal works of liberal economics and conservative thought. I also regularly attended lunches at the Institute of Economic Affairs where Ralph Harris, Arthur Seldon and all those who had been right, when we in Government had gone so badly wrong...were busy marking out a new path for Britain. " (The IEA, a think tank founded by the poultry magnate Antony Fisher, the man who brought battery farming to Britain and a disciple of Friedrich von Hayek, had become the ideas factory of a new British Conservatism. Thatcher began visiting the IEA and reading its publications during the early sixties.) Thatcher would now become the face of the ideological movement that felt the opposite of reverence for the welfare state Keynesian economics they believed was terminally weakening Britain. " Whatever the question the institute's pamphlets posed, their answer was basically identical: less government, lower taxes, more freedom for business and consumers."[47]
In these years Thatcher began to work on her image, specifically her voice and screen image. "The hang-up has always been the voice" wrote the critic Clive James, in The Observer. "Not the timbre so much as, well, the tone – the condescending explanatory whine which treats the squirming interlocutor as an eight-year-old child with learning deficiencies. News Extra rolled a clip from May 1973 demonstrating the Thatcher sneer at full pitch. She sounded like a cat sliding down a blackboard." She worked to change this image and James acknowledged: "She's cold, hard, quick and superior, and smart enough to know that those qualities could work for her instead of against."[48]
Thatcher appointed many of Heath's supporters to the Shadow Cabinet, for she had won the leadership as an outsider and then had little power base of her own within the party. Thatcher had to act cautiously to convert the Conservative Party to her monetarist beliefs. She reversed Heath's support for Scottish devolution.
On 19 January 1976, she made a speech in Kensington Town Hall in which she made a scathing attack on the Soviet Union. The most famous part of her speech ran:
The Russians are bent on world dominance, and they are rapidly acquiring the means to become the most powerful imperial nation the world has seen. The men in the Soviet Politburo do not have to worry about the ebb and flow of public opinion. They put guns before butter, while we put just about everything before guns.[49]
In response, the Soviet Defence Ministry newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star) gave her the nickname "Iron Lady".[49] She took delight in the name and it soon became associated with her image as having an unwavering and steadfast character. She was later nicknamed "Attila the Hen" as well.[50]
In an interview in January 1978,on the television current-affairs programme World in Action Thatcher raised the prospect of the number of Pakistani and Commonwealth Britons doubling to four million by the end of the century, remarking: "People are really rather afraid that this country might be swamped by people with a different culture".[51] Thatcher was condemned for the language and content of her remarks by Callaghan and Healey, by bishops, by the Liberal leader David Steel and, in private, by some shadow cabinet colleagues. Enoch Powell expressed his 'hope and relief' at her words.[52] Thatcher allegedly received 10,000 letters thanking her for raising the subject of immigration, and the Conservatives, previously level with Labour on 43% in opinion polls, took a temporary 48% to 39% lead.[53] "Before my interview, the opinion polls showed us level-pegging with Labour. Afterwards, they showed the Conservatives with an eleven-point lead...It provided a large and welcome boost at an extremely difficult time."[54]
In spite of economic recovery in the late seventies and recovery in average disposable income from 1977 onwards, the Labour Government was faced with unease about the direction of the country, and eventually, 'a sudden nationwide revolt against the Social Contract, during the winter of 1978–79, popularly dubbed the "Winter of Discontent". 'Party in grip of mild euphoria,' wrote Thatcher's adviser John Hoskyns in his diary on 18 January, 'because country beset by strikes..' The Conservatives attacked the government's unemployment record, and used advertising hoardings with the slogan Labour Isn't Working to assist them.[55] When the rough poster was shown to Thatcher, "She stared at it for a long time; the convention in party propaganda was not to mention the opponent directly. 'Why is the biggest thing on the poster the name of the opposition? We're advertising Labour,' she said. Tim Bell (Saatchis managing director) and Maurice Saatchi replied, almost in unison, 'No, we're demolishing Labour.' " Denis Healey criticised Saatchi & Saatchi for having staged the photograph with Saatchi employees.[56] In fact the advertisers had used a group of twenty Young Conservatives from South Hendon "photographed over and over".[57] The Saatchi campaign unsettled Labour at a crucial moment. Unemployment would often be much worse in the next decade without bringing down Thatcher's government.[58]
In the run up to the 1979 General Election, most opinion polls showed that voters preferred James Callaghan of the Labour party as Prime Minister, even as the Conservative Party maintained a lead in the polls. After a successful motion of no confidence in spring 1979, Callaghan's Labour government fell. The Conservatives would go on to win a 44-seat majority in the House of Commons and Margaret Thatcher became the United Kingdom's first female Prime Minister.

Prime Minister (1979–1990)

Thatcher is the only woman in a room, where a dozen men in suits sit around an oval table. Regan and Thatcher sit opposite each other in the middle of the long axis of the table. The room is which is decorated in white, with drapes, a gold chandelier and a portrait of Lincoln.
Thatcher's Ministry meets with Reagan's Cabinet at the White House, 1981
Thatcher became Prime Minister on 4 May 1979. Arriving at 10 Downing Street, she said, in a paraphrase of St. Francis of Assisi:
Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.
Thatcher was incensed by one contemporary view within the British Civil Service that its job was to manage the UK's decline from the days of Empire[59] and she wanted the country to assert a higher level of influence and leadership in international affairs. She represented the newly energetic right wing of the Conservative Party and advocated greater independence of the individual from the state and less government intervention.[60] She became a very close ally, philosophically and politically, with President of the United States Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980. During her tenure as Prime Minister she was said to need just four hours' sleep a night.[61]

First government (1979–1983)

New economic initiatives

Thatcher's political and economic philosophy emphasised reduced state intervention, free markets, and entrepreneurialism. She wished to end what she felt was excessive government interference in the economy, and therefore privatised many nationally owned enterprises and sold public housing to tenants at cut prices.[62] Influenced by monetarist thinking as espoused by Milton Friedman, she began her economic reforms by increasing interest rates to try to slow the growth of the money supply and thereby lower inflation.[63] She also placed limits on the printing of money and legal restrictions on trade unions, in her quest to tackle inflation and trade union disputes, which had bedevilled the UK economy throughout the 1970s.[64] In accordance with her anti-interventionist views, she introduced cash limits on public spending[65] and reduced expenditures on social services such as education (until 1987)[66] and housing.[64] Later, in 1985, as a deliberate snub, the University of Oxford voted to refuse Thatcher an honorary degree in protest against her cuts in funding for higher education.[67]
GDP and public spending
by functional classification
% change in real terms
1979/80 to 1989/90[68]
GDP +23.3
Total government spending +12.9
Law and order +53.3
Employment and training +33.3
Health +31.8
Social security +31.8
Transport −5.8
Trade and industry −38.2
Housing −67.0
Defence −3.3[69]
At the time, some Heathite Conservatives in the Cabinet, the so-called "wets", expressed doubt over Thatcher's "dry" policies.[70] Civil unrest in Britain resulted in the British media discussing the need for a policy u-turn. At the 1980 Conservative Party conference, Thatcher addressed the issue directly, armed with a speech written by the playwright Ronald Millar[71] which included the lines: "You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning!"[70]
Thatcher lowered direct taxes on income and increased indirect taxes instead,[72] as the Early 1980s recession deepened, despite concerns expressed in a letter from 364 leading economists.[73] Unemployment soared, and by December 1981 Thatcher's job approval rating fell to 25%, the lowest of her entire premiership, a lower rating than recorded for any previous prime minister, although she remained more popular than her party.[74]
In early 1982, the worst post-war slump bottomed out,[74] inflation dropped to 8.6% from an earlier high of 18%, and interest rates fell, although unemployment was now in excess of 3,000,000 for the first time since the 1930s.[75]
Thatcher's job approval rating recovered to 32%.[74] With the success of the Falklands War in June that year, when Britain reclaimed the Falkland Islands following an Argentine invasion, the Conservative government's lead in the opinion polls - over the Labour opposition and the new SDP-Liberal Alliance between the Liberals and the new Social Democratic Party[76] - grew stronger.
By 1983, overall economic growth was stronger and inflation and mortgage rates were at their lowest levels since 1970, though manufacturing output had dropped 30% from 1978[77] and unemployment remained high, peaking at 3,300,000 in 1984.[78]
The term "Thatcherism" came to refer to her policies as well as aspects of her ethical outlook and personal style, including moral absolutism, nationalism, interest in the individual, and an uncompromising approach to achieving political goals.[64] American author Claire Berlinski, who wrote the biography There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters, argues repeatedly throughout the volume that it was this Thatcherism, specifically her focus on economic reform, that set the United Kingdom on the path to recovery and long term growth.

Northern Ireland

Campaign UK, 1987. Troubled Images Exhibition, Linen Hall Library, Belfast, August 2010
The hunger strike was begun by a number of Provisional IRA and Irish National Liberation Army prisoners in Northern Ireland's Maze Prison to regain the status of political prisoners which had been revoked five years earlier under the preceding Labour government.[79] Bobby Sands began the strike, saying that he would fast until death unless prison inmates won concessions over their living conditions.[79] Thatcher refused to countenance a return to political status for the prisoners, famously declaring "Crime is crime is crime; it is not political"[79]. However, despite holding this view in public, the British government made private contact with republican leaders in a bid to bring the hunger strikes to an end.[80] After Sands and nine more men had starved to death and the strike had ended, some rights were restored to paramilitary prisoners, but official recognition of political status was not granted.[81] Violence in the North significantly escalated during the hunger strike. Due to her actions Thatcher became as an Irish Republican hate figure of Cromwellian proportions, with Sinn Féin politician Danny Morrison describing her as "the biggest bastard we have ever known" at the 1982 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis (party conference).[82]
Later that year, Thatcher and Irish Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald established the Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Council, which would act as a forum for meetings between the two governments.[83] On 15 November 1985, Thatcher and FitzGerald signed the Hillsborough Anglo-Irish Agreement; the first time a British government gave the Republic of Ireland an advisory role in the governance of Northern Ireland.

The Falklands

On 2 April 1982, the ruling military junta in Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, British overseas territories that Argentina claimed.[84] The following day, Thatcher sent a naval task force to recapture the islands and eject the invaders.[84] The conflict escalated from there, evolving into an amphibious and ground combat operation.[84] Argentina surrendered on 14 June and the operation was hailed a great success, notwithstanding the deaths of 255 British servicemen and three Falkland Islanders. 649 Argentinians also died, half of them after the cruiser ARA General Belgrano was torpedoed by HMS Conqueror.[85] Victory in the South Atlantic brought a wave of patriotic enthusiasm and support for the government.[72] Thatcher's personal approval rating rose from 30% to 59%, as measured by Mori, and from 29% to 52%, according to Gallup. Conservative support climbed from 27% to 44%, while Labour's slipped from 34% to 27%.[86]
On 26 July 1982, a service of thanksgiving for the victory was held in St Paul's Cathedral, and the Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie delivered a sermon which asked the congregation to share the grief of both British and Argentinian mourners alike. Thatcher did not approve. Privately, according to an aide, she agreed with Edward du Cann, Julian Amery and other Conservative MPs who saw the Runcie sermon as proof that the Government still had many enemies who deserved denouncing. "Not the least of the Falklands after-effects was the start of a long, sometimes venomous distancing, which continued through the 1980s, between the leading representatives of Church and state."[87]

1983 election

There was some economic recovery from the spring of 1982,[72] which with the national poll the "Falklands factor" the conditions produced a boost to Conservative support.[88] She also faced a divided opposition: Labour was bitterly split;[72] the party had responded to the New Cold War by moving to the left and adopting a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament, and had lost many senior leaders to the new Social Democratic Party in alliance with the Liberal Party, preventing the formation of an electoral pact against the Conservatives.[89]
The Labour leader Michael Foot was traditional Labour while Conservatives viewed Thatcher as 'their greatest electoral asset'.[90] In the June 1983 general election, the Conservatives won 42.4% of the vote, the Labour party 27.6% and the Alliance 25.4% of the vote.[91] Although the Conservatives' share of the vote had fallen slightly (1.5%) since 1979, Labour's vote had fallen by far more (9.3%) and under the first past the post system, the Conservatives won a landslide victory with a massive majority.[89] This resulted in the Conservative party having an overall majority of 144 MPs.[91]

Second government (1983–1987)


The policy of privatisation has been called "a crucial ingredient of Thatcherism".[92] After the 1983 election the sale of large state utilities to private companies accelerated.[72]
British Petroleum was privatised in stages in October 1979, September 1983 and November 1987; British Aerospace in January 1981 and 1985; the government share in British Sugar in July 1981; Cable and Wireless in November 1981; Amersham International and National Freight Corporation in February 1982; Britoil in November 1982 and August 1985; Associated British Ports in February 1983; Jaguar in July 1984; British Telecom in November 1984; the National Bus Company in October 1986; British Gas in December 1986; British Airways in February 1987; the Royal Ordnance in April 1987; Rolls-Royce in May 1987; the British Airports Authority in July 1987; the Rover Group in August 1988; British Steel in December 1988; the Regional Water Authorities in November 1989; Girobank in July 1990; and the National Grid in December 1990.
In 1983 Thatcher also broke up and privatised British Shipbuilders, which had been amalgamated and nationalised by Callaghan in 1977 in the lean times following the 1973 oil crisis, and which still employed 86,000 people building naval and commercial vessels, many in the north-east of England.[93][94] Few of the privatised shipyards subsequently survived competition against East Asian cheap labour,[94] with the single largest private sector group, BVT, now employing a fraction of the nationalised group's number, just over 7,000 people working on Navy contracts in the Clyde and Portsmouth yards.[93]
The process of privatisation, especially the preparation of nationalised industries for privatisation, was associated with marked improvements in performance, particularly in terms of labour productivity.[95] But it is not clear how far this can be attributed to the merits of privatisation itself. Marxian economist Andrew Glyn believed that the "productivity miracle" observed in British industry under Thatcher was achieved not so much by increasing the overall productivity of labour as by reducing workforces and increasing unemployment.[96] A number of the privatised industries, such as gas, water and electricity, were natural monopolies for which privatisation involved little increase in competition. Furthermore, the privatised industries that underwent improvements often did so while still under state ownership. For instance, British Steel made great gains in profitability while still a nationalised industry under the government-appointed chairmanship of Ian MacGregor, who faced down trade-union opposition to close plants and more than halve the workforce.[97] Regulation was also greatly expanded to compensate for the loss of direct government control, with the foundation of regulatory bodies like Ofgas, Oftel and the National Rivers Authority.[98] Overall, there was no clear pattern between the degree of competition, regulation and performance among the privatised industries.[99] While the output and profits of the privatised companies grew, margins increased, and employment declined, the exact relationship of these changes to privatisation is uncertain.[100]
Many people took advantage of share offers, although many sold their shares immediately for a quick profit and therefore the proportion of shares held by individuals rather than institutions did not increase. By the mid 1980s, the number of individual stockholders had tripled, and the Thatcher government had sold 1.5 million publicly owned housing units to their tenants.[64]
The privatisation of public assets was combined with deregulation of finance in an attempt to fuel economic growth. Notably, in 1979 Geoffrey Howe abolished Britain's exchange controls to allow more capital to seek profits overseas and the Big Bang of 1986 removed many restrictions on the activities of the London Stock Exchange. The Thatcher government encouraged the growth of the financial and service sectors to replace Britain's ailing manufacturing industry. Susan Strange called this new financial growth model, flourishing in Britain and America under Thatcher and Reagan, "casino capitalism" – as speculation and trading in financial claims became a more important part of the economy than industry.[101]

