with bated breath

Margaret Thatcher


Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher LG, OM, PC, FRS (born 13 October 1925) is a British politician, who was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990 and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990. She is the first and only woman to date to hold either post.

Born in Grantham in Lincolnshire, England, she went on to read chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford and to train as a barrister. She was selected as Conservative candidate for Finchley in 1958 and won the seat in the general election the following year. When Edward Heath formed a government in 1970, he appointed Thatcher as Secretary of State for Education and Science. In 1974, she backed Sir Keith Joseph in his bid to become Conservative party leader, but he was forced to drop out of the election. Thatcher entered the contest herself and became leader of the Conservative party in 1975. As the Conservative party maintained leads in most polls, Thatcher went on to become Britain's Prime Minister in the 1979 General Election.

Thatcher became Prime Minister with a mandate to reverse the UK's economic decline. Thatcher's political and economic philosophy emphasised reduced state intervention, free markets, and entrepreneurialism. The new era of economic liberalism transformed the UK into a fast-growing economy.

Thatcher's tenure as Prime Minister was the longest since that of Lord Salisbury and was the longest continuous period in office since Lord Liverpool was Prime Minister in the early 19th century. She was the first woman to lead a major political party in the UK, and the first of only three women to have held any of the four great offices of state. Among other things, she defiantly opposed the Soviet Union, and her tough-talking rhetoric gained her the nickname the "Iron Lady". She currently has a life peerage as Baroness Thatcher, of Kesteven in the County of Lincolnshire, which entitles her to sit in the House of Lords.

Early life and education

Margaret Hilda Roberts was born on 13 October 1925 to Alfred Roberts, originally from Northamptonshire, and Beatrice Roberts nee Stephenson from Lincolnshire. Thatcher spent her childhood in the town of Grantham in Lincolnshire, where her father owned two grocery shops. She and her older sister Muriel (born 1921, Grantham; died December 2004) were raised in the flat above the larger of the two located near the railway line. Her father was active in local politics and religion, serving as an Alderman and Methodist lay preacher. He came from a Liberal family but stood—as was then customary in local government—as an Independent. He lost his post as Alderman in 1952 after the Labour Party won its first majority on Grantham Council in 1950.

Thatcher was brought up a devout Methodist and has remained a Christian throughout her life. After attending Huntingtower Road Primary School, she received a scholarship and attended Kesteven and Grantham Girls' School. Her school reports show hard work and commitment, but not brilliance. Outside the classroom she played hockey and also enjoyed swimming and walking. Finishing school during the Second World War, she subsequently applied for a scholarship to attend Somerville College, Oxford and was only successful when the winning candidate dropped out. She went to Oxford in 1943 and studied Natural Sciences, specialising in Chemistry. She became President of the Oxford University Conservative Association in 1946, the third woman to hold the post. In 1946 Thatcher took the Final Honour School examination and was placed by the examiners in the Second Class, graduating that year as a Bachelor of Arts of the university. She subsequently studied crystallography and received a postgraduate BSc degree in 1947. In 1950 she took the degree of Master of Arts, according to her entitlement as an Oxford BA of seven years' standing since matriculation.

Following graduation, Margaret Roberts moved to Colchester and worked as a research chemist for BX Plastics. During this time she joined the local Conservative Association and attended the party conference at Llandudno in 1948, as a representative of the University Graduate Conservative Association. She was also a member of the Association of Scientific Workers. In January 1949, a friend from Oxford, who was working for the Dartford Conservative Association, told her that they were looking for candidates. After a brief period, she was selected as the Conservative candidate, and she subsequently moved to Dartford to stand for election as a Member of Parliament. To support herself during this period, she went to work for J. Lyons and Co., where she helped develop methods for preserving ice cream and was paid £500 per year.

Political career between 1950 and 1970

At the 1950 and 1951 elections, she fought the safe Labour seat of Dartford. Although she was unsuccessful in winning the seat she did reduce the Labour majority in the constituency by 6,000. She was at the time the youngest ever female Conservative candidate and her campaign attracted a higher than normal amount of media attention for a first time candidate. While active in the Conservative Party in Kent, she met Denis Thatcher, whom she married in 1951. Denis was a wealthy divorced businessman and he funded his wife's studies for the Bar. She qualified as a barrister in 1953 and specialised in tax law. In the same year her twin children Carol and Mark were born.

Thatcher then began to look for a safe Conservative seat and was narrowly rejected as candidate for the Orpington by-election in 1955, and was not selected as a candidate in the 1955 election. She had several further rejections before being selected for Finchley in April 1958. She won the seat after hard campaigning during the 1959 election and was elected as a member of Parliament. Her maiden speech was in support of her Private Member's Bill (Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960) to require local councils to hold meetings in public, which was successful. In 1961 she went against the Conservative Party's official position by voting for the restoration of birching.

She was given early promotion to the front bench as Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance in September 1961, retaining the post until the Conservatives were removed from office in the 1964 election. When Sir Alec Douglas-Home stepped down, Thatcher voted for Edward Heath in the leadership election of 1965 over Reginald Maudling, and was rewarded with promotion to the job of Conservative spokesman on Housing and Land. In this role she advocated the policy of allowing tenants to buy their council houses, an idea first developed by her colleague James Allason. The policy would prove popular. She moved to the Shadow Treasury team in 1966.

Thatcher was one of few Conservative MPs to support Leo Abse's Bill to decriminalise male homosexuality and voted in favour of David Steel's Bill to legalise abortion and in favour of a ban on hare coursing. She supported the retention of capital punishment and voted against the relaxation of divorce laws. Thatcher made her mark as a conference speaker in 1966 with a strong attack on the high-tax policies of the Labour Government as being steps "not only towards Socialism, but towards Communism". In 1967 she was selected by the Embassy of the United States in London to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program (then called the Foreign Leader Program), a professional exchange program in which she spent about six weeks visiting various U.S. cities, political figures, and institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. Thatcher joined the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Fuel spokesman in 1967, and was then promoted to shadow Transport and, finally, Education before the 1970 election.

