Margaret Thatcher, Iron Lady, Dead at 87
Monday, April 08, 2013
Ex-spokesman Tim Bell says that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has died. She was 87.
Bell said the woman known to friends and foes as "the Iron Lady" passed away Monday morning.
Buckingham Palace says Queen Elizabeth II was sad to hear the news of the death of Margaret Thatcher. The palace said Monday that the queen will be sending a private message of sympathy to the family.
Prime Minister David Cameron also expressed sadness, saying "we have lost a great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton."
For admirers, Thatcher was a savior who rescued Britain from ruin and laid the groundwork for an extraordinary economic renaissance. