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Margaret Hilda Thatcher

Margaret Hilda Thatcher

Conservative Party leader for 15 years, Margaret Hilda Thatcher (born 1925) became the first female prime minister of Great Britain and served in that post from 1979 to 1990, longer than any other British prime minister in the 20th century.

Margaret Thatcher was born to grocery shop keepers in the small railroad equipment manufacturing town of Grantham. Alfred and Beatrice, her parents, were hard workers and careful savers, living over their shop and taking separate vacations so that the grocery would not be left unattended. Her father co-founded the Grantham Rotary Club, became president of the town Grocers' Association, local head of the National Savings Movement, and a member of both the boys' and girls' schools of Grantham. He served for 25 years on the Borough Council, beginning in 1927, and became chairman of its finance committee. For nine years, he was a town alderman, and became the mayor in 1943, as well as a justice of the peace at quarter sessions. He was also a Methodist lay preacher. Beatrice kept the house, sewed, baked, and helped to run the store. Thatcher's childhood family life revolved around the Methodist church, attending services three times a week, saying grace before every meal, and strictly observing the Sabbath. From age five to fifteen, Thatcher took piano lessons and sang in the church choir.

In October 1943, Thatcher was admitted to Somerville College to study chemistry at Oxford. After winning a second-class degree, Thatcher found employment as a research chemist. In 1950 and 1951, she studied to become a barrister and ran as the Conservative candidate in industrial Dartford in North Kent. During this campaign she met Denis Thatcher, who managed his family's company in North Kent. The two were married on December 13, 1951 and became the parents of twins, Mark and Carol, in August 1953.

Political Life

Thatcher became the youngest woman in the House of Commons in 1959, at the age of 34. She became known for sticking to her deeply felt, but unpopular beliefs which included quality, standards, and choice in education, for equal opportunity, and for aligning universities with industry. Thatcher ran against Ted Heath in 1975, winning the second ballot to lead the Conservatives with 146 votes. She became prime minister in May 1979, when the Conservatives won the majority of seats. In June 1987, her Conservative Party won its third consecutive general election victory. Thatcher appeared likely to continue as prime minister for many years. In the election, she had turned back a strong challenge from the Labour Party by renewing her commitment to conviction politics. She had boasted of the economic successes of her two previous governments as well as her strong foreign and defense policies. Yet Thatcher's third term was to be her least productive. With public opinion turning decisively against her, she was forced to resign from office in November 1990 after a struggle for leadership within the Conservative Party. She was succeeded by John Major, the chancellor of the exchequer since October 1989, who was a supporter of her policies.

Thatcher's third term was marked by controversy from the outset. She pursued a radical conservative agenda, in line with her earlier policies. Her aim was to promote individualism through a further dismantling of state controls. Before 1987 several key industries and public utilities had been transferred to private ownership, including the telephone system, the ports, British Gas, and British Airways. Thatcher continued this policy of privatization, notably in two key areas: water and electricity. Legislation was passed setting up private companies and selling stock in them to the public. This had the double advantage of producing short-term financial gains for the government and helping to create what Thatcher referred to as a property-owning democracy.

Similarly, the sale of council houses to their tenants, begun in 1980, proved to be a controversial if popular measure. By 1988 nearly one million municipal properties were in private hands. The private ownership of homes in Britain was about 70 percent in 1990, one of the highest figures in the world.

Thatcher's government also initiated dramatic changes in the National Health Service, established in 1948. Thatcher favored a significant increase in private medical care and insurance to complement the state-run system. Some of her plans had to be modified, but a major reorganization of the N.H.S. was commenced in 1989 after the publication of a White Paper at the beginning of the year. Market principles were introduced into the N.H.S. Family doctors were given control over their budgets and hospitals were encouraged to opt out of local health authority administration.

Similar market provisions were introduced into state education. Schools were given the power to free themselves from local authority control and to make budgetary decisions, while a national curriculum was developed. The principle of free higher education was virtually abandoned, with universities being encouraged to seek private support. While local authorities continued to provide mandatory stipends to university students, a system of supplementary loans, based on American ideas, was adopted.