Education Secretary (1970–1974)

When the Conservative party under Edward Heath won the 1970 general election, Thatcher became Secretary of State for Education and Science. In her first months in office, forced to administer a cut in the Education budget, she was responsible for the abolition of universal free milk for school-children aged seven to eleven (Labour had previously abolished its provision for secondary school children). This provoked a storm of public protest, and led to one of the more unflattering names for her: "Thatcher Thatcher, Milk Snatcher". However, she also successfully resisted the introduction of library book charges.

Her term was marked by support for several proposals for more local education authorities to close grammar schools and to adopt comprehensive secondary education; support for this change in education policy was not restricted to the left. Thatcher also saved the Open University from abolition. The Chancellor Anthony Barber wanted to abolish it as a budget-cutting measure, he viewed it as a gimmick by Harold Wilson, but Thatcher believed it was a relatively inexpensive way to extend higher education and insisted that the University should experiment with admitting school-leavers as well as adults.

In her memoirs, Thatcher wrote that she was not part of Heath's inner circle, and had little or no influence on the key government decisions outside her department.

Leader of the Opposition (1975–1979)

After the Conservative defeat in February 1974, Heath changed her portfolio to Shadow Environment Secretary. In this position she promised to abolish the rating system that paid for local government services, which was a favoured policy proposal within the Conservative Party for many years.

Thatcher agreed with Sir Keith Joseph and the Centre for Policy Studies that the Heath Government had lost control of monetary policy—and had lost direction—following its 1972 U-turn. After her party lost the second election of 1974, Joseph decided to challenge Heath's leadership, but later withdrew after an unwise speech seen as supporting eugenics. Thatcher chose to become the candidate of the Joseph/CPS faction. Unexpectedly she out-polled Heath on the first ballot, forcing him to resign the leadership. On the second ballot, she defeated Heath's preferred successor William Whitelaw, by 146 votes to 79, and became Conservative Party leader on 11 February 1975. She appointed Whitelaw as her deputy. Heath remained disenchanted with Thatcher to the end of his life for what he (and many of his supporters) perceived as her disloyalty in standing against him.

On 19 January 1976, she made a speech in Kensington Town Hall in which she made a scathing attack on the Soviet Union. The most famous part of her speech ran:

The Russians are bent on world dominance, and they are rapidly acquiring the means to become the most powerful imperial nation the world has seen. The men in the Soviet Politburo do not have to worry about the ebb and flow of public opinion. They put guns before butter, while we put just about everything before guns.

In response, the Soviet Defence Ministry newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star) gave her the nickname 'Iron Lady', which was soon publicised by Radio Moscow. She took delight in the name and it soon became associated with her image as having an unwavering and steadfast character. Her reaction to her other chief nickname, "Attila the Hen" (thought to have been coined by party grandee Sir Ian Gilmour) is unrecorded.

Thatcher appointed many of Heath's supporters to the Shadow Cabinet, for she had won the leadership as an outsider and then had little power base of her own within the party. Thatcher had to act cautiously to convert the Conservative Party to her monetarist beliefs. She reversed Heath's support for devolved government for Scotland.

In an interview for Granada Television's World in Action programme in January 1978, she said "people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture", arousing particular controversy at the time. Critics regarded the comment as a veiled reference to people of colour—and thus pandering to xenophobia and reactionary sentiment. She received 10,000 letters thanking her for raising the subject and the Conservatives gained a lead against Labour in the opinion polls, from both parties at 43% before the speech to 48% for Conservative and 39% for Labour immediately after.

The Labour Government was running into difficulties with industrial disputes and rising unemployment, and eventually collapsing public services during the winter of 1978–79, popularly dubbed the "Winter of Discontent". The Conservatives used advertising hoardings with the slogan "Labour Isn't Working", designed by the firm Saatchi & Saatchi, to attack the government's unemployment record. James Callaghan's Labour government fell after a successful Motion of No Confidence in spring 1979.

In the run up to the 1979 General Election, most opinion polls showed that voters preferred James Callaghan as Prime Minister even as the Conservative Party maintained a lead in the polls. The Conservatives would go on to win a 44-seat majority in the House of Commons and Margaret Thatcher became the United Kingdom's first female Prime Minister. Arriving at 10 Downing Street, she said, in a paraphrase of St. Francis of Assisi:

Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.

Prime Minister (1979–1990)

Thatcher became Prime Minister on 4 May 1979, with a mandate to reverse the UK's economic decline and to reduce the role of the state in the economy. Thatcher was incensed by one contemporary view within the Civil Service, that its job was to manage the UK's decline from the days of Empire, and she wanted the country to assert a higher level of influence and leadership in international affairs. She became a very close ally, philosophically and politically, with President Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980 in the United States. During her tenure as Prime Minister she was said to need just four hours sleep a night.

Domestic reforms

Irish hunger strike

In 1981, a number of Provisional IRA and Irish National Liberation Army prisoners in Northern Ireland's Maze Prison (known by many Irish people as 'Long Kesh', due to its previous official name) went on hunger strike to regain the status of political prisoners, which had been revoked five years earlier under the preceding Labour government. Bobby Sands, the first of the strikers, was elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone a few weeks before he died. Thatcher refused at first to countenance a return to political status for republican prisoners, famously declaring "Crime is crime is crime; it is not political. Nevertheless, after nine more men had starved to death and the strike had ended, some rights relating to political status were restored to paramilitary prisoners. Thatcher's public hard line on the treatment of paramilitaries was reinforced during the 1980 Iranian Embassy Siege where for the first time in 70 years British armed forces were authorised to use lethal force in Great Britain.

On 15 November 1985, Thatcher signed the Hillsborough Anglo-Irish Agreement with Irish Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, the first time a British government gave the Republic of Ireland a say (albeit advisory) in the governance of Northern Ireland. The agreement was greeted with fury by Northern Irish unionists.


Thatcher took over three years after the James Callaghan Government had concluded that the Keynesian approach to demand-side management failed to do everything, realising that the economy is not self-righting and that new fiscal judgements had to be made to concentrate on inflation, a view accepted by the Thatcher Government. As a monetarist, Thatcher began her economic reforms by increasing interest rates to slow the growth of the money supply and thus lower inflation. It has been argued that this heavy reliance of government control of money supply was partly responsible for the failing of early Monetarist approaches to macroeconomic management.

Thatcher had a preference for indirect taxation over taxes on income, and value added tax (VAT) was raised sharply to 15%, with a resultant actual short-term rise in inflation. These moves hit businesses – especially the manufacturing sector – and unemployment quickly passed two million, doubling the one million unemployed under the previous Labour government.

Political commentators harked back to the Heath Government's "U-turn" and speculated that Thatcher would follow suit, but she repudiated this approach at the 1980 Conservative Party conference, telling the party: "To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catch-phrase—the U-turn—I have only one thing to say: you turn if you want to; the Lady's not for turning. That she meant what she said was confirmed in the 1981 budget, when, despite concerns expressed in an open letter from 364 leading economists, taxes were increased in the middle of a recession. In January 1982, the inflation rate had dropped back to 8.6% from earlier highs of 18%, and interest rates were then allowed to fall. Unemployment continued to rise, reaching an official figure of 3.6 million. By 1983, manufacturing output had dropped 30% from 1978, while overall economic growth was stronger, and inflation and mortgage rates were at their lowest levels since 1970.

Thatcher's political and economic philosophy emphasised reduced state intervention, free markets, and entrepreneurialism. After the 1983 election, the Government sold off most of the large utilities, starting with British Telecom, which had been a publicly owned monopoly since 1912. Many people took advantage of share offers, although many sold their shares immediately for a quick profit and therefore the proportion of shares held by individuals rather than institutions did not increase. The policy of privatisation, while anathema to many on the Left, has become synonymous with Thatcherism. Wider share-ownership and council house sales became known as "popular capitalism" to its supporters (a term coined by John Redwood). In 1985, as a deliberate snub, the University of Oxford voted to refuse her an honorary degree in protest against her cuts in funding for higher education. This award had always previously been given to all Prime Ministers who had been educated at Oxford.

At the Dublin European Council in November 1979, Thatcher had argued that the United Kingdom paid far more to the European Economic Community than it received in spending. She declared at the summit: "We are not asking the Community or anyone else for money. We are simply asking to have our own money back". Her arguments were successful and at the June 1984 Fontainebleau Summit, the EEC agreed on an annual rebate for the United Kingdom, amounting to 66% of the difference between Britain's EU contributions and receipts. This still remains in effect, although Tony Blair later agreed to significantly reduce the size of the rebate. It periodically causes political controversy among the members of the European Union.

Thatcher's new system to replace local government taxes, outlined in the Conservative manifesto for the 1987 election, was introduced in Scotland in 1989 and in England and Wales in 1990. The rates were replaced by the Community Charge or 'Poll Tax', which applied the same amount to every individual resident, with an 80% reduction for the unwaged. This was to be the most universally unpopular policy of her premiership. Individuals seeking to avoid paying their share of the costs of local government effectively disenfranchised themselves by removing themselves from the electoral register, and causing problems over uncollected revenue for several years, and a rise in indirect taxation.

Thatcher's popularity declined in 1989, as the economy suffered from high interest rates. She blamed her Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, who had been following an economic policy which was a preparation for monetary union; in an interview for the Financial Times, in November 1987, Thatcher claimed not to have been told of this and did not approve.

At a meeting before the Madrid European Community summit in June 1989, Lawson and Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe persuaded Thatcher to agree to the circumstances under which she would join the Exchange Rate Mechanism, a preparation for monetary union and the abolition of the Pound Sterling. At the meeting, they both said they would resign if their demands were not met. Thatcher responded by demoting Howe and by listening more to her adviser Sir Alan Walters on economic matters. Lawson resigned that October, feeling that Thatcher had undermined him.

Additional problems emerged when many of the tax rates set by local councils proved to be much higher than predicted. Opponents of the Community Charge banded together to resist bailiffs and disrupt court hearings of Community Charge debtors. The Labour MP, Terry Fields, was jailed for 60 days for refusing on principle to pay his Community Charge. As the Prime Minister continued to refuse to compromise on the tax and as many as one in five people had still not paid, unrest mounted and culminated in a number of riots. The most serious of these happened in London on 31 March 1990, during a protest at Trafalgar Square, London, which more than 100,000 protesters attended. The huge unpopularity of the tax, and in particular the rioting in London on that day, was seen as a major factor in Thatcher's downfall.

On the Friday before the Conservative Party conference in October 1990, Thatcher ordered her new Chancellor of the Exchequer John Major to reduce interest rates by 1%. Major persuaded her that the only way to maintain monetary stability was to join the Exchange Rate Mechanism at the same time, despite not meeting the "Madrid conditions". The Conservative Party conference that year saw a large degree of unity.

Trade unions

Thatcher was committed to reducing the power of the trades unions. Several unions launched strikes in response to legislation introduced to curb their power, but these actions eventually collapsed, and gradually Thatcher's reforms reduced the power and influence of the unions.

In 1982 the National Union of Mineworkers accepted a Government offer of a 9.3% raise, rejecting their leaders' call for a strike authorisation.

The confrontation over strikes, ordered illegally without a national ballot in 1984–85 by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in opposition to proposals to close a large number of mines, proved decisive. Police tactics during the strikes came under criticism but the militancy of the miners attempting to prevent other miners from working was also controversial. Two miners, Dean Hancock and Russell Shankland, were convicted of the murder of David Wilkie, a taxi driver, whom they killed by throwing a slab of concrete through the windscreen of his car from a bridge as he drove beneath it. He was driving a colleague of theirs, David Williams, to work. Both were sentenced to life imprisonment. A group of workers, resigned to the impending failure of the actions, worn down by months of protests, and angry at the NUM's failure to hold a national strike ballot, began to defy the Union's rulings, starting splinter groups and advising workers that returning to work was the only viable option. The Miners' Strike lasted a full year before the NUM leadership conceded without a deal. The Conservative government proceeded to close all but 15 of the country's pits, with the remaining 15 being sold off and privatised in 1994. Thatcher succeeded, for good or ill, in curbing the power of the British unions.

South African controversy

At the end of March 1984, four South Africans were arrested in Coventry, remanded in custody, and charged with contravening the UN arms embargo, which prohibited exports to apartheid South Africa of military equipment. Thatcher took a personal interest in the Coventry Four, and 10 Downing Street requested daily summaries of the case from the prosecuting authority, HM Customs and Excise. Within a month, the Coventry Four had been freed from jail and allowed to travel to South Africa on condition that they returned to England for their trial later that year. In April 1984, Thatcher sent senior British diplomat, Sir John Leahy, to negotiate the release of 16 Britons who had been taken hostage by the Angolan rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi. At the time, Savimbi's UNITA guerrilla movement was financed and supported militarily by the United States and apartheid regime of South Africa. On 26 April 1984, Leahy succeeded in securing the release of the British hostages at the UNITA base in Jamba, Angola. In June 1984 Thatcher invited apartheid South Africa's president, P. W. Botha, and foreign minister, Pik Botha, to Chequers in an effort to stave off growing international pressure for the imposition of economic sanctions against South Africa, where Britain had invested heavily. She reportedly urged President Botha to end apartheid; to release Nelson Mandela; to halt the harassment of black dissidents; to stop the bombing of African National Congress (ANC) bases in front-line states; and to comply with UN Security Council resolutions and withdraw from Namibia. However Botha ignored these demands. In an interview with Hugo Young for The Guardian in July 1986, Thatcher expressed her belief that economic sanctions against South Africa would be immoral because they would make thousands of black workers unemployed. In August 1984, foreign minister, Pik Botha, decided not to allow the Coventry Four to return to stand trial, thereby forfeiting £200,000 bail money put up by the South African embassy in London.

Brighton bombing

On the early morning of 12 October 1984, the day before her 59th birthday, Thatcher escaped injury in the Brighton hotel bombing during the Conservative Party Conference when her hotel was bombed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army; five people died in the attack, including Roberta, the wife of Cabinet Minister John Wakeham. A prominent member of the Cabinet, Norman Tebbit, was injured, and his wife Margaret was left paralysed. Thatcher herself would have been injured had she not been delayed from using the bathroom (which suffered more damage than the room she was in at the time the bomb detonated). Thatcher insisted that the conference open on time the next day and made her speech as planned in defiance of the bombers, a gesture which won widespread approval across the political spectrum.

Attitude towards Labour party

In 1986, her government controversially abolished the Greater London Council, then led by the strongly left-wing Ken Livingstone, and six Metropolitan County Councils. The government claimed this was an efficiency measure. However, Thatcher's opponents held that the move was politically motivated, as all of the abolished councils were controlled by Labour, had become powerful centres of opposition to her government, and were in favour of higher local government taxes and public spending. Several of them had however rendered themselves politically vulnerable by committing public funds to causes seen as extreme.


The "Falklands Factor", along with an economic recovery in early 1983, bolstered the government's popularity. The Labour party at this time had split, and there was a new challenge in the SDP-Liberal Alliance, formed by an electoral pact between the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party. However, the alliance failed to "break the mould of British politics" as it intended, despite briefly holding an opinion poll lead before the Falklands War in 1982. In the June 1983 general election, the Conservatives won 42.4% of the vote, the Labour party 27.6% and the Alliance 25.4% of the vote. Although the Conservatives' share of the vote had fallen slightly (1.5%) since 1979, Labour's vote had fallen by far more (9.3%) and in Britain's first past the post system, the Conservatives won a landslide victory even though it had the support of less than 43% of the electorate. This resulted in the Conservative Party having an overall majority of 144 MPs.
By leading her party to victory in the 1987 general election with a 101 seat majority, riding an economic boom against a weak Labour opposition advocating unilateral nuclear disarmament, Margaret Thatcher became the longest continuously serving Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since Lord Liverpool (1812 to 1827). Most United Kingdom newspapers supported her—with the exception of The Daily Mirror, The Guardian, The Observer and The Independent—and were rewarded with regular press briefings by her press secretary, Bernard Ingham.
Thatcher was challenged for the leadership of the Conservative Party by Sir Anthony Meyer. As Meyer was a virtually unknown backbench MP, he was viewed as a "stalking horse" candidate for more prominent members of the party. Thatcher easily defeated Meyer's challenge, but there were sixty ballot papers either cast for Meyer or abstaining, a surprisingly large number for a sitting Prime Minister. Her supporters in the Party, however, viewed the results as a success, claiming that after ten years as Prime Minister and with approximately 370 Conservative MPs voting, the opposition was surprisingly small.

Views on homosexuality

Though an early backer of decriminalisation of male homosexuality, Thatcher, at the 1987 Conservative party conference, issued the statement that "Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay". Backbench Conservative MPs and Peers had already begun a backlash against the 'promotion' of homosexuality and, in December 1987, the controversial 'Section 28' was added as an amendment to what became the Local Government Act 1988. This legislation was subsequently abolished by Tony Blair's Labour administration.

Foreign policy

The Falklands

On 2 April 1982, a ruling military junta in Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a British overseas territory that Argentina had claimed since an 1830s dispute on the British settlement. Within days Thatcher sent a naval task force to recapture the islands. Despite the huge logistical difficulties the operation was a success, resulting in a wave of patriotic enthusiasm and support for her government, with Newsweek declaring "The Empire Strikes Back". There were also several controversies that arose as a result of the Falklands War and Thatcher's handling of the conflict.

Cold War

In the Cold War, Mrs Thatcher supported United States President Ronald Reagan's policies of deterrence against the Soviets. This contrasted with the policy of détente which the West had pursued during the 1970s, and caused friction with allies who still adhered to the idea of détente. US forces were permitted by Mrs. Thatcher to station nuclear cruise missiles at Greenham Common, arousing mass protests by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. However, she later was the first Western leader to respond warmly to the rise of the future reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, declaring that she liked him, and told Ronald Reagan, describing him as "a man we can do business with" after a meeting in 1984, three months before he came to power. This was a start of a move by the West back to a new détente with the USSR under Gorbachev's leadership, which coincided with the final erosion of Soviet power prior to its eventual collapse in 1991. Thatcher outlasted the Cold War, which ended in 1989, and those who share her views on it credit her with a part in the West's victory, by both the deterrence and détente postures.

Her liking for defence ties with the United States was demonstrated in the Westland affair when she acted with colleagues to allow the helicopter manufacturer Westland, a vital defence contractor, to refuse to link with the Italian firm Agusta in order for it to link with the management's preferred option, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation of the United States. Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine, who had pushed the Agusta deal, resigned in protest after this, and remained an influential critic and potential leadership challenger. He would eventually prove instrumental in Thatcher's fall in 1990.

According to Helmut Kohl, West Germany's ex-Chancellor, Margaret Thatcher was also a strong opponent of the German reunification that was developing at unexpected speed in 1989. However she failed to halt it.

Hong Kong

In 1984, she visited People's Republic of China and signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration with Deng Xiaoping on 19 December, which committed the People's Republic of China to award Hong Kong the status of a Special Administrative Region. Under the terms of the One Country, Two Systems agreement, which Deng himself proposed, China agreed to leave Hong Kong's economic status unchanged after the handover on 1 July 1997 for a period of fifty years—until 2047. Britain agreed to leave, unconditionally, in 1997.

European Union

At Bruges, Belgium, in 1988, Thatcher made a speech in which she outlined her opposition to proposals from the European Community for a federal structure and increasing centralisation of decision-making. Although she had supported British membership, Thatcher believed that the role of the EC should be limited to ensuring free trade and effective competition, and feared that new EC regulations would reverse the changes she was making in the UK: "We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level, with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels". The speech caused an outcry from other European leaders, and exposed for the first time the deep split that was emerging over European policy inside her Conservative Party.

Thatcher, the former chemist, became publicly concerned with environmental issues in the late 1980s. In 1988, she made a major speech communicating the problems of global warming, ozone depletion and acid rain. Referring to her important role in the struggle against ozone depletion, Carl Sagan claimed that she demonstrated the importance in the modern world of leaders having an understanding of science.

Gulf War

One of Thatcher's acts in her last year in office was to put pressure on US President George H. W. Bush to deploy troops to the Middle East to drive Saddam Hussein's (Iraqi) army out of Kuwait. Bush was somewhat apprehensive about the plan, but Thatcher's memoirs summarise her advice to him during a telephone conversation with the words, "this was no time to go wobbly! Thatcher's government provided military forces to the international coalition in the Gulf War to pursue the ouster of Iraq from Kuwait.

Fall from power

Thatcher's political downfall was, according to witnesses such as Alan Clark, one of the most dramatic episodes in British political history. By 1990, opposition to Thatcher's policies on local government taxation (the community charge, or poll tax), and the divisions opening in the Conservative Party over European integration made her seem increasingly politically vulnerable and her party increasingly divided. Her distaste for consensus politics and willingness to override colleagues' opinions, including that of Cabinet, emboldened the backlash against her when it did occur. The dislike for Thatcher that had previously come primarily from her political opponents was now being expressed by some members of her own party.

On 1 November 1990, Sir Geoffrey Howe, formerly one of Thatcher's staunchest supporters, resigned from his position as Deputy Prime Minister in protest at Thatcher's European policy. In his resignation speech in the House of Commons two weeks later, he suggested that the time had come for "others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties" with which he stated that he had wrestled for perhaps too long. Her former cabinet colleague Michael Heseltine subsequently challenged her for the leadership of the party, and attracted sufficient support in the first round of voting to prolong the contest to a second ballot. Though she initially stated that she intended to contest the second ballot, Thatcher decided, after consulting with her Cabinet colleagues, to withdraw from the contest. On 22 November, at just after 9.30 a.m., she announced to the Cabinet that she would not be a candidate in the second ballot. Shortly afterwards, her staff made public what was, in effect, her resignation statement:

