Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher

Former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher has died "peacefully" at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke while staying at the Ritz hotel in central London. In memory of her I have decided to do a short beginner's guide to who Thatcher was and what she did. 

Margaret Thatcher, born in 1952 in a Grantham, small market town in eastern England. She was the younger of two daughters and daughter to a grocer, who was also involved in local politics. She attended an all-girls grammar school, studied chemistry at Oxford University and then trained as a barrister, specialising in tax. She later married divorced millionaire businessman Denis Thatcher, whome she had two children with; twins, Carol and Mark.

Margaret Thatcher was the longest-serving British prime minister in modern times and the first woman to lead a major Western democracy. She won three successive general elections and spent a total of 11 years in Downing Street, from May 1979 to November 1990. Whilst Thatcher was prime minister British society went through some of it's biggest changes to date; heavy industry closed and new free market economy was born. She established a political philosophy that still exists today. Thatcher is not without her critics, who say the changes she made destroyed traditional working-class communities and caused divisions in society. 

Margaret Thatcher joined forces with US president Ronald Reagan to pioneer a new form of dynamic free-market conservatism, which has since taken root around the world. It could also be argued that she brought a quicker end to the Cold War through her support for Soviet President  Mikhael Gorbachev, and that she helped spread democracy to former Eastern Bloc states.

Her father, Alfred, was on the local council in Grantham and helped her develop her lifelong love for politics. Whilst at Oxford she became the first female president of the university's Conservative association. In 1959, aged 34, she was elected MP for Finchley, north London. In 1970 she became education secretary, however she was soon nicknamed "Thatcher the milk snatcher" due to her decision to end free milk for older primary school pupils. After the Tories lost the second 1974 general election Thatcher defeated then the leader, Ted Heath, in a 1975 leadership election. In 1979 she was elected prime minister with a Commons majority of 43.

Mrs Thatcher was faced with failing British economy, so she decided to squeeze inflation and clamp down on public spending and borrowing. However this led to far worse results than expected, and unemployment rose to above three million as large sectors of Britain's manufacturing and heavy industries closed down. This leader to inner city riots in 1981. However Mrs Thatcher stood her ground, refusing to do a U-turn. She won the second election partly due to her decision to retake the Falklands during the Falkland War and Labour's leftward lurch. 

After being re-elected by a landslide in 1983 Mrs Thatcher saw one of the longest and most bitter industrial disputes in British history; the 1984 miner's strike. The IRA also attempted to kill her in October of that year, however towards the end of her second term the economy improved as free mark reforms and the sale of state assets gathered pace.

A second landslide followed in the 1987 general election, with Mrs Thatcher returning to Downing Street with a 102 seat majority, becoming the longest continually serving prime minister since Lord Liverpool in the early 19th Century. Her third term was marked by an increasingly hard line on Europe, and the continuation of economic reforms with privatisation and the further growth of home and share ownership.

In one of the most dramatic episodes in political history, Margaret Thatcher was ejected by her own MPs three years after her 1987 election victory amid public anger over a new tax system for local government, dubbed the poll tax. Senior Conservatives told her she would lose the leadership election.The loyal Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe resigned over her increasingly sceptical stance on Europe, which triggered her downfall.

Britain would probably be a very different place today without Margaret Thatcher. Her bold free market reforms and curbs on union power - that caused so much controversy in the 1980s - are now accepted as conventional wisdom by all mainstream British political parties. The centre ground of British politics shifted to the right as a result of her time in power. She is, furthermore, a global icon and role model for female politicians and, with Ronald Reagan, one of the towering figures of the political right.