Thatcher likewise sought to reduce monopoly control of the professions. Legal reforms were initiated with the intent of lessening the traditional division of functions between solicitors and barristers. Solicitors previously had lost their exclusive power to conduct real estate transactions. Further legislation gave them the right to try cases in the higher courts along with barristers.

The reform that turned public opinion against Thatcher and ultimately led to her downfall was the introduction of the poll tax, or community charge, in 1988. This tax was levied on individuals in a particular district at the same rate, although rebates were available for the poor. It was intended to replace property taxes, hitherto the mainstay of local finance. Since local councils determined the rate of the tax, Thatcher believed that voters would repudiate the higher-spending councils dominated by the Labour Party. There were violent demonstrations against the poll tax in London and other cities, and opposition to it developed within the Conservative Party itself. Major, the new prime minister in 1990, promised to take steps to make the tax more equitable.

Thatcher's economic policies also began to fail during her third term. Her chief successes had been a significant reduction in income tax and a lessening of inflation, from more than 21 percent annually in 1980 to under 3 percent in 1986. However, inflation began to increase again, and by 1990 it had exceeded 10 percent. When combined with a persistently high level of unemployment and a severe downturn in the balance of payments, the economic gains of the Thatcher era began to be called into question. Her solution of attacking inflation by maintaining high interest rates only made matters worse for ordinary people because it increased their monthly mortgage payments.

Opposition to European Integration

The immediate issue that brought about Thatcher's resignation as prime minister was her unyielding opposition to European integration. Britain had joined the European Community in 1973 when Edward Heath was prime minister. Although Thatcher supported integration at the time, in subsequent years she turned down every proposal that seemed to bring the concept of a federal Europe closer to reality. She aligned her foreign policy with Washington rather than Europe in the belief that a special relationship existed with the United States. In economic matters, she firmly rejected proposals for a single European currency.

Thatcher's "Little England" feelings towards Europe antagonized many voters, including a large number of Conservatives. Three leading politicians in her party resigned from office over matters related to Europe: Michael Heseltine, her defense minister, in 1986; Nigel Lawson, the chancellor of the exchequer, in 1989; and Geoffrey Howe, the deputy leader of the party, in November 1990. It was Howe's resignation that produced the leadership crisis and Major's emergence as prime minister. The issue of European integration was closely related to Thatcher's other policies. Once again she championed individual sovereignty, while arguing vehemently against the encroaching bureaucratization of government.

Thatcher's 11½ years as prime minister were remarkable. She held office longer than any other prime minister in the 20th century. She impressed her vision upon Britain in a distinctive way, making the word "Thatcherism" a part of that nation's political vocabulary. By her attacks upon central government and the welfare state she undermined a political consensus that had existed since the 1950s. She helped to invigorate the economy, particularly by encouraging small businesses to develop. She challenged powerful institutions and brought about necessary reforms in industrial relations.

Yet the case against Thatcher is a strong one. She was a divisive leader, as on the issues of the poll tax and European integration. Her strident attitudes on social issues upset many people. Economic inequality increased under Thatcher, as did homelessness, and many social services deteriorated. She was accused of weakening basic civil liberties. Her foreign policy, though defined by a spectacular victory over Argentina in the Falklands War in 1982, was marked by Cold War rhetoric which seemed increasingly outdated by her third term in office. Ironically, the Soviet Union gave Thatcher the nickname she was best known by: the Iron Lady. She was proud of it, and her policies, though controversial, reflect a determination and consistency of vision that few political leaders can hope to equal.

In the month following the Thatcher resignation Queen Elizabeth II appointed the former prime minister a member of the Order of Merit, one of only 24 members (a vacancy occurred with the 1989 death of Laurence Olivier). The new Lady Thatcher's husband, Denis, received a baronetry (to become Sir Denis). A second honor came March 7, 1991, when Thatcher received the U.S. Medal of Freedom from President Bush. Although she was no longer prime minister, Thatcher remained politically active. She became president of the Bruges Group of British lawmakers opposed to a full political union with Europe, as well as of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, designed to help bring order to the world.