Having consulted widely among my colleagues, I have concluded that the unity of the Party and the prospects of victory in a General Election would be better served if I stood down to enable Cabinet colleagues to enter the ballot for the leadership. I should like to thank all those in Cabinet and outside who have given me such dedicated support.
Neil Kinnock, Leader of the Opposition, proposed a motion of no confidence in the government, and Margaret Thatcher seized the opportunity this presented on the day of her resignation to deliver one of her most memorable performances:

...a single currency is about the politics of Europe, it is about a federal Europe by the back door. So I shall consider the proposal of the Honourable Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Now where were we? I am enjoying this.
She supported John Major as her successor and he duly won the leadership contest, although in the years to come her approval of Major would fall away. After her resignation a MORI poll found that 52% agreed with the proposition that "On balance she had been good for the country", while 48% disagreed, thinking she had not. In 1991, she was given a long and unprecedented standing ovation at the party's annual conference, although she politely rejected calls from delegates for her to make a speech. She did, however, occasionally speak in the House of Commons after she was Prime Minister. She retired from the House at the 1992 election, at the age of 66 years.

Career after leaving House of Commons

Orders and honours

Since leaving the House of Commons, Thatcher has remained active in the politics of the United Kingdom, as well as the world. She became a member of the House of Lords in 1992 by the conferment of a life peerage as Baroness Thatcher, of Kesteven in the County of Lincolnshire. Thatcher had already been honoured by the Queen in 1990, shortly after her resignation as Prime Minister, when awarded the Order of Merit, one of the UK's highest distinctions. At the same time it was announced that her husband, Denis Thatcher, would be given a baronetcy, which was confirmed in 1991 (ensuring that their son Mark would inherit a title). This was the first creation of a baronetcy since 1965. In 1995, Baroness Thatcher was appointed a Lady of the Order of the Garter, the United Kingdom's highest order of Chivalry.

Post-Prime Ministerial influence

Thatcher authored her memoirs in two volumes, The Path to Power and The Downing Street Years. In 1993 The Downing Street Years were turned into a documentary series by the BBC, in which she described the Cabinet rebellion that brought about her resignation as "treachery with a smile on its face". This series, on BBC Two, was accompanied by a special ident, in which the famous 2 logo became a door-knocker affixed to 10 Downing Street.

Thatcher made a series of speeches in the Lords criticising the Maastricht Treaty, describing it as "a treaty too far" and stated "I could never have signed this treaty". She cited A. V. Dicey, to the effect that, since all three main parties were in favour of revisiting the treaty, the people should have their say.

On 6 August 1992 she called for NATO to stop the Serbian assault on Goražde and Sarajevo in order to end ethnic cleansing and to preserve the Bosnian state. She described the situation in Bosnia as "reminiscent of the worst excesses of the Nazis, warning that there could be a "holocaust" in Bosnia and described the conflict as a "killing field the like of which I thought we would never see in Europe again."

From 1993 to 2000, she served as Chancellor of the College of William and Mary in Virginia, which, established by Royal Charter in 1693, is the sole royal foundation in the contiguous United States. She was also Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, the UK's only private university, a position from which she retired in 1998.

Although she remained supportive in public, in private she made her displeasure with many of John Major's policies plain, and her views were conveyed to the press and widely reported. She was critical of the rise in public spending under Major, his tax increases, and his support of the European Union. After Tony Blair's election as Labour Party leader in 1994, Thatcher gave an interview in May 1995 in which she praised Blair as "probably the most formidable Labour leader since Hugh Gaitskell. I see a lot of socialism behind their front bench, but not in Mr Blair. I think he genuinely has moved.

In 1998, Thatcher made an unofficial visit to the former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet, while he was under house arrest in Surrey. Pinochet was fighting extradition for human rights abuses committed during his tenure. Thatcher expressed her support and friendship for Pinochet. Pinochet had been a key ally of Britain during the Falklands War. Also in 1998, she made a £2,000,000 donation to Cambridge University for the endowment of a Margaret Thatcher Chair in Entrepreneurial Studies. She also donated the archive of her personal papers to Churchill College, Cambridge where the collection continues to be expanded.

At Thatcher's first speech to a Conservative Party conference in nine years in 1999, she not only defended Pinochet's actions as Chilean president, but made some controversial remarks on a continental Europe. Her comments aroused some criticism from Malcolm Rifkind, a former Foreign Secretary under John Major, who claimed that Lady Thatcher was giving "the impression that Britain and British opinion is somehow prejudiced and anti-European".

Margaret Thatcher actively supported the Conservative general election campaign in 2001. In the Conservative leadership election shortly after, Lady Thatcher came out in support of Iain Duncan Smith because she believed he would "make infinitely the better leader" than Kenneth Clarke due to Clarke's "old-fashioned views of the role of the state and his unbounded enthusiasm for European integration".

In 2002, she published Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World detailing her thoughts on international relations since her resignation in 1990. The chapters on the European Union were particularly controversial; she called for a fundamental renegotiation of Britain's membership to preserve the UK's sovereignty and, if that failed, for Britain to leave and join NAFTA. These chapters were serialised in The Times on Monday, 18 March and caused a political furore.

Activities since 2003

Lady Thatcher was widowed upon the death of Sir Denis Thatcher on 26 June 2003. A funeral service was held honouring him at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea on 3 July with Lady Thatcher present, as well as her children Mark and Carol. Thatcher paid tribute to him by saying, "Being Prime Minister is a lonely job. In a sense, it ought to be—you cannot lead from a crowd. But with Denis there I was never alone. What a man. What a husband. What a friend".