Trade unions

Thatcher was committed to reducing the power of the trade unions, whose leadership she accused of undermining parliamentary democracy and economic performance through paralysing strike action.[102] Several unions launched strikes in response to legislation introduced to curb their power, but resistance eventually collapsed.[103] Only 39% of union members voted for Labour in the 1983 general election.[104] According to the BBC, Thatcher "managed to destroy the power of the trade unions for almost a generation."[105]
The number of stoppages across the United Kingdom peaked at 4,583 in the crisis year of 1979 that brought Thatcher to power, with over 29 million working days lost. 1984, the great year of industrial confrontation with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), saw 1,221 stoppages and over 27 million working days lost. Stoppages then fell steadily through the rest of Thatcher's premiership, to 630 by 1990, with under 2 million working days lost, and continued to fall thereafter.[74] Trade union membership also fell, from over 12 million in 1979 to 8.4 million in 1990.[74]
The miners' strike was the climax of the confrontation between the unions and the Thatcher government. In March 1984 the NUM ordered a strike, without a national ballot,[106] in opposition to National Coal Board proposals to close 20 pits out of 174 state-owned mines and cut 20,000 jobs out of 187,000.[107][108][109] Two-thirds of the country's miners downed tools.[108][110] Thatcher refused to meet the union's demands,[64] and said: "We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty."[105]
Violence was common on the picket lines during the miners' strike; controversial police tactics were used against strikers.[105] The strike resulted in at least three deaths.[107] Two miners, Joe Green and David Jones, were crushed to death by lorries while picketing.[107][111] Two miners, Dean Hancock and Russell Shankland, were sentenced to eight years' imprisonment for the manslaughter of taxi driver David Wilkie who was taking a working miner to his colliery.[112] Some 20,000 people were injured in the course of the strike.[113] 11,300 miners and their supporters were arrested and charged with criminal offences.[110][114]
The NUM's failure to ballot and the picket line violence and intimidation cost the strike public support. A MORI poll in June 1984 found that 41% of people backed the Coal Board, and 35% the miners. By August support for the Board had risen to 46%, while support for the miners had fallen to 30%. The position remained unchanged at the end of the year. The miners' strike also split the trade union movement, with lorry drivers, dockers and power station employees crossing picket lines or handling coal.[114] The strike was described as "one of the most aggressive trade union struggles since the 1926 General Strike",[111] with some commentators even suggesting it was "the nearest the country had come to civil war for 400 years".[110] Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie accused Thatcher personally of fostering a "politics of confrontation", and blamed her policies for high unemployment, which he said had created "despair about the future".[108]
After a year out on strike, in March 1985, the NUM leadership conceded without a deal. The cost of the strike to the economy was estimated at least £1.5 billion. The strike was also blamed for much of the pound's fall against the US dollar.[114] The government proceeded to close 25 unprofitable pits in 1985; by 1992, a total of 97 pits had been closed,[115] with the remaining being sold off and privatised in 1994.[116] These actions had great effect on the industrial and political complexion of the country.[106] The eventual closure of 150 collieries, not all of which were losing money, resulted in a loss of tens of thousands of jobs and devastated entire communities,[115][117] delivering a blow from which the coal industry, with 50 mines employing 6,000 people, has barely begun to recover, with plans for 58 new open-cast mines and up to a dozen new deep mines.[117]

Brighton bombing

Thatcher and Nancy Regan stand together in a room containing antique furniture and flowers. A handwritten note at the bottom of the photograph reads "To Margaret—with respect and affection, Nancy."
Thatcher with US First Lady Nancy Reagan at 10 Downing Street, 1986
On the early morning of 12 October 1984, the day before her 59th birthday, Thatcher narrowly escaped injury in the Brighton hotel bombing carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army.[118] Five people were killed in the attack, including the wife of Cabinet Minister John Wakeham; a prominent member of the Cabinet, Norman Tebbit, was injured, and his wife Margaret was left paralysed. Thatcher was staying at the hotel to attend the Conservative Party Conference, and insisted that the conference open on time the next day.[118] She delivered her speech as planned in defiance of the bombers,[119] a gesture which won widespread approval across the political spectrum, and measurably enhanced her personal popularity with the public.[120] A Gallup poll that month found her personal approval rating up from 40% to 50%, and the Conservative lead over Labour widening from 1% to 12%.[74]

Cold War

Thatcher took office in the final decade of the Cold War, a period of strategic confrontation between the Western powers and the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact satellites. During her first year as prime minister she supported NATO's decision to deploy US Cruise missiles and Pershing missiles in Western Europe.[103] She permitted the United States to station more than 160 nuclear cruise missiles at Greenham Common, arousing mass protests by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.[103]
Thatcher became closely aligned with the policies of US President Ronald Reagan (1981–1989), and their closeness produced transatlantic cooperation.[103] His policy of deterrence against the Soviets contrasted with the policy of détente which the West had pursued during the 1970s, and caused friction with allies who still adhered to the idea of détente.
Thatcher was among the first Western leaders to respond warmly to reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. They met in London in 1984, three months before he became General Secretary. Thatcher declared that she liked him, and told Reagan, saying, "we can do business together".[103] Following the Reagan-Gorbachev summit meetings from 1985 to 1988, as well as multiple reforms enacted by Gorbachev in the USSR, Thatcher declared in November 1988, "We're not in a Cold War now" but rather in a "new relationship much wider than the Cold War ever was."[121] She continued, "I expect Mr Gorbachev to do everything he can to continue his reforms. We will support it."[121]
Thatcher initially opposed German reunification, telling Premier Gorbachev that "this would lead to a change to postwar borders, and we cannot allow that because such a development would undermine the stability of the whole international situation and could endanger our security." She expressed concern that a united Germany would align itself closer with the Soviet Union and move away from NATO.[122] Recent records attribute Gorbachev as stating that "the West doesn’t want German reunification but wants to use us to prevent it", possibly because of the line taken by Thatcher and other European leaders such as France's Mr Mitterrand who was even thinking of a military alliance with Russia to stop it, "camouflaged as a joint use of armies to fight natural disasters".[123]
Thatcher's premiership outlasted the Cold War, which ended in 1989, and those who share her views on it credit her with a part in the West's victory, by both the deterrence and détente postures.