On June 28, 1991, Thatcher wound up 32 years of a legislative career by announcing she would not seek to retain her seat in the House of Commons at the next election (which was called in July 1992). She had been MP for Barnet, Finchley, two suburbs northwest of London. She has remained active with lectures and appearances over the entire world, and somehow found the time to write her memoirs.

Further Reading

Margaret Thatcher wrote her memoirs in two volumes: The Downing Street Years (1993) and The Path to Power (1995). Two previous biographies of Thatcher are particularly worthwhile: Kenneth Harris, Thatcher (1988), and Hugo Young, The Iron Lady: A Biography of Margaret Thatcher 1989; (published in Britain under the title One of Us). Both books are by journalists who offer balanced, if critical, accounts of the Thatcher years. A number of recent studies focus on the events of the Thatcher era rather than her personality. The best of these is Thatcherism and British Politics: The End of Consensus?, 2nd edition (1990), by Dennis A. Kavanagh. More sympathetic to Thatcher than Kavanagh's volume is The Thatcher Decade: How Britain Has Changed During the 1980s by Peter Riddell (1989). Dennis Kavanagh and Anthony Seldon have edited a stimulating collection of essays titled The Thatcher Effect (1989), which includes contributions by leading scholars and journalists. Yet another perceptive work is Mrs. Thatcher's Revolution: The Ending of the Socialist Era (1987) by Peter Jenkins, who maintains that Thatcher destroyed the political order prevailing in Britain since the late 1950s. The so-called special relationship between Britain and the United States is ably covered by Geoffrey Smith in Reagan and Thatcher (1991). Thatcher's press secretary and long-time retainer, Bernard Ingham, gives a favorable account of Thatcher in his memoir Kill the Messenger (1991). □

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Thatcher, Margaret

Thatcher, Margaret (b. 1925). Prime minister. Britain's first woman prime minister and one of the most controversial, she won three resounding election victories in a row for the Conservatives (1979, 1983, and 1987), before they rejected her as party leader and premier in 1990, a ruthless act of political ingratitude.

Mrs Thatcher was educated at Kesteven and Grantham Girls' School and Somerville College, Oxford, and entered Parliament in 1959. Beforehand she had been a research chemist (1947–54) and a lawyer (she was called to the bar in 1954). Between 1970 and 1974 she was secretary of state for education, a position in which she earned the sobriquet of ‘ Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher’ for abolishing the free supply of milk to schoolchildren. This was mild compared to the abuse she endured later.

As leader of the opposition, between 1975 and 1979, she repudiated the legacy of her predecessor as Tory leader, Edward Heath, and, under the influence of Sir Keith Joseph, a former colleague in Heath's cabinet, moved towards that ideal of political patriotism, low taxes, private ownership, balanced budgets, and individual initiative which later became known as Thatcherism. However, if the goal was financial stability, permanently low inflation, reduced government spending, and lower taxes, it proved illusory. Her record as prime minister began and ended with severe recessions (the worst since the 1930s) leading to a reduced industrial base and very low overall growth rates. She failed to reverse Britain's relative decline, although for a few years, until Nigel Lawson and John Major threw it away, it looked as if she had established the right conditions for doing so. The trade unions were tamed; Arthur Scargill's miners went down to defeat after a year-long strike aimed at overthrowing the government; most state-owned companies were privatized; and income tax was significantly lowered. However, rising indirect taxes, rising interest rates, rising inflation, plus the introduction of the hugely unpopular poll tax, meant that when a crisis erupted over Europe in 1990, Mrs Thatcher lacked the political support needed to survive.

