CB12. Margaret Thatcher, Past Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, A Review

03 Aug CB12. Margaret Thatcher, Past Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, A Review

‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher was a transformative long serving prime minister of the United Kingdom. She worked well with US president Ronald Reagan in ending the Cold War with the Soviet Union. A strong-willed person, she moved Western civilisation to the right (it was too far left in her time) using supply side economics and small government. Her imprint is all over the Western culture today.

  1. Using about 1,000 words, I will show why Margaret Thatcher is regarded as icon politician in the modern era. I possess her written book ‘Path to Power’ which has been on my shelf for many years. She of course is discussed in many other books and has been portrayed in films.
  2. Margaret Thatcher nee Roberts (13 October 1925 – 8 April 2013; 87 years) was prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990 (11.5 years). She was the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century and the first woman to hold that office.
  3. Her father Alfred Roberts (1892–1970) owned a grocery shop and was an alderman (local government politician). He was also a Methodist local preacher, and brought up his daughter as a strict Methodist, but Margaret was skeptical and said she could not believe in angels. 
  4. In 1938, prior to the Second World War, the Roberts family briefly gave sanctuary to a teenage Jewish girl who had escaped Nazi Germany. Margaret, with her elder sister Muriel, saved pocket money to help pay for the teenager’s journey.
  5. Margaret Roberts was head girl of her school in 1942–43.
  6. Roberts studied chemistry at university and worked as a research chemist. Her talent and drive caused her to be mentioned as a future prime minister in her early 20s.
  7. Roberts joined the local Conservative Association. At a dinner following her formal adoption as Conservative candidate for Dartford in February 1949 she met Denis Thatcher, a successful and wealthy businessman, who later became her husband and benefactor.
  8. Denis funded his wife’s studies for the bar; and she qualified as a barrister in 1953 and specialised in taxation. Later that same year their twins Carol and Mark were born.
  9. Margaret Thatcher was elected as a Member of Parliament in the 1959 general election. Her party was in the Opposition.
  10. In 1970, the Conservative Party led by Edward Heath won the general election and Thatcher was appointed to the Cabinet as secretary of state for education and science.
  11. The Heath government experienced difficulties with oil embargoes and union demands for wage increases, and subsequently lost the 1974 general election. 
  12. Britain’s economy during the 1970s was so weak that then foreign secretary James Callaghan warned his fellow Labour Cabinet members in 1974 of the possibility of “a breakdown of democracy”, telling them: “If I were a young man, I would emigrate.” 
  13. Thatcher became Conservative Party leader and leader of the Opposition on 11 February 1975.
  14. In mid-1978, the economy began to recover and opinion polls showed Labour in the lead. A general election was called in early 1979.
  15. The Conservatives won and Thatcher became the first female British prime minister on 4 May 1979.
  16. On becoming prime minister, Thatcher introduced a series of economic policies. Her political philosophy and economic policies emphasised deregulation (particularly of the financial sector), flexible labour markets, the privatisation of state-owned companies, and reducing the power and influence of trade unions.
  17. Thatcher’s economic policy was influenced by monetarist thinking and economists such as Milton Friedman. Together with her first Chancellor, Geoffrey Howe, she lowered direct taxes on income and increased indirect taxes. She increased interest rates to slow the growth of the money supply and thereby lower inflation, introduced cash limits on public spending, and reduced expenditure on social services such as education and housing.
  18. Her popularity in her first years in office waned amid a recession and rising unemployment. Thatcher’s job approval rating fell to 23% by December 1980, lower than recorded for any previous prime minister.
  19. By 1982, the UK began to experience signs of economic recovery.
  20. During the 1982 Conservative Party Conference, Thatcher said: “We have done more to roll back the frontiers of socialism than any previous Conservative Government.”
  21. Thatcher believed that the trade unions were harmful to both ordinary trade unionists and the public. She was committed to reducing the power of the unions, whose leadership she accused of undermining parliamentary democracy and economic performance through strike action. Several unions launched strikes in response to legislation introduced to limit their power, but resistance eventually collapsed. Only 39% of union members voted Labour in the 1983 general election.
  22. The policy of privatisation has been called “a crucial ingredient of Thatcherism”. In most cases privatisation benefited consumers in terms of lower prices and improved efficiency.
  23. Thatcher became closely aligned with the Cold War policies of US President Ronald Reagan, based on their shared distrust of communism.
  24. On 2 April 1982, the military dictatorship in Argentina ordered the invasion of the British possessions of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, triggering the ‘Falklands War’. The subsequent crisis was “a defining moment of [Thatcher’s] premiership”. She was considered a highly capable and committed war leader, and the British won the war.
  25. In September 1982 she visited China to discuss with Deng Xiaoping the sovereignty of Hong Kong after 1997. Throughout their meeting, she sought the China’s agreement to a continued British presence in the territory. Deng insisted that the China’s sovereignty on Hong Kong was non-negotiable, but stated his willingness to settle the sovereignty issue with the British government through formal negotiations, and both governments promised to maintain Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity. After the two-year negotiations, Thatcher conceded to the Chinese government agreeing to hand over Hong Kong’s sovereignty in 1997.
  26. The victory by the British over the Argentinians in the 1982 Falklands War and a recovering economy brought a resurgence of support, resulting in Thatcher’s landslide re-election in 1983.
  27. Thatcher narrowly escaped injury in an IRA (Irish Republican Army) assassination attempt on 12 October 1984.
  28. In 1987, the economy was stable and strong, and inflation was low. Opinion polls showed a comfortable Conservative lead, prompting Thatcher to call a general election for 11 June 1987. The election saw Thatcher re-elected for a third successive term.
  29. Thatcher removed Geoffrey Howe as foreign secretary in July 1989. This hastened the end to Thatcher’s premiership. She resigned as prime minister and party leader in November 1990, after a challenge to her leadership.
  30. Thatcher was replaced as head of government and party leader by Chancellor John Major.
  31. At 66, she retired from the House at the 1992 general election.
  32. Thatcherism represented a systematic and decisive shift where the major political parties largely agreed on the central themes of Keynesianism, the welfare state, nationalised industry, and close regulation of the economy, and high taxes. Thatcher generally supported the welfare state, while proposing to rid it of abuses.
  33. “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.
  34. Thatcher defined her own political philosophy in a 1987 interview: 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.
  35. A Soviet journalist called her the “Iron Lady”, due to her uncompromising politics and leadership style.
  36. Many Thatcherite policies had an influence on the Labour Party, which returned to power in 1997 under Tony Blair. Blair rebranded the party “New Labour” in 1994. Thatcher is said to have regarded the “New Labour” rebranding as her greatest achievement (a move to the right).
  37. Having led the Conservative Party to victory in three consecutive general elections, twice in a landslide, Thatcher ranks among the most popular party leaders in British history in terms of votes cast for the winning party.
  38. Thatcher’s daughter Carol revealed that her mother had dementia in 2005. Thatcher died on 8 April 2013, at the age of 87, after suffering a stroke.