On 11 June 2004, Thatcher attended the funeral of, and delivered a tribute via videotape to, former United States President Ronald Reagan at his state funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. In view of her failing mental faculties following several small strokes, the message had been pre-recorded several months earlier. Thatcher then flew to California with the Reagan entourage, and attended the memorial service and interment ceremony for President Reagan at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

In December 2004, it was reported that Thatcher had told a private meeting of Conservative MPs that she was against the British Government's plan to introduce identity cards. She is said to have remarked that ID cards were a "Germanic concept and completely alien to this country".

Thatcher marked her 80th birthday with a party at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hyde Park on 13 October 2005, where the guests included Queen Elizabeth II, The Duke of Edinburgh, and Princess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy. There, Geoffrey Howe, now Lord Howe of Aberavon, commented on her political career: "Her real triumph was to have transformed not just one party but two, so that when Labour did eventually return, the great bulk of Thatcherism was accepted as irreversible."

Thatcher attended the official Washington, D.C. memorial service to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States. She attended as a guest of the US Vice President, Dick Cheney, and met with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her visit. Thatcher was last in the United States for the funeral of former US Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger in April 2006.

On 12 November 2006, she appeared at the Remembrance Day parade at the Cenotaph in London, leaning heavily on the arm of former Prime Minister, John Major. One week later, she released an effusive statement of condolence on the death of her friend and economic mentor, Milton Friedman, the man often described as the inspiration behind Thatcherism. On 10 December she announced she was "deeply saddened" by the death of the former Chilean dictator General Pinochet.

A statue of Lady Thatcher was unveiled in the British Houses of Parliament on 21 February 2007. Thatcher made a rare and brief speech in the members' lobby of the House of Commons. She gibed, "I might have preferred iron—but bronze will do... It won't rust. And, this time I hope, the head will stay on" - a previous statue in stone had been attacked and decapitated while on public exhibition.

On 13 September 2007, Lady Thatcher was invited to 10 Downing Street to have tea with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife, Sarah. Gordon Brown referred to Lady Thatcher as a "conviction politician" and said of himself, "I'm a conviction politician just like her. However William Hague attacked this decision, saying to Gordon Brown:

You may fawn now at the feet of our greatest prime minister – but you are no Margaret Thatcher. Margaret Thatcher would never have devastated the pension funds of this nation, nor kicked its small businesses in the teeth. We, Gordon, backed her when she rescued our country in the face of every denunciation and insult from the likes of you.

Brown's spokesman, however, denied these claims and insisted that the meeting was "not unusual", it was customary for Prime Ministers to invite their predecessors to tea and that Mr Brown would be "happy" to meet any former Prime Minister.

On 30 January 2008, Lady Thatcher met the incumbent Tory Leader, David Cameron at an awards ceremony at London's Guildhall where she was presented with a 'Lifetime Achievement Award'.

Health concerns

Thatcher was advised by her doctors in 2002 to make no more public speeches on health grounds, having suffered several small strokes. According to her former press spokesman Bernard Ingham, Thatcher has no short-term memory as a result of the strokes. On 7 March 2008, Thatcher was admitted to St Thomas' Hospital, Central London for tests due to health concerns, after she felt ill whilst attending a House of Lords' dinner.

On 24 August 2008 it was publicly revealed that she has been suffering from dementia. Her daughter described first observing in 2000 that Thatcher was becoming forgetful. The condition became more noticeable later, as she believed, at times, that her husband Denis, having died in 2003, was still alive.


Thatcher is well remembered for her famed remark "There is no such thing as society to the reporter Douglas Keay, for Woman's Own magazine, 23 September 1987:
I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand "I have a problem, it is the Government's job to cope with it!" or "I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!" "I am homeless, the Government must house me!" and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations...

In 1996, the Scott Inquiry into the Arms-to-Iraq affair investigated the Thatcher government's record in dealing with Saddam Hussein. It revealed how £1bn of public money was used in soft loan guarantees for British exporters to Iraq. The judge found that during the Iran-Iraq war, officials destroyed documents relating to the export of Chieftain tank parts to Jordan which ended up in Iraq. Ministers clandestinely relaxed official guidelines to help private companies sell machine tools which were used in munitions factories. The British company Racal exported sophisticated Jaguar V radios to the former Iraqi dictator's army on credit. Members of the Conservative cabinet refused to stop lending guaranteed funds to Saddam even after he executed a British journalist, Farzad Bazoft, Thatcher’s cabinet minuting that they did not want to damage British industry.

New Labour and Blairism have incorporated much of the economic, social and political tenets of "Thatcherism" in the same manner as, in a previous era, the Conservative Party from the 1950s until the days of Edward Heath accepted many of the basic assumptions of the welfare state instituted by Labour governments. The curtailing and large-scale dismantling of elements of the welfare state under Thatcher have largely remained. Among others, Thatcher's program of privatising state-owned enterprises has not been reversed. Indeed, successive Tory and Labour governments have further curtailed the involvement of the state in the economy and have further dismantled public ownership.

Thatcher's impact on the trade union movement in Britain has been lasting, with the breaking of the miners' strike of 1984-1985 seen as a watershed moment, or even a breaking point, for a union movement which has been unable to regain the degree of political power it exercised up through the 1970s. Unionisation rates in Britain have permanently declined since the 1980s, and the legislative instruments introduced to curtail the impact of strikes have not been reversed. The Labour Party has worked to loosen its ties to the trade union movement . Although the power of trade unions is still significantly lower than it was before Thatcher came to power, the Employment Relations Act 2004 was introduced under the Blair government to make statutory recognition of trade unions accessible and to further protect workers taking industrial action.

Thatcher's legacy has continued to strongly influence the Conservative Party itself. Successive leaders, starting with John Major, and continuing in opposition with William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard, have struggled with real or perceived factions in the Parliamentary and national party to determine what parts of her heritage should be retained or jettisoned.