Just as she had not been expected to win the Tory Party leadership in 1975, her rapid rise to international fame took many by surprise. There had been little in her record to suggest that she had any talent for diplomacy, yet from the start of her premiership, she made her mark in international affairs. In 1979 a peace settlement was negotiated at Lancaster House which ended the Rhodesian question and paved the way for an independent Zimbabwe. Such a settlement had eluded international negotiators since 1965, although it must be conceded that events in Africa, plus Lord Carrington's diplomacy, had more to do with the success than Mrs Thatcher's personal input. Her own triumph, which made her an international celebrity, came with victory over Argentina in the Falklands War of 1982, when, having been taken by surprise by the Argentine invasion (Carrington resigned), Mrs Thatcher dispatched a battle fleet to the South Atlantic, which recaptured the colony. The bravery and efficiency displayed by the armed forces, the collapse of the reactionary Argentine dictatorship, and the leadership provided by the prime minister, enabled Mrs Thatcher to win a remarkable triumph in the 1983 general election. Thereafter she developed a ‘very, very special relationship’ with the US president, Ronald Reagan, and despite some differences (the Soviet oil pipeline, Grenada, nuclear disarmament) worked very closely with him to end the Cold War. She also managed to develop a close relationship with the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, of whom she remarked, after they first met: ‘That is a man I can do business with.’ British contacts with eastern Europe intensified and Gorbachev, like western leaders, used Mrs Thatcher as an intermediary with President Reagan. When she finally visited Moscow, she received a triumphal welcome. Other aspects of her diplomacy were more controversial. These included the Anglo-Irish agreement of 1985, the joint agreement with Peking over the future of Hong Kong (1984), her resistance to economic sanctions against South Africa, and the scepticism with which she greeted the prospect of German re-unification.

Her policy towards the European Community was, however, most controversial of all. Her first instincts had been conventional. She had campaigned enthusiastically for a Yes vote in the 1975 referendum and always believed that her approach was constructive. She helped achieve closer co-operation on foreign policy, and the Single European Act which was signed in 1986 received her full backing as a means of extending Thatcherite free enterprise across a European single market, despite the concessions involved to majority voting. On the other hand, she had had to battle mightily in order to secure the annual British rebates agreed on in the Fontainebleau accord (1984) and was horrified by Jacques Delors's ideas regarding a European Social Charter, and even more so by European economic and monetary union. In her famous Bruges speech (1988), she declared her opposition to future integration, although she was persuaded by her cabinet colleagues Sir Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson to promise to enter the exchange rate mechanism, a move which came under John Major as chancellor and which proved a disaster. By 1990, however, after having rejected economic and monetary union at a summit in Rome, she was deserted by Sir Geoffrey Howe, who, bitter at having been dismissed as foreign secretary, and fearful lest his long-standing federalism be rendered futile, resigned from her government and challenged Michael Heseltine to contest the party leadership. In the ensuing contest, Mrs Thatcher won the first round, but was deserted by her cabinet—over whom she had never exercised full control and who were weary of her autocratic style—and withdrew from the leadership race. She was succeeded by John Major as Tory leader.

She was accused by many of having broken with the post-war consensus in British politics and, indeed, she herself regularly denounced the concept. In fact, she had responded to a changing consensus and had influenced that change by her personality and policies. The high unemployment of her years in power had not been intended. The welfare state had grown under her as never before. Her defence and foreign policies had been totally conventional. She had made no constitutional innovations and had if anything been slow to dismiss her cabinet critics. Privatization had proved popular. So too had trade union reform. In the end she contributed to her own undoing by retaining key ministers whose policies, priorities, and philosophies were fundamentally different from her own. In this sense, the Iron Lady proved an unexpectedly weak prime minister.

Andrew Sanders

Bibliography

Campbell, J. , Margaret Thatcher (2000);
Harris, K. , Thatcher (1988).

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Thatcher, Margaret

Thatcher, Margaret 1925

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Margaret Thatchers political career was marked by a series of firsts. In June 1979 she became the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom. She was the first U.K. prime minister in the twentieth century to win three consecutive general elections (1979, 1983, and 1987), and upon her resignation in November 1990, she had become Britains longest continuously serving prime minister since 1827.

