Margaret Thatcher has the distinction of being the longest serving Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in over 150 years. While she is credited with being instrumental in reinstating Britain as major economic power in the world, there are strong and ambivalent options about her tenure as Prime Minister. While many laud her for some of the economic policies that she implemented, others criticize her for these same policies. "Her harsh economic policies caused social friction and divided the nation." (Margaret Thatcher site). Thatcher was also England's first female Prime Minister.
Her influence was felt not only in the United Kingdom but also in other parts of the world through her effect on and participation in international politics. The following extract points to the effect that her policies and opinions had on global events.
She was the catalyst who set in motion a series of interconnected events that gave a revolutionary twist to the 20th Century's last two decades and helped mankind end the millennium on a note of hope and confidence. The triumph of capitalism, the almost universal acceptance of the market as indispensable to prosperity, the collapse of Soviet imperialism, the downsizing of the state on nearly every continent and in almost every country in the world -- Margaret Thatcher played a part in all those transformations, and it is not easy to see how any would have occurred without her.
Some of her more controversial and important decisions during her three terms of office include the following.
Her order in 1982 for British troops to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina.
Her strong stand against the British trade unions - especially during the miner's strike. (1984 -85)
Her part in moving the British economy towards privatization.
The introduction of the policy of "rate capping," which were part of her central policy of reducing the influence of government in the economic arena.
The Introduction of the infamous community poll tax in 1990, which was part of the reason for her resignation.
Margaret Roberts was born on the 13th of October, 1935 in Grantham, a town in the North of England. She did not come from a wealthy or prestigious background; her father was a grocery store owner who was self-educated. He had left school at the age of fourteen. Her mother, Beatrice, was a seamstress. Her early family life was steeped in middle-class English values of hard work, practicality and religion. She was educated at Kesteven & Grantham Girl's School, after which she studied chemistry at Oxford University. One of the characteristics for which she is remembered was her industrious nature. This was evident from an early age and she succeed in taking two degrees at Oxford - in Chemistry and Law.
It is noteworthy that her father was active in local politics. He was a Liberal Independent and supported the local Conservative party. The influence of her father in her life and political career was important:
When Thatcher first took office as Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing Street in London, she confided, "I owe almost everything to my father."
Thatcher's father, a pious and thrifty grocer, was a lay preacher with a shrewd economic philosophy and a decisive character. As biographer Hugo Young writes in The Iron Lady, when asked what she owed to her father, Thatcher swiftly replied, integrity. He taught me that you can first sort out what you believe in. You then apply it. You don't compromise on things that matter."
(Crabtree and Danitz)
After obtaining here degree in chemistry, Margaret worked as a research chemist for British Xylonite and then Lyons & Company. She was also instrumental in developing a method for preserving ice cream. She was later to work as an attorney, specializing in Tax Law.
Her political ambitions were evident even at this early stage of her life and in 1943 she was elected President of the Oxford University Conservative Association. She was the first women to attain this position. Her initial attempts to become a member of parliament were unsuccessful. In 1951 she married Denis Thatcher, a successful and wealthy businessman in the chemical industry. He proved to be a supportive element in both her private and political life. In 1953 she gave birth to twins, Mark and Carol.
Thatcher's determination in politics resulted in her becoming a member of parliament at the age of 34.
A when she argued her way into one of the best Tory seats in the country, Finchley in north London. Her quick mind (and faster mouth) led her up through the Tory ranks, and "by age 44 she got settled into the 'statutory woman's place in the Cabinet as Education Minister." (TIME 100)
Prior to this she was narrowly rejected as candidate for Orpington in 1954. She also suffered several other rejections before her election for Finchley in 1958. She won the seat in the 1959 election and took her seat in the House of Commons. She also made some astute political moves in her early political career and "parliamentarians took favor to the bill proposed in her maiden speech in the House of Commons (1960), which duly became legislation." (ibid)
Within just two years, in William Heath's cabinet, she had been appointed Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Pensions. Further appointments were to follow and she became Secretary of State for Education and Science in the early 1970's.
It is perhaps indicative of the forceful and controversial political figure that she was to become that in her first months in office she abolished free milk in schools as a measure to reduce the education budget. "...this provoked a storm of public protest, earning her the nickname "Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher."
Wikipedia: Margaret Thatcher)
On the other hand her strong belief in the value of education was shown in her defense of the budget of the Open University policy, which she refused to reduce. It is also noteworthy that in her early years Thatcher was one of the few conservative MPs who supported the Bill to decriminalize male homosexuality. She also voted in favor of the Bill to legitimize abortion. However, she was strongly opposed to the Bill that proposed the abolition of capital punishment.
Some commentators claim that her rise to power was achieved with a certain amount of luck.
Her case is awesome testimony to the importance of sheer chance in history. In 1975 she challenged Edward Heath for the Tory leadership simply because the candidate of the party's right wing abandoned the contest at the last minute. Thatcher stepped into the breach. When she went into Heath's office to tell him her decision, he did not even bother to look up. "You'll lose," he said. "Good day to you." (TIME 100) dispute with the trade unions in 1974 resulted in William Heath's election loss. Margaret Thatcher was subsequently elected leader of the Conservative party in February 1975. In this position she began to question the errors and fault lines in the British economy, which was in a poor state. The policies that she promoted to combat the economic downturn consisted essentially in a reversal of socialistic tendencies in government and, one of her most important political decisions, the reduction of state intervention coupled with lower taxation and public expenditure. She also promoted ideas of greater individual power and responsibility as well as greater competition and the encouragement of private ownership. During her period as leader of opposition she received the name "the Iron lady."
This was based in her assertive and outspoken opinions about the Soviet Union. "She declared that 'The Russians are bent on world dominance' and that they 'put guns before butter'. In response, the Soviet Defence Ministry newspaper Red Star gave her the nickname The Iron Lady." (Wikipedia: Margaret Thatcher) Her forceful character and dominating methods also led to other lesser known nicknames such as The Great She-Elephant, Attilla the Hen, and The Grocer's Daughter. During this period she was never far from controversy. "In an interview she gave to Granada Television's World in Action programme in 1978 she spoke of her concern of immigrants 'swamping' Britain, which aroused particular controversy. (ibid)
In 1979, with the Britain in economic turmoil and with industrial strife in the country, she was elected as Britain's first woman Prime Minister, with a Conservative majority of 44 in the House of Commons. Her rise to power proved to be one of the most influential and controversial terms of office in British history and was to have a profound affect on world politics
Without question, the decade of the 1980s in Great Britain was the era of Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher dominated British politics and government in a fashion not witnessed since Churchill's leadership of Britain during World War II. Furthermore, it now appears that Thatcher has emerged as the most influential European leader since Charles de Gaulle. Thatcher's economic and social philosophy, her personal determination and shrewdness, and her political instincts combined to make her a political phenomenon in…