Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female Prime Minister and the longest-serving British Prime Minister of the 20th Century, was an advocate of thrift, self-reliance, and hard work.
Thatcher was born in 1925 and studied chemistry at Oxford before becoming an industrial chemist. She became a Conservative MP in 1959, holding a number of government and shadow posts.
A surprise victory in the 1975 Conservative Party leadership contest (against former PM Edward Heath), and subsequent election to prime minister saw the development of her distinctive Thatcherite agenda.
This included reduced state control, privatisation of state-owned industries, hostility toward the ‘dependency culture’ of the welfare state, sale of public housing to tenants, and reduction in Trade Union power.
Her right-wing Tory policies were not popular at first and failed to bring about any fall in unemployment – In fact, Thatcher’s government delivered the worst level of unemployment ever seen in the UK.
But the defeat of Argentina’s attempt to seize the Falkland Islands in 1982, negotiations to reduce Britain’s financial contributions to the European Community, and advocacy of intervention in the Gulf War all boosted her reputation as the ‘Iron Lady’, and won her a landslide electoral victory the following year.
Thatcher persevered with policies to shed government spending commitments by extending privatisation, and she developed a warm relationship with US president Reagan (and a tough line with the USSR).
She was re-elected in 1987 to a third successive term but could not prevent a sharp rise in inflation.
During her tenure as Prime Minister, Thatcher’s government were responsible for the biggest slump in British industry in 60 years, a record number of UK companies going bust, the lowest level of peacetime house building since the 1920’s, the heaviest tax burden ever imposed in Britain and the fastest drop in British living standards since World War II.
Ultimately her hostility to further European Union integration and her insistence on an unpopular universal local tax (the ‘poll tax‘ or Community Charge) made her an electoral liability in the view of many Conservative MPs, who forced her out of office.
She resigned as Prime Minister in 1990 having failed to secure the party leadership.
She was made a life peer, Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, in 1992, but rarely attended the House of Lords.
After a series of small strokes in 2002, she was advised to withdraw from public speaking, and in 2013 she died of another stroke in London at the age of 87.
“The lady’s not for turning”
Conservative Party Conference, 10 October 1980