Thatcher was also unique in having her name associated with a set of ideas, policies, and style of governance known as Thatcherism. Yet the extent to which Thatcherism as an ideology guided the policies of Thatchers governments in office has been disputed. What is not in dispute is that these policies fundamentally altered the trajectory of the United Kingdoms economy, society, and polity and continued to impact upon policy outputs, political discourse, and electoral competition long after the demise of the Thatcher government.

Thatcherite economic policies were broadly labeled monetarist even though, technically, a monetarist strategy was only pursued for a limited initial period. In an attempt to reverse Britains long-term economic decline, Thatcher challenged the basis of the postwar Keynesian social democratic consensus by attempting to restructure patterns of property ownership, taxation, and social attitudes toward welfare. An ambitious program of privatization transferred major state-owned industries and public services into the private sector, and 1.5 million public-sector houses were sold to their tenants. A parallel program of marketization promoted the use of market criteria by public-sector service providersespecially local authorities and the National Health Service. Taxation policies sought to reward initiative and enterprise through reduced rates of income tax. In parallel, welfare and social benefits were restructured, reduced, and increasingly means tested; and social attitudes toward collective welfare provision were challenged, most famously in Thatchers phrase there is no such thing as society (from an interview with Douglas Keay, 1987).

A hallmark of Thatchers period in office was her style of governance. She confronted most of the powerful social and political institutions in the United Kingdom. Major state institutionsmost particularly the civil service and local governmentwere reformed, and a wide range of regulatory bodies was introduced. A community charge (known as the poll tax) was imposed to reform the system of local government financing. This tax was extremely unpopular and prompted widespread nonpayment and, ultimately, riots in London in November 1990. The legal position and standing of trade unions was altered radically by five major legislative acts. Thatchers foreign policies also revealed her combative nature. Her condemnation of Soviet-style communism earned her the epithet the Iron Lady in the Soviet press. Her support for Ronald Reagan (19112004), and for a close relationship with the United States, was reflected in mutual transatlantic perspectives on the cold war. Her general hostility to further European integration and her specific resistance to the creation of a federal European Union earned the United Kingdom the title the awkward partner. However, the Falklands War, waged in 1982 against Argentina, secured Thatchers status as a warrior queen in the popular press in the United Kingdom. The war lasted for seventy-four days, between April and June, and ended when British troops successfully reclaimed the British dependency of the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic after an invasion by Argentina. Thatchers image as a decisive war leader strengthened her poll ratings and was emphasized successfully in the Conservative Partys 1983 election slogan the resolute approach.

After her resignation in 1990, Thatcher remained a member of Parliament until the 1992 general election. Thereafter she joined the House of Lords as Baroness Thatcher, and after a series of strokes she retired from public speaking in 2002. However, the legacy of Thatcher was profound, not least because of her impact upon her political opponents. Indeed the policies pursued by the Labour Party under Tony Blair were variously described as sub-Thatcherite, neo-Thatcherite, or simply Thatcherite.

SEE ALSO Blair, Tony; Conservative Party (Britain); Economics, Keynesian; European Union; Falkland Islands War; Inequality, Political; Labour Party (Britain); Monetarism; Nationalism and Nationality; Neoconservatism; Privatization; Reagan, Ronald

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Campbell, John. 2000. The Grocers Daughter. Vol. 1 of Margaret Thatcher. London: Cape.

Campbell, John. 2003. The Iron Lady. Vol. 2 of Margaret Thatcher. London: Cape.

Keay, Douglas. 1987. AIDS, Education, and the Year 2000. Womans Own. (October 31): pp. 810. http://www.margaretthatcher.org/speeches/displaydocument. asp?docid=106689.

David Judge

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Thatcher, Margaret Hilda Roberts Thatcher, Baroness

Margaret Hilda Roberts Thatcher Thatcher, Baroness, 1925–2013, British political leader. Great Britain's first woman prime minister, nicknamed the "Iron Lady" for her uncompromising political stance, Thatcher served longer than any other British prime minister in the 20th cent. and was one of the most influential political figures of her era. In office she initiated what became known as the "Thatcher Revolution," a series of social and economic changes that dismantled many aspects of Britain's postwar welfare state, establishing in their place free-market economic policies and deregulated markets and industries.

