Born Margaret Roberts, she was the daughter of a grocer who had high ambitions for her and she fulfilled them. A chemist by training, she studied law at Oxford. The mother of twins, she was elected to the House of Commons in 1959 just days shy of her 34th birthday. A little more than a decade later, she would be appointed as Minister of Education by Edward Heath. Five years later, Thatcher successfully challenged Heath for the Conservative Party leadership and became leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition.
When Thatcher and the Tories were elected to power in May 1979, Britain was in the throes of the “winter of discontent” in which the Labour governments of Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan were crippled by strikes especially a garbage strike in which the refuse lining the streets of London painfully illustrated the country’s post-war decline.
Although economic conditions were tough in the beginning of her term, Britain would rebound through Thatcher’s policies of privatization, deregulation and her willingness to confront the unions, especially Arthur Scargill’s National Union of Miners (NUM).
Perhaps her most significant, if not overlooked reform was when she took measures to allow people to own their council flats. This policy appealed to Labour Party suporters and as much as anything else helps to explain why Thatcher was re-elected by wide margins in 1983 and 1987.
Thatcher is, of course, widely remembered for her defense of the Falkland Islands in 1982. Given Argentina’s renewed claims on the Falklands and President Obama’s hostility towards British sovereignty of the islands, it is hard to imagine that David Cameron would send out the British Navy to defend the Falkland’s inhabitants. Of course, Cameron’s Tories bear little resemblance to the party led by Thatcher. The UKIP might very well become Britain’s new Conservative Party in the very near future.
It also should not be forgotten that President Reagan’s embrace of Mikhail Gorbachev would have been unlikely if Thatcher hadn’t given her seal of approval.
Of course, one could reasonably criticize Thatcher’s approach on immigration, Hong Kong as well as her opposition to sanctions against the Apartheid regime in South Africa, but on balance Thatcher left Britain a better place than when she entered 10 Downing Street.
Thatcher’s political demise came about with the implementation of the community charge which became known as the poll tax. It was a local taxation scheme which calculated levies based on adult population rather than the property values. The policy would alienate Thatcher’s base and lead to Michael Heseltine challenging her for the leadership. While his challenge was unsuccessful, Thatcher’s support had diminished sufficiently. The writing was on the wall and Thatcher would resign. John Major defeated Heseltine for the Tory party leadership, would be elected in his own right in 1992 before his defeat at the hands of Tony Blair and New Labour in 1997.
She would spend her last two decades in the House of Lords although her health began to decline in 2002 with the first in a series of strokes which led to her gradual retreat from public life.
Britain and indeed the free world will miss her. In an age where liberty has been declining in Britain and the free world, it must be asked if there is anyone left who is prepared to pick up her mantle and run with it.
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