Political pioneer and staunch conservative, Thatcher’s divisive political policies continue to elicit heated debates, even after her death. While some see her as having saved Britain from economic decline, others believe she destroyed the livelihoods of millions of workers. Read on as we aim to understand more fully her life, both professionally and politically.
Margaret Hilda Roberts, later Margaret Thatcher via marriage, was born on October 13, 1925 in Grantham, England. The daughter of a local businessman, Thatcher was educated at a local school by day, and engaged in political discourse with her father in the evenings. Ultimately, it was his influence that encouraged her to create a life in politics, leading her to serve as Britain’s first female prime minister.
Thatcher’s initial attempts at entering politics failed, when two years in a row, she unsuccessfully campaigned for the Dartford parliamentary seat. Two months after her second loss, she married her husband, Denis Thatcher. Shortly thereafter, in 1952, Thatcher set politics aside in favor of studying law. She completed her barrister training in 1953, but didn’t practice long; the political call was too strong: she won a seat in the House of Commons in 1959, representing Finchley.
Thatcher’s career took another step forward when she was appointed parliamentary undersecretary for pensions and national insurance in 1961. Upon the Labour Party’s assumption of government control, she became a member of the Shadow Cabinet (a group of political leaders who would hold Cabinet-level posts if their party was in power). Gaining ever more steam, Thatcher was later appointed secretary of state for education and science in 1970, where she was dubbed “Thatcher, milk snatcher,” due to a controversial policy change in which she abolished the universal free milk scheme.
Thatcher’s political career continued to soar, when she assumed control of the Conservative Party in 1975; she was the first woman to serve as the opposition leader in the House of Commons. Not one to be stopped, Thatcher reached the peak of her career in 1979 when was appointed Britain’s first female prime minister.
As prime minister, Thatcher faced a series of varied battles which she fought to overcome with conservative policies. She raised interest rates to control inflation, seeking to reverse the country’s recession. She also sought to privatize a number of traditional industries, such as social housing and public transportation.
Then in 1982, a new challenge surfaced, in the form of required military action. Argentina invaded the British territory, the Falkland Islands, causing Thatcher to swiftly deploy British troops to retake the islands; this later became known as the Falklands War.
A series of other crises arose in her second term, including an assassination attempt on her life in 1984. She survived and undaunted, went on to give the speech that was planned for the following day, where she also denounced the actions of the terrorists. Thatcher also played a strong role in foreign affairs. She established a positive working relationship with Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1984 she also signed an agreement with the Chinese government regarding the future of Hong Kong. And she supported her longtime friend, Ronald Reagan, in his air raids on Libya in 1986.
Though her staunchly conservative method of governing was always a bit divisive, things finally came to a head when, in 1990, members of her party asked that she resign, on account of her hugely unpopular “poll tax,” as it was later nicknamed. This tax was meant to be a fixed-rate local tax, which sought to disenfranchise those who did not pay it. She regretfully, though graciously, resigned in November 1990.
At the end of her political career, Thatcher turned toward writing as an outlet for her newfound free time and energy. She wrote two memoirs about her experience as a world leader and a women in politics. She later published the book Statecraft
, in which she offered her views on international politics. Around that time, unfortunately, she suffered a series of small strokes, which caused her to largely refrain from engaging in public life.
On April 8, 2013, Britain’s first female prime minister died at the age of 87. Though her husband had passed some years before, she was survived by two children, her daughter Carol, and her son, Sir Mark. As we celebrate notable woman in history this month, there is no doubt that Margaret Thatcher should be counted as one; she will continue to be revered, though her policies decisions may continue to drive heated debate for years to come.
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