Nuclear deterrent

In March 1982 Thatcher approved the modernisation of the strategic nuclear force by ordering a new generation of Trident submarines to replace Polaris[124] at a cost of £10 billion,[125] creating 25,000 British jobs.[126] She justified the expenditure on the basis that the United Kingdom was acquiring only the minimum deterrent against Soviet aggression and rejected participation in START negotiations unless the US and Soviet arsenals were substantially reduced.[127] She committed the government to using savings from co-operation with the United States in the nuclear field to strengthen British conventional forces.[124]

Hong Kong

On 19 December 1984, Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping of the People's Republic of China signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which committed Hong Kong to the status of a Special Administrative Region. Britain agreed to leave the region in 1997.[128]

Bombing of Libya

In April 1986 Thatcher, after expressing initial reservations, permitted US F-111s to use RAF bases for the bombing of Libya in retaliation for the alleged Libyan bombing of a Berlin discothèque,[129] citing the right of self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter.[130]
Thatcher told the House of Commons: "The United States has more than 330,000 forces in Europe to defend our liberty. Because they are there they are subject to terrorist attack. It is inconceivable that they should be refused the right to use American aircraft and American pilots in the inherent right of self-defence to defend their own people."[131]
The United Kingdom was the only nation to provide support and assistance for the US action.[131] Polls suggested that more than two out of three people disapproved of Thatcher's decision to accede to the US request.[132] Later that year the United States Congress approved an extradition treaty that stopped IRA operatives evading extradition. The United States Senate only ratified this treaty when Reagan explicitly mentioned Britain's support for the bombing of Libya.[133]
Despite the Lebanon hostage crisis in April 1986, the hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73 in September 1986, and the Lockerbie bombing in December 1988, Thatcher insisted that the raid had deterred further Libyan attacks.[134]

Supplementary Extradition Treaty

Thatcher also contended that her support for the US bombing of Libya imposed an obligation on the United States to ratify a new extradition treaty with the United Kingdom in order to stand up to IRA violence. "What is the point", she asked, "of the United States taking a foremost part against terrorism and then not being as strict as they can against Irish terrorism, which afflicts one of their allies?"[135] The US-UK Supplementary Extradition Treaty, restricting the application of the political offence exception, signed in June 1986, and coming into force in December, was "hailed as a major improvement in the efforts of democratic nations to fight international terrorism".[136]

Westland affair

Thatcher's preference for defence ties with the United States was also demonstrated in the Westland affair of 1986 when she acted with colleagues to allow the helicopter manufacturer Westland, a vital defence contractor, to refuse to link with the Italian firm Agusta in order for it to link with the management's preferred option, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation of the United States. Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine, who had pushed the Agusta deal, resigned in protest after this, and remained an influential critic and potential leadership challenger.

South Africa

In July 1986 Thatcher expressed her belief that economic sanctions against South Africa would be immoral because they would make thousands of black workers unemployed.[137] Public dissatisfaction with her position grew steadily, reaching 65% in a MORI poll for The Times published in August 1986, following a boycott of the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh by 32 nations. 49% of people surveyed said they would approve of an end to new investment by British companies, and a complete ban on trade, air or sporting links also failed to attract majority support. 46% said sanctions would not help bring an end to apartheid, while 44% said they would.[138]

Local government devolution

In 1986, in a controversial move, the Thatcher government abolished the Greater London Council, then led by the left-wing Ken Livingstone, as well as six Labour controlled metropolitan county councils.[139] The government stated that they ordered this to decrease bureaucracy and increase efficiency, and encouraged transferring power to local councils for increased electoral accountability.[139] Thatcher's opponents, however, held that the move was politically motivated, as the GLC had become a powerful centre of opposition to her government, and the county councils were in favour of higher local government taxes and public spending.

Relationship with the Queen

As Prime Minister, Thatcher met weekly with Queen Elizabeth II to discuss government business.[140] Their relationship came under close scrutiny,[141] with the media speculating that they did not get along overly well.[142] While they displayed public images that largely contrasted,[143] Tim Bell, a former Thatcher advisor, recalled, "Margaret has the deepest respect for the Queen and all her family".[144] She was said to greet the Queen with a curtsey every time they met.[144]
In July 1986 sensational claims attributed to the Queen's advisers of a "rift" between Buckingham Palace and Downing Street "over a wide range of domestic and international issues" were reported by The Sunday Times.[145][146] The immediate cause was said to be "the Queen's fear for the possible break-up of the Commonwealth" because of Thatcher's rejection of comprehensive sanctions against South Africa.[138][145] Their relationship was characterised as "pragmatic and without any personal antagonism".[145] The Palace issued an official denial, heading off speculation about a possible constitutional crisis.[146] However a MORI poll for the Evening Standard suggested a sharp loss of support for the government following the controversy, giving Labour a six-point lead, reversing a previous Conservative six-point lead, while a separate MORI poll for The Times put Labour on 41% with a nine-point lead.[138]
After Thatcher's retirement, a senior Palace source again dismissed as "nonsense" the "stereotyped idea" that she had not got along with the Queen or that they had fallen out over Thatcherite policies.[147] Thatcher herself declared that "stories of clashes between 'two powerful women' were too good not to make up ... I always found the Queen's attitude towards the work of the Government absolutely correct".[148]

1987 election

At the time of the 1987 general election, Labour leader Neil Kinnock presided over a party deeply divided on policy agendas.[149] Margaret Thatcher, in turn, led her party to victory, winning an unprecedented third term[150] with a 102 seat majority,[151] and became the longest continuously serving Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since Lord Liverpool (1812 to 1827), as well as the only Prime Minister of the 20th century to serve three terms.[72] She was elected riding on an economic boom against a weak Labour opposition. The Conservatives won 42.2% of the popular vote, while the Labour party won 30.8% and Alliance won 22.6 %.[151]

Third government (1987–1990)

Environmental issues

Thatcher, the former chemist, became publicly concerned with environmental issues in the late 1980s. In 1988, she made a major speech communicating the problems of global warming, ozone depletion and acid rain.[152]

Section 28

Though an early backer of decriminalisation of male homosexuality,[153] Thatcher, at the 1987 Conservative party conference, issued the statement that "Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay".[154] 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. This legislation was repealed by Tony Blair's Labour administration between 2000 and 2003.

Continuation of economic changes

Thatcher introduced a new system for the government to raise revenue; she replaced local government taxes with a Community Charge or "Poll tax", in which property tax rates were made uniform, in that the same amount was charged to every individual resident, and the residential property tax was replaced with a head tax whose rate would be established by local governments.[155] Thatcher's revolutionary system was introduced in Scotland in 1989 and in England and Wales the following year.[72]
Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Nancy Reagan and Denis Thatcher smile while standing on a red carpet leading to a large door. Men in US military dress stand in the background. Beside the door is a Union Jack flag.
The Thatchers with the Reagans standing at the North Portico of the White House prior to a state dinner, 16 November 1988
Thatcher's system of local taxation[155] was among the most unpopular policies of her premiership with working class and poorer citizens unable to pay the new tax and some being sent to Prison for non payment.[155] The central Government capped rates resulting in charges of partisanship and the alienation of small-government Conservatives.[155] The Prime Minister's popularity declined in 1989 as she continued to refuse to compromise on the tax.[72] Unrest mounted and ordinary British people young and old took to the streets to demonstrate, the demonstrators were met with horse mounted Police in riot gear and demonstration turned to riots at Trafalgar Square, London, on 31 March 1990; more than 100,000 protesters attended and more than 400 people were arrested.[156]
A BBC Radio poll in September 1989 indicated that almost three-quarters of the public were also against water privatisation.[157] Despite public opposition to the poll tax and the privatisation of water, electricity, and British Rail, Thatcher remained confident that, as with her other major reforms, the initial public opposition would turn into support after implementation. A MORI poll for the Sunday Times in June 1988 found that more than 60% of voters agreed that in the long term the Thatcher government's policies would improve the state of the economy, while less than 30% disagreed; although income inequality had increased: 74% of Britons said they were satisfied with their present standard of living, while only 18% were dissatisfied.[158]