Thatcher is credited by Ronald Reagan with persuading him that Mikhail Gorbachev was sincere in his desire to reform and liberalise the Soviet Union. The resulting thaw in East-West relations helped to end the Cold War. In recognition of this, Lady Thatcher was awarded the 1998 Ronald Reagan Freedom Award by Mrs. Nancy Reagan. President Ronald Reagan, who was not able to attend the ceremony, was a longtime friend of Lady Thatcher.

In February 2007, she became the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to be honoured with a statue in the House of Commons while still alive. The statue is made of bronze and stands opposite her political hero and predecessor, Winston Churchill. The statue, by sculptor Antony Dufort, shows her as if she were addressing the House of Commons, with her right arm outstretched. Thatcher said she was thrilled with it.


Thatcher was the subject or the inspiration for a number of protest songs. In 1982, The Jam released "Town Called Malice", containing the lyrics, "It's enough to make you stop believing when tears come fast and furious in a Town Called Malice", which reached Number One in February 1982. The song, according to the BBC, was "an elegy to humdrum everyday existence and broken dreams which barely disguised Paul Weller's fury about the state of Britain". Other songs included "Stand Down Margaret" by The Beat (1980); "Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards" on the album Workers Playtime by Billy Bragg (1988); "Two Million Voices" by Angelic Upstarts (1981)—a reference to the number of unemployed in Britain (a similar theme was the subject of "One in Ten" by UB40 (1981)); "Goose Green (Taking Tea With Pinochet)" by Christy Moore; "Margaret On The Guillotine" from the album Viva Hate by Morrissey; "Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert" on the album The Final Cut by Pink Floyd; "Sowing the Seeds of Love" by Tears for Fears (1989); and, even as late as 1991, "Wonderland" (from the album Stars) by Simply Red. The 2005 musical Billy Elliot: The Musical contains the song Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher, which contains the lyrics "Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher. We all celebrate today, cos it's one day closer to your death".

"Tramp the Dirt Down" recorded by Elvis Costello, contains the lyrics:

That’s when they finally put you in the ground
I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down

TV, films and plays

In March 2007, Variety reported that the makers of the Oscar-winning drama The Queen were planning a film on Thatcher's days leading up to the Falklands War. As of late summer 2007, no stars have been attached to the project, which is still in planning stages.

In October 2007, Maggie's End, a satirical play set in the immediate aftermath of her death, and written by Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood, examined the contrasting emotions generated by the Thatcher legacy. She also appeared as a major character in The Falklands Play.

In June 2008 the BBC screened The Long Walk to Finchley, covering Thatcher’s life from her early twenties to mid-thirties.

In April 2008 plans were announced for a TV drama, Thatcher, focusing on her final year in power. Filming is scheduled to begin in summer 2008, with Lindsay Duncan starring in the title role. Also starring are Ian McDiarmid as husband Denis Thatcher, James Fox as Charles Powell, Robert Hardy as Willie Whitelaw, Philip Jackson as Bernard Ingham, Kevin McNally as Ken Clarke, Oliver Cotton as Michael Heseltine, John Sessions as Geoffrey Howe, Michael Cochrane as Alan Clark, Michael Maloney as John Major, Roy Marsden as Norman Tebbit, Nigel Le Vaillant as Ted Heath, Nicholas Le Prevost as Douglas Hurd and Rosemary Leach as HM The Queen.

Titles and honours

Styles from birth

Styles and titles Baroness Thatcher has held from birth, in chronological order:

  • Miss Margaret Roberts (13 October 1925 – 13 December 1951)
  • Mrs Denis Thatcher (13 December 1951 – 8 October 1959)
  • Mrs Denis Thatcher, MP (8 October 1959 – 22 June 1970)
  • The Rt Hon. Margaret Thatcher, MP (22 June 1970 – 7 December 1990)
  • The Rt Hon. Margaret Thatcher, OM, MP (7 December 1990 – 4 February 1991)
  • The Rt Hon. Lady Thatcher, OM, MP (4 February 1991 – 16 March 1992)
  • The Rt Hon. Lady Thatcher, OM (16 March 1992 – 26 June 1992)
  • The Rt Hon. The Baroness Thatcher, OM, PC (26 June 1992 – 22 April 1995)
  • The Rt Hon. The Baroness Thatcher, LG, OM, PC (since 22 April 1995)


Foreign honours






  • Abse, Leo (1989). Margaret, daughter of Beatrice. Jonathan Cape.
  • Beckett, Clare (2006). Margaret Thatcher. Haus Publishing Limited.
  • Campbell, John (2000). Margaret Thatcher; Volume One: The Grocer's Daughter. Pimlico.
  • Campbell, John (2003). Margaret Thatcher; Volume Two: The Iron Lady. Pimlico.
  • Dale, Iain (ed.) (2000). Memories of Maggie. Politicos.
  • Jenkins, Peter (1987). Mrs. Thatcher's Revolution: Ending of the Socialist Era. Jonathan Cape.
  • Letwin, Shirley Robin (1992). The Anatomy of Thatcherism. Flamingo.
  • Pugh, Peter; Paul Flint (1997). Thatcher for Beginners. Icon Books.
  • Seldon, Anthony; Collings, Daniel (1999). Britain Under Thatcher. Longman.
  • Young, Hugo (1986). The Thatcher Phenomenon. BBC.
  • Young, Hugo (1989). One of Us: Life of Margaret Thatcher. Macmillan.
  • Young, Hugo (1989). The Iron Lady: A Biography of Margaret Thatcher. Farrar Straus & Giroux.

Ministerial autobiographies

Books by Thatcher

Other Books

  • Tony Wheeler The Falklands and South Georgia Island. Lonely Planet.

External links

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