OBITUARY: Margaret Thatcher 1925-2013
Margaret Thatcher, who overcame gender boundaries to become the UK’s first female Prime Minister, serving from 1979-1990, remains the most controversial figure in British politics. Born in Grantham into a modest household, her natural talent and hard working ethos won her scholarships, first to Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School and then to Sommerville College Oxford.
It was at Oxford that her interest in politics soon began to bloom, influenced at university by political works such as Friedrich von Hayek‘s The Road to Serfdom (1944) she went on to become President of OUCA in 1946 before graduating in 1947.
In 1950 and 1951 she represented the Conservative party in the safe Labour seat of Dartford before being elected MP for Finchley in 1958. Her tenacious attitude and dedication to her work allowed her to rise to Education Secretary under Ted Heath in 1970 before eventually becoming Leader of the Opposition in 1975, where she was relentless in her criticisms of Labour’s policies and overall helplessness in the face of the Trade Unions.
She was first elected as Prime Minister with a 44-seat majority. Domestically her policies, introducing Monetarism, remain controversial, as does as her infamous decision to lead the government into a head-to-head battle with the Trade Unions. In a battle of wills, the woman who the Soviets dubbed the Iron Lady held firm in the face of fierce criticism. She led a revolutionary wave of Privatisation of state-held industries, introducing competition, and reformed financial services allowing ordinary people to own their own homes for the first time.
Internationally, she was of critical importance in ending the Cold War, working closely with Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, supporting the Gorbachev’s attempts at compromise and cooperation. However it was the Falklands War for which she is most remembered, a conflict which although a success was nonetheless a difficult and testing conflict. Moreover her tough stance on Europe remains popular in the Conservative Party and set an important precedent when dealing with Europe: pragmatic but remaining fundamentally true to a belief in the UK’s sovereignty.
Her treatment of UK industry during her time as Prime Minister as well as her policy on Northern Ireland further adds to her controversial legacy, becoming even a symbol and embodiment of hate to some. Nonetheless her importance cannot be underestimated. It was her attempted introduction of the Poll Tax in 1990 and increasing but unfair perception as a despot within the party that would ultimately lead to her undoing after a leadership challenge in 1990, after which she resigned.
However, even after she had left Downing Street her influence remained. She engineered a step to the right in British politics that would not only affect her own party, but the left too, famously commenting that New Labour was one of her greatest achievements, with Blair having to reconcile Labour’s relationship with her legacy.
She enjoyed a happy personal life, marrying her husband Dennis in 1951 (he died in 2003). She died of a stroke at 12:52 BST on April 8th 2013. She is survived by her children Carol and Mark Thatcher who were born in 1953.
Regardless of people’s views on her time as Prime Minister she has had a lasting impact on the world we live in today. To quote Andrew Marr, “she took a country which had lost faith in itself, and she gave it a long and repeated slapping, and left it stronger, richer and more self confident than when she came in. In many way she still defines the country we live in today… we are all, like it or not, rebel or not, the children of Margaret Thatcher.”
by Jonathan Zemlik
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