Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister
Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister

When did she live?

Margaret Roberts was born on October 13th 1925. She married Denis Thatcher in 1951. She died on April 8th 2013.

Why is she famous?

Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of the UK for 11 years (1979-1990, the longest term for any Prime Minister in the 20th century) and was the country’s first female Prime Minister.

She was nicknamed ‘The Iron Lady’ due to her tough politics and refusal to change her mind (famously saying ‘The lady is not for turning’).
Her time in office covered many notable events, including the 1982 Falklands War against Argentina, the privatisation of many of the UK’s businesses, and a series of strikes. Along with Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev she was one of the major international politicians of the 1980s when communism in Eastern Europe (the ‘Iron Curtain’) fell.

A Young Margaret Thatcher
A Young Margaret Thatcher

What is her mark on history?

Thatcher remains a controversial figure in British politics and opinion. Whilst some believe her switching of the UK from manufacturing-based industries to services and banking helped drag Britain up from the mess of the 1970s (when Britain went on General Strike), others think they killed British industry – especially in the north of the country – and has led to the problems of financial greed in The City.

Some examples of how Thatcher and her Conservative government changed the shape of Britain:

Restrictions on foreign companies buying and owning UK services were lifted in 1979. This brought a lot of foreign investment into the UK, although it is now estimated over half of Britain’s businesses are owned by foreigners, as are 39% of the patents.

In 1986 many of the rules in The City (the nickname for UK’s London-based financial sector) were removed, allowing foreign banks to come in. London is now a headquarters for many international banks.
Privatisation passed many British services into private companies and was nicknamed ‘The Great British Sell-Off’. The national railways, telephone company, energy companies, airline, bus companies, the post office, security firms, airports, and parts of the NHS are all now owned by private companies.

In order to replace the manufacturing of the north with banking and services in the south, the trade unions had to be broken. Despite strikes and riots Thatcher’s government won and the unions have not returned to their previous strength.

Internationally, the victory in the Falklands has ensured the islands have stayed under British control. The closeness she had with Reagan and the US has continued into the 21st century.

Margaret Thatcher at a Conservative Party Conference
Margaret Thatcher at a Conservative Party Conference

Notes

As well as being known as ‘The Iron Lady’, Thatcher is also known as ‘The Greengrocer’s Daughter’, referring to her father’s job.

Thatcher’s views on Europe eventually cost her the Prime Minister’s job. Her distrust of joining the soon-to-be European Union – on top of being behind the Labour Party in polls – finally turned her biggest supporters in the party against her. She resigned.

After resigning Thatcher continued as an MP for 2 more years. She then retired to write her memoirs, joined companies as a consultant, and was a paid public speaker. She was given a Life Peerage, making her Baroness Thatcher and allowing her to sit in the House of Lords.

In 2007 Thatcher became the first living Prime Minister to get a statue in the Houses of Parliament.

Thatcher suffered from dementia during her final years. Her daughter spoke of having to tell her repeatedly that her husband had died (Denis died in 2003) and of memory loss.

Honoring her upon her death provoked a hugely divided response: she was given a ceremonial funeral, attended by the Queen, but her death was also celebrated by many (the song ‘Ding Dong The Witch is Dead’ from the Wizard of Oz rose to number 2 in the UK charts, and number 1 in Scotland).