The daughter of a grocer, Thatcher studied chemistry at Oxford (grad. 1947) and later (1953) became a lawyer, specializing in tax law. Elected to Parliament as a Conservative in 1959, she held junior ministerial posts (1961–64) before serving (1970–74) as secretary of state for education and science in Edward Heath's cabinet. After two defeats in general elections, the Conservative party elected her its first woman leader in 1975.

After a season of crippling public-sector strikes, Thatcher led the Conservatives to an electoral victory in 1979 and became prime minister. She had pledged to reduce the influence of the trade unions and combat inflation, and her economic policy rested on the introduction of broad changes along free-market lines. She attacked inflation by controlling the money supply and sharply reduced government spending and taxes for higher-income individuals. Although unemployment continued to rise to postwar highs, the decline in economic output was reversed. In 1982, when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a British dependency in the South Atlantic, Britain's successful prosecution of the subsequent war contributed to Thatcher's soaring popularity and to the Conservative win at the polls in 1983.

Thatcher's second government privatized national industries and utilities. She also forced coal miners to return to work after a year on strike, then initiated policies that greatly curbed union power. In foreign affairs, Thatcher was a close ally of President Ronald Reagan and shared his antipathy to Communism. She allowed the United States to station (1980) nuclear cruise missiles in Britain and to use its air bases to bomb Libya in 1986. In 1985 she forged a historic accord with the Republic of Ireland, giving it a consulting role in governing Northern Ireland.

Thatcher led the Conservatives to a third consecutive electoral victory in 1987, although with a reduced majority. She proposed free-market changes to the national health and education systems and introduced a controversial per capita flat-rate "poll tax" to pay for local government, which fueled criticisms that she had no compassion for the poor. Her refusal to support a common European currency and integrated economic policies led to the resignation of her treasury minister in 1989 and her deputy prime minister in 1990.

Disputes over the unpopular poll tax, which took effect in 1990, and over her opposition to integration with Europe led to a leadership challenge (1990) from within her party. She resigned as prime minister, and John Major emerged as her successor. In 1992 Thatcher retired from the House of Commons and was created Baroness Thatcher. In the mid-1990s Thatcher was publicly critical of Major's more moderate policies, and she continued to speak out against Conservative and Labour positions with which she disagreed.

See her memoirs, The Downing Street Years (1993) and The Path to Power (1995), her collected speeches in The Revival of Britain, compiled by A. Cooke (1989), and her Statecraft (2002); biographies by H. Young (1989), J. Blundell (2008), and J. Campbell (2011); C. Moore, Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography: From Grantham to the Falklands (2013); studies by R. Lewis (1984), P. Jenkins (1987), and N. Wapshott (2007).

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Thatcher, Margaret Hilda, Baroness

Thatcher, Margaret Hilda, Baroness (1925– ) British stateswoman, prime minister (1979–90). She was perhaps the most influential British political leader since Churchill. Thatcher was Secretary of State for education and science (1970–74) under Edward Heath, whom she succeeded as Conservative Party leader in 1975. In 1979, she defeated James Callaghan to become Britain's first woman Prime Minister. Her government embarked on a radical free-market programme that became known as ‘Thatcherism’. Her monetarist policies, especially cuts in public spending, provoked criticism and contributed to a recession, but her popularity was restored by victory in the Falklands War (1982). Thatcher's determination to curb the power of trade unions provoked a bitter miners' strike (1983–84). Controversial privatization of national utilities boosted government revenue in a period of rapidly rising incomes, except among the poor. In 1987, Thatcher won a third term, but clashed with cabinet colleagues over economic and social policy, and her hostile attitude to the European Union (EU). A poll tax (1989) was widely seen as unfair, and she was forced to resign. John Major succeeded her as prime minister.

http://www.margaretthatcher.com; http://www.number-10.gov.uk

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