At Bruges, Belgium, in 1988, Thatcher made a speech in which she outlined her opposition to proposals from the European Community, a forerunner to the European Union, for a federal structure and increasing centralisation of decision-making.[159] Though she had supported British membership in the EC, Thatcher believed that the role of the organisation should be limited to ensuring free trade and effective competition, and feared that the EC approach to governing was at odds with her views of smaller government and deregulatory trends;[160] in 1988, she remarked, "We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level, with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels".[160] A split was emerging over European policy inside the British Government and her Conservative Party.[8]
On 30 November 1988, when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Britain's detention provisions were in breach of European law, the policy split extended to parliament with the presentation of a petition calling for a written British constitution. Thatcher reacted angrily to the ECHR ruling, and to the failure of Belgium and Ireland to extradite a suspected terrorist, Father Patrick Ryan, to face charges in Britain. She told the Commons: "We shall consider the judgment carefully and also the human rights of the victims and potential victims of terrorism."[161]
At a meeting before the Madrid European Community summit in June 1989, Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson and Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe sought to persuade Thatcher to agree to circumstances under which the United Kingdom would join the Exchange Rate Mechanism, a preparation for monetary union, and abolish the pound as British currency. At the meeting, they both said they would resign if their demands were not met.[162] Thatcher, as well as her economic advisor Alan Walters, was opposed to this notion and felt that the pound sterling should be able to float freely,[163] and that membership would constrain the UK economy.[164] Both Lawson and Howe eventually resigned[163] and Thatcher remained firmly opposed to British membership in the European Monetary System.[164]

1989 Leadership election

Thatcher was challenged for the leadership of the Conservative Party by virtually unknown backbench MP Sir Anthony Meyer in the 1989 leadership election.[165] Of the 374 Conservative MPs eligible to vote, 314 voted for Thatcher while 33 voted for Meyer; there were 27 abstentions.[165] Thatcher noted, "I would like to say how very pleased I am with this result and how very pleased I am to have had the overwhelming support of my colleagues in the House and the people from the party in the country", while Meyer said he was delighted as well: "The total result I think is rather better than I had expected".[165] Her supporters in the Party viewed the results as a success, and rejected suggestions that there was discontent within the Party.[165]

Gulf War

Thatcher walking in front of a line of military personnel, who are a mixture of races. Thatcher has a stern expression, dressed in a navy-coloured suit with buttons and a white hat.
Thatcher reviews Bermudian troops, 12 April 1990
Thatcher was visiting the United States when she received word that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had invaded neighbouring Kuwait.[166] She met with US President George H. W. Bush, who had succeeded Ronald Reagan in 1989, during which Bush asked her, "Margaret, what is your view?" She recalled in an interview that she felt "that aggressors must be stopped, not only stopped, but they must be thrown out. An aggressor cannot gain from his aggression. He must be thrown out and really, by that time in my mind, I thought we ought to throw him out so decisively that he could never think of doing it again."[166] She put pressure on Bush to deploy troops to the Middle East to drive the Iraqi army out of Kuwait.[167] Bush was somewhat apprehensive about the plan, so Thatcher remarked to him during a telephone conversation, "This was no time to go wobbly!"[168] Thatcher's government provided military forces to the international coalition in the Gulf War to pursue the ouster of Iraq from Kuwait.[169]


Despite having the longest continuous period of office of any prime minister in the twentieth century, Thatcher had, on average during her premiership, the second-lowest approval rating of any post-war prime minister, at 40%, only beating Edward Heath; even after the Falklands War it had never risen above 55%; polls consistently showed that she was less popular than the Conservative party.[170] A self-described conviction politician, Thatcher always insisted she did not care about her poll ratings, pointing instead to her unbeaten election record.[171]
Moreover, in relative terms, Thatcher's personal position had remained consistently strong: a Marplan poll for the Sunday Express in October 1988 showed that Thatcher was still trusted by 61% of Britons to lead the country, compared with only 17% for Labour leader Neil Kinnock. Thatcher's capacity to lead was trusted by 87% of Conservative voters and 46% of Labour voters.[172] A Telephone Surveys poll for the Sunday Express in September 1990, during the Gulf crisis, found that 65% of voters preferred Thatcher as a crisis leader to Kinnock, who polled 20%.[173]
A Mori poll for the Sunday Times in September 1989 showed that Thatcher was still the public's preferred choice of Conservative leader, attracting the support of 32% of voters, her pro-European former cabinet colleague Michael Heseltine coming second on 22%.[174] However, by March 1990, in the face of rising inflation and the threat of a recession and inevitable mass unemployment, Thatcher's support had halved to 15%, with Heseltine's doubling to 40%.[174] Opposition to the poll tax[175] and the divisions opening in the parliamentary party over European integration[72] left Thatcher increasingly vulnerable to a challenge.[176]
By November 1990 the Conservatives had been trailing Labour for 18 months.[170] Although a Mori survey for the Sunday Times showed that 83% of Conservative voters were satisfied by the way Thatcher represented the United Kingdom in Europe,[177][relevant? ] a BBC poll found that Labour had increased its lead by 5 points to 14%, its biggest lead since May, while a poll for the Evening Standard found that Labour had nearly doubled its lead over the Conservatives to 13.2 points.[178] Low poll ratings, along with Thatcher's combative personality and willingness to override colleagues' opinions, contributed to discontent in the parliamentary party.[179]
On 1 November 1990, Geoffrey Howe, for 15 years one of Thatcher's most "loyal and self-effacing" supporters, resigned from his position as Deputy Prime Minister over her refusal to agree to a timetable for British membership of the single currency.[178][180] In his resignation speech in the Commons on 13 November, referring to Thatcher's promise to veto any arrangement which jeopardised the pound sterling, Howe famously complained: "It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease only for them to find the moment that the first balls are bowled that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain."[181] Howe's resignation put Thatcher's future in doubt,[178][182] and was afterwards recognised as dealing a "fatal blow" to her premiership.[183] While 59% of the British public polled for The Independent by Number Market Research agreed with Thatcher's opposition to monetary union, 64% were of the opinion that she needed to retire.[184]
A few days later Heseltine challenged her for the leadership of the party. A Gallup poll for the Daily Telegraph showed that 28% of voters would be more inclined to vote Conservative if Heseltine were leader, and only 7% would be less inclined. Five separate polls indicated that he would give the Conservatives a national lead over Labour.[174] Heseltine attracted sufficient support from the parliamentary party in the first round of voting to prolong the contest to a second ballot.[8] Although Thatcher initially stated that she intended to contest the second ballot,[8] she consulted with her Cabinet and decided to withdraw from the contest.[2] Thatcher said that pressure from her colleagues helped her to conclude that the unity of the Conservative Party and the prospect of victory in the next general election would be more likely if she resigned.[185] Early on the morning of 22 November, the 65-year-old Prime Minister announced to the Cabinet that she would not be a candidate in the second ballot.[179] Thatcher informed the Queen of her decision, and a statement was released from 10 Downing Street at 09.34:[179]
The Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Margaret Thatcher, F.R.S., has informed the Queen that she does not intend to contest the second ballot of the election for leadership of the Conservative Party and intends to resign as Prime Minister as soon as a new leader of the Conservative Party has been elected... "Having consulted widely among my colleagues, I have concluded that the unity of the Party and the prospects of victory in a General Election would be better served if I stood down to enable Cabinet colleagues to enter the ballot for the leadership. I should like to thank all those in Cabinet and outside who have given me such dedicated support."[179]
Some sections of the British public were stunned,[179] but there were also scenes of rejoicing at the news.[186] After visiting the Queen at Buckingham Palace, she later arrived at the House of Commons to a debate; Neil Kinnock, Leader of the Opposition, proposed a motion of no confidence in the government, and Thatcher displayed her combativeness.[179] She said:
Eleven years ago we rescued Britain from the parlous state to which socialism had brought it. Once again Britain stands tall in the councils of Europe and of the world. Over the last decade, we have given power back to the people on an unprecedented scale. We have given back control to people over their own lives and over their livelihoods, over the decisions that matter most to them and their families. We have done it by curbing the monopoly power of trade unions to control, even victimize the individual worker.[179]
Soon after her resignation, a MORI poll found that 52% of Britons agreed that "On balance she had been good for the country", while 48% disagreed.[187]
Thatcher is often credited by her supporters for saving Britain from rule by Neil Kinnock; whereas Kinnock's Labour had led the polls (often by a double-digit margin) for some 18 months prior to Thatcher's resignation, a dramatic turnaround followed in the opinion polls as John Major oversaw an upturn in Conservative support (despite the deepening recession and rising unemployment) which regularly saw the Conservatives come ahead of Labour in the 17 months leading up to the next general election, which was held on 9 April 1992. Major led the Conservatives to their fourth successive general election victory and Kinnock stepped down as opposition leader after nine years of ultimately unsuccessful efforts to oust the Conservatives and return Labour to government.[188]
However, Conservative supports often see Thatcher's resignation as hugely destabilising for the party. Although her resignation to make way for John Major is widely regarded as the winning card for the Conservatives in the 1992 election, it meant that the Conservatives were in power when a significant financial crisis hit the country later that year. Black Wednesday, 16 September 1992, saw interest rates begin the day at 10%, and over the course of the day rise from 12% to 15% before falling back to 12%. Pound sterling was then removed from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. With the economy still not yet out of recession, fears were widespread that the economy would remain weak for many years to come.[189]
With the Conservative Party's reputation for monetary excellence in tatters, Labour was soon ascendant in the opinion polls.[190]
Although the recession was declared over by April 1993 and the subsequent economic recovery was strong and the fall in unemployment relatively swift, opinion polls continued to show the Conservatives trailing Labour by a wide margin and after the death of Labour leader John Smith in May 1994, the well received election of Tony Blair as Labour leader served to widen the gulf between the Conservatives and Labour. With a general election called for May 1997, Major spent weeks campaigning for voters to re-elect the Conservatives for a fifth successive term, urging them not to fall for "New Labour's" policies, as well as concentrating on the theme of a strong economy and falling unemployment. However, the Conservative government had denied responsibility for recession earlier in the decade, and few voters were willing to give them credit for the economic recovery. The Conservative government's 18 years in power were ended by a Labour landslide.[191]
The Conservatives failed to represent a serious threat to Labour's position in government as the 2001 and 2005 general elections were both won by Labour. However, the election of David Cameron as Conservative leader in December 2005 saw Conservative support rise dramatically and soon it was back to levels not seen since the beginning of John Major's premiership. Hopes of an imminent Conservative election win were thrown into doubt in June 2007 when Tony Blair stepped aside as prime minister to be succeeded by Gordon Brown, sparking a brief rise in Labour support. However, the onset of a recession saw the Conservatives firmly re-established as the most popular party in opinion polls. In May 2010, Cameron finally returned the Conservatives to power after 13 years in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, after the Conservatives attained the highest number of votes and seats at the general election but failed to gain an overall majority.[192]