© Comasters August 2020.

  • Jim KABLE
    Posted at 20:48h, 04 August

    Hmmm. Sorry, Jeffrey, I can’t agree with your assessment. This woman did not accept that there was a society. She was a selfish destroyer. She was a warmonger. She associated with fascist dictators. I was/am a unionist. I love my fellow human being but I do not think that the rich are naturally morally right who must be therefore respected.

    This woman destroyed whole communities in the north of her country – and was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of young men – British and Argentinians – during the conflict over Las Islas Malvinas.

    But then again – all of us who think deeply – you, too, I know – arrive at different conclusions! But Margaret Thatcher – Ronald Reagan (Ray-gun) – they are far from the kinds of politicians I might admire – and sadly there are few at the top of the political pile anyone can seriously admire. (On either side of the coin.) But thanks for the opportunity to disagree!

    • comasters1
      Posted at 22:59h, 04 August

      Jim, You ended your above comment with ‘agree to disagree (with me)’ which I think the late Baroness Thatcher would not have accepted. Well, I am not “Iron Gentleman” as I am (more) flexible. I will have a meal with you one day after COVID-19 ‘second wave lock down’ to hear you out about what happened in the UK during her ‘reign’. As a Liberal / Conservative ‘centre’ right, I believe in small government and huge ‘playground’ for all the entrepreneurs of the world to sell their wares (online perhaps). To be rich is glorious, Deng said. There is no shame in that, I say. Work hard and be rewarded for the sweat put in. One can be rich and still be righteous (with the right principles in life). In fact, I can already think of many known philanthropists who I admire. Thatcher did support the welfare state – she fine tuned it. As for unionists, I wait to be convinced (by you) of their usefulness in the 21st century. Jeff