Later years

Mrs Thatcher retained her parliamentary seat in the House of Commons as MP for Finchley for two years, returning to the backbenches after leaving the premiership. She supported John Major as her successor and he duly won the leadership contest, although in the years to come her approval of Major would fall away.[193] She occasionally spoke in the House of Commons after she was Prime Minister, commenting and campaigning on issues regarding her beliefs and concerns.[72] In 1991, she was given an unprecedented five minute standing ovation at the party's annual conference.[194] She retired from the House at the 1992 election, at the age of 66 years; she said that leaving the Commons would allow her more freedom to speak her mind.[195]


After leaving the House of Commons, Thatcher remained active in politics. She wrote two volumes of memoirs: The Downing Street Years, published in 1993 and The Path to Power published in 1995.
In August 1992 Thatcher called for NATO to stop the Serbian assault on Goražde and Sarajevo in order to end ethnic cleansing and to preserve the Bosnian state. She described the situation in Bosnia as "reminiscent of the worst excesses of the Nazis", warning that there could be a "holocaust" in Bosnia and described the conflict as a "killing field the like of which I thought we would never see in Europe again."[196] She made a series of speeches in the Lords criticising the Maastricht Treaty,[195] describing it as "a treaty too far" and stated "I could never have signed this treaty".[197] She cited A. V. Dicey, to the effect that, since all three main parties were in favour of revisiting the treaty, the people should have their say.[198]
Thatcher in a black suit and hat, with a solid white background.
Thatcher at the state funeral of Ronald Reagan, June 2004
Inside of a church filled with people dressed in black. In the foreground two men greet Thatcher, who is shaking hands with the man on the right, and the man on the left is smiling.
Thatcher with Mikhail Gorbachev (left) and Brian Mulroney (centre) at Reagan's funeral.
From 1993 to 2000, Lady Thatcher served as Chancellor of the College of William and Mary in Virginia, which was established by Royal Charter in 1693. She was also Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, the UK's only private university.
After Tony Blair's election as Labour Party leader in 1994, Thatcher gave an interview in May 1995 in which she praised Blair as "probably the most formidable Labour leader since Hugh Gaitskell. I see a lot of socialism behind their front bench, but not in Mr Blair. I think he genuinely has moved."[199]
Lady Thatcher visited former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet, once a key British ally during the 1982 Falklands War, while he was under house arrest in Surrey in 1998. Pinochet was fighting extradition to Spain for alleged human rights abuses committed during his tenure.[200] Thatcher expressed her support and friendship for Pinochet,[200] who had swept to power on a wave of military violence and torture in the 1973 Chilean coup d'état, thanking him for supporting Britain in the Falklands War and for "bringing democracy to Chile."[200]
In 1999, during Thatcher's first speech to a Conservative Party conference in nine years, she contended that Britain's problems came from continental Europe.[201] Her comments aroused some criticism from Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a former Foreign Secretary under Sir John Major, who said that Lady Thatcher's comments could give the impression that Britain is prejudiced against Europe.[201]
In the 2001 general election, Lady Thatcher supported the Conservative general election campaign but this time did not endorse Iain Duncan Smith in public as she had done previously for John Major and William Hague. In the Conservative leadership election shortly after, she supported Iain Duncan Smith because she believed he would "make infinitely the better leader" than Kenneth Clarke.[202]
In March 2002 Thatcher published Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World, detailing her thoughts on mainly international relations and dedicated to Ronald Reagan. She claimed there would no peace in the Middle East until Saddam Hussein was toppled and said if he was found to be involved in the attacks on 11 September 2001, war was right. She also said Israel must trade land for peace as part of an equitable settlement. The most controversial part, however, dealt with the European Union. It was "fundamentally unreformable" and "a classic utopian project, a monument to the vanity of intellectuals, a programme whose inevitable destiny is failure". She argued that Britain should renegotiate its terms of membership but if this failed Britain should leave the EU and join the North American Free Trade Area. This book was serialised in The Times on Monday 18 March and caused a sensation. Having dominated the media all week with her views on the EU, on Friday 23 March she announced that on the advice of her doctors she would cancel all planned speaking engagements and accept no more.[203]

Activities since 2003

Thatcher was widowed upon the death of Sir Denis Thatcher on 26 June 2003. A funeral service was held honouring him at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea on 3 July with Thatcher present, as well as her children Mark and Carol.[204] Thatcher paid tribute to him by saying, "Being Prime Minister is a lonely job. In a sense, it ought to be—you cannot lead from a crowd. But with Denis there I was never alone. What a man. What a husband. What a friend".[205]
At a secret meeting of the No Turning Back group of Conservative MPs, she spoke against the Labour government's plans for compulsory identity cards, saying: "Identity cards are a Germanic concept and completely alien to this country. I don't see why we should have them". She claimed they would not protect Britain from a terrorist attack nor reduce crime.[206]
Now in her declining years, she began complaining about her "lost" family (Mark in South Africa, Carol in Switzerland), but her daughter was less than sympathetic: "A mother cannot reasonably expect her grown-up children to boomerang back, gushing cosiness and make up for lost time. Absentee Mum, then Gran in overdrive is not an equation that balances."[207]
The following year, on 11 June, Thatcher travelled to the United States to attend the state funeral service for former US President Ronald Reagan, one of her closest friends, at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.[208] Thatcher delivered a eulogy via videotape to Reagan; in view of her failing mental faculties following several small strokes, the message had been pre-recorded several months earlier.[209] Thatcher then flew to California with the Reagan entourage, and attended the memorial service and interment ceremony for President Reagan at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.[210]
Thatcher attends the Washington memorial service marking the 5th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, pictured with Dick Cheney and his wife.
Thatcher talks with then-United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace, 12 September 2006
Thatcher marked her 80th birthday with a celebration at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hyde Park, London on 13 October 2005, where the guests included the Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Alexandra and Tony Blair.[211] There, Geoffrey Howe, now Lord Howe of Aberavon, said of his former boss, "Her real triumph was to have transformed not just one party but two, so that when Labour did eventually return, the great bulk of Thatcherism was accepted as irreversible."[212]
In 2006, Thatcher attended the official Washington, D.C. memorial service to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States. She attended as a guest of the US Vice President, Dick Cheney, and met with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her visit.[213] On 12 November, she appeared at the Remembrance Day parade at the Cenotaph in London, leaning heavily on the arm of Sir John Major. On 10 December she announced she was "deeply saddened" by the death of Augusto Pinochet.[214]
In February 2007, she became the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to be honoured with a statue in the Houses of Parliament while still living. The statue is made of bronze and stands opposite her political hero and predecessor, Sir Winston Churchill.[215] The statue was unveiled on 21 February 2007 with Lady Thatcher in attendance; she made a rare and brief speech in the members' lobby of the House of Commons, responding: "I might have preferred iron — but bronze will do... It won't rust."[215] The statue shows her as if she were addressing the House of Commons, with her right arm outstretched. Thatcher said she was thrilled with it.[216]
On 13 September 2007, Thatcher was invited to 10 Downing Street to have tea with Gordon Brown and his wife. Brown referred to Lady Thatcher as a "conviction politician."[217] On 30 January 2008, Thatcher met David Cameron at an awards ceremony at London's Guildhall where she was presented with a 'Lifetime Achievement Award'.[218] In May 2009, she travelled to Rome to meet Pope Benedict XVI in a private audience at the Vatican. She had previously met Paul VI in 1977 and John Paul II in 1980.[219] On 8 June 2010 she again returned to Downing Street to have tea with the Prime Minister, David Cameron and his wife Samantha Cameron, where she said it was 'good to be back in Downing Street'.
Lady Thatcher was invited back to Number 10 in late November 2009 to be at the unveiling of an official portrait by the artist, Richard Stone, who had previously painted The Queen and the late Queen Mother. Lady Thatcher was invited along with guests including David Cameron, as well as former members of Lady Thatcher's Cabinet and members of the Conservative-supporting newspapers throughout the 1980s including the Chief Political Commentator of The Telegraph, Benedict Brogan, and former Sun editor, Kelvin MacKenzie.[220]
It is a rare honour for a living Prime Minister to have a commissioned painted portrait hanging in the Prime Minister's residence: all other living prime ministers having photographs only that line the stair walls of Number 10. Baroness Thatcher and only two other Prime Ministers have their portraits painted as well as a hung photograph on display. Sir Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George are the only other Prime Ministers to have hung painted portraits on display in Number 10 Downing Street.[221]
Lady Thatcher was among one of four former British Prime Ministers whom were addressed by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI on 17 September 2010 in Westminster Hall, Lady Thatcher was seated on the front row sitting in front of senior coalition Cabinet ministers and members of the Labour opposition. She sat next to Sir John Major, who provided her with support when she was meeting with the Pope after his speech.[222]


Thatcher suffered several small strokes in 2002 and she was advised by her doctors not to engage in any more public speaking.[223] As a result of the strokes, her short term memory began to falter.[224] Her former press spokesman Sir Bernard Ingham said in early 2007, "She's now got no short-term memory left, which is absolutely tragic."[225]
Thatcher was admitted to St Thomas' Hospital, Central London on 7 March 2008, for tests after collapsing at a House of Lords dinner.[224] She was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where she spent one night.[224] The incident was probably caused by her low blood pressure and stuffy conditions within the dining hall.[224][226]
On 24 August 2008 it was publicly disclosed that Thatcher has been suffering from dementia. Her daughter Carol described in her 2008 memoir, A Swim-on Part in the Goldfish Bowl, first observing in 2000 that Thatcher was becoming forgetful.[227] The condition later became more noticeable; at times, Thatcher thought that her husband Denis, who died in 2003, was still living.[228] Carol Thatcher recalls that her mother's memories of the time she spent as Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990 remain among her sharpest.[227]
In June 2009 Thatcher broke a bone in her arm in a fall at home.[229] She underwent a 45-minute surgical procedure to insert a pin into her upper arm.[230] She spent a total of three weeks in hospital before being discharged.[231]
On 13 November 2009, rumours of Thatcher's death were erroneously circulated within the Government of Canada whilst they attended a black-tie dinner, after transport minister John Baird sent a text message announcing the death of his pet tabby called Thatcher. The news was reported to Prime Minister Stephen Harper as the death of Baroness Thatcher, and almost caused a diplomatic incident between Canada and the United Kingdom, but the Canadian Government rang Downing Street and Buckingham Palace to seek verification.[232]
At the Conservative Party conference 2010, the newly installed Prime Minister David Cameron announced he would be seeking to invite Lady Thatcher back to Downing Street for the occasion of her 85th birthday with a party at 10 Downing Street, to be attended by past and present ministers. Lady Thatcher was forced to pull out of the celebration at the last minute after being taken ill with a bout of flu, later said to have caused an infection.[233][234]
A few days later, after consultation with a doctor called by worried aides, Baroness Thatcher was admitted for precautionary tests at the private BUPA Cromwell Hospital, west London.[235] Her son, Sir Mark reports she is doing well and talking about the Coalition Government's comprehensive spending review albeit whilst being 'drowsy', the effect of the medication administered. A press conference called by the hospital four days after her admission, confirmed that Lady Thatcher was doing well and would be expected to be staying in for a few more days.[236]
Lady Thatcher was discharged from The Cromwell on 1 November, after nearly a fortnight in the private BUPA hospital having been admitted on 19 October 2010. She was released with the advice to take things slowly, however on arrival at home she did assemble outside her Belgravia home for photographers, albeit with the help of aides.[237]


Thatcher remains identified with her remarks to the reporter Douglas Keay, for Woman's Own magazine, 23 September 1987:
I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand "I have a problem, it is the Government's job to cope with it!" or "I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!" "I am homeless, the Government must house me!" and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations...[238]
As the individualistic credo expressed above took hold of Thatcher's Britain, egalitarian concerns dwindled. Andy Beckett commented: "Authorities on poverty rates and income distributions differ as to precisely when the optimum moment of equality in Britain came, but some statistics leap out. The Gini coefficient, a common measure of income inequality, reached its lowest level for British households in 1977. The proportion of individual Britons below the poverty line did the same in 1978. Social mobility, the likelihood of someone becoming part of a different class from their parents, peaked in the Callaghan era. The egalitarian Britain of the Callaghan years and its social trends were relentlessly reversed in the Thatcher years and beyond, so that Britain in the 1970s was probably more equal than it had ever been before, and certainly more than it has ever been since."[239]
To her supporters Margaret Thatcher remains a figure who revitalised Britain's economy, impacted the trade unions, and re-established the nation as a world power.[240] Yet Thatcher was also a controversial figure, her premiership marked by high unemployment and social unrest,[240] and many critics fault her economic policies for the unemployment level.[241] Speaking in Scotland in April 2009, before the 30th anniversary of her election as prime minister, Thatcher declared: "I regret nothing", and insisted she "was right to introduce the poll tax and to close loss-making industries to end the country's 'dependency culture'."[242]
Critics have regretted her influence in the abandonment of full employment, poverty reduction and a consensual civility as bedrock policy objectives. Many recent biographers have been critical of many aspects of the Thatcher years and Michael White writing in New Statesman in February 2009 wondered if the ' hubristic collapse of the free-market model of capitalism that she promoted [had] dealt her another blow. Who was it who first removed the seat belts and airbags from the safe-but-boring Volvo that the West built after 1945? 'Her freer, more promiscuous version of capitalism' in Hugo Young's phrase is reaping a darker harvest."[243]
The Labour party on gaining power in 1997, did not reverse Thatcher's privatisation of the previously state-owned enterprises.[244]
Thatcher's growth model was to promote privatisation of public assets and deregulation of the private sector, particularly the financial sector, its encouragement of the financial sector to 'create new ways of spreading risk and expanding credit'. The financial revolution in London in the 1980s meant that among the large economies none rivalled Britain for the relative size of its financial sector.
In April 2008, the Daily Telegraph commissioned a YouGov poll asking whom Britons regarded as the greatest post-World War II prime minister; Thatcher came in first, receiving 34% of the vote, while Winston Churchill ranked second with 15%.[245][246][247]


Margaret Thatcher's arms. The admiral represents the Falklands War, the image of Sir Isaac Newton her background as a chemist and her birth town Grantham.
In addition to her conventional appointment as a Member of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council (PC) upon becoming Secretary of State for Education and Science in 1970[248] Thatcher has received numerous honours as a result of her career, including being named a Lady of the Most Noble Order of the Garter (LG). She is a Member of the Order of Merit (OM) as well as a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) and the first woman entitled to full membership rights as an honorary member of the Carlton Club, a gentlemen's club.
US President George H. W. Bush awards Thatcher the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1991
Thatcher became a peer in the House of Lords in 1992 by the bestowal of a life peerage as Baroness Thatcher, of Kesteven in the County of Lincolnshire.[195][249] Thatcher had already been honoured by the Queen in 1990, shortly after her resignation as Prime Minister, when awarded the Order of Merit, one of the UK's highest distinctions and in the personal conferment of the sovereign.[250] At the same time it was announced that her husband, Denis, would be given a baronetcy, which was confirmed in 1991[250][251] (ensuring that their son, Mark, would inherit a title). She and her husband were one of the few married couples where both partners held noble titles in their own right. In 1995, Baroness Thatcher was appointed a Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter, the United Kingdom's highest order of chivalry.[252]
In 1999 Thatcher was among 18 included in Gallup's List of Widely Admired People of the 20th century, from a poll conducted of Americans. In a 2006 list compiled by New Statesman, she was voted 5th in the list of "Heroes of our time".[253] She was also named a "Hero of Freedom" by the libertarian magazine Reason.[254] In the Falkland Islands, Margaret Thatcher Day is marked every 10 January, commemorating her visit on this date in 1983, seven months after the military victory;[255][256] the decision was taken by the Falkland Islands legislature in 1992.[257] Thatcher Drive in Stanley, the site of government, is named for her. In South Georgia, Thatcher Peninsula, where the Task Force troops first set foot on Falklands soil, bears her name.[258][259]
Thatcher has also been awarded numerous honours from foreign countries. In 1990, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour awarded by the United States. She was given the Republican Senatorial Medal of Freedom, Ronald Reagan Freedom Award, and named a patron of the Heritage Foundation.[260] She was awarded the Grand Order of King Dmitar Zvonimir, the fourth highest state order of the Republic of Croatia.

Cultural depictions

Cultural depictions of Margaret Thatcher have featured in a number of television programmes, documentaries, films and plays; among the most notable depictions of her are Patricia Hodge in The Falklands Play (2002) and Lindsay Duncan in Margaret (2009). She was also the inspiration for a number of protest songs.[261][262][263][264][265]
Thatcher was lampooned by satirist John Wells in multiple formats. Wells collaborated with Richard Ingrams on the spoof Dear Bill letters which ran as a column in Private Eye magazine, were published in book form and were then adapted into a West End stage revue as Anyone for Denis? - starring Wells as Thatcher's hapless husband Denis. The stage show yielded a 1982 TV special directed by Dick Clement. Although the Private Eye column, books, stage show and TV special were all ostensibly about Thatcher's husband, this was partly a comedic device to poke fun at Thatcher and followed a similar pattern established by Wells and Ingrams in the 1960s when they had lampooned Prime Minister Harold Wilson through a Private Eye column, books and a West End revue titled Mrs Wilson's Diary using Wilson's wife as the device to mock the Labour Premier. In 1979, Wells was commissioned by comedy producer Martin Lewis to write and perform on a comedy record album titled The Iron Lady: The Coming Of The Leader on which Thatcher was portrayed by comedienne and noted Thatcher impersonator Janet Brown. The album consisted of skits and songs. It was released by Logo Records.[266]


The styles and titles Thatcher has held from birth are, in chronological order:
  • Miss Margaret Roberts (13 October 1925 – 13 December 1951)
  • Mrs Denis Thatcher (13 December 1951 – 8 October 1959)
  • Mrs Denis Thatcher, MP (8 October 1959 – 22 June 1970)
  • The Rt Hon. Margaret Thatcher, MP, PC (22 June 1970 – 7 December 1990)
  • The Rt Hon. Margaret Thatcher, OM, MP, PC (7 December 1990 – 4 February 1991)
  • The Rt Hon. Lady Thatcher, OM, MP, PC (4 February 1991 – 16 March 1992)
  • The Rt Hon. Lady Thatcher, OM, PC (16 March 1992 – 26 June 1992)
  • The Rt Hon. The Baroness Thatcher, OM, PC (26 June 1992 – 22 April 1995)
  • The Rt Hon. The Baroness Thatcher, LG, OM, PC (since 22 April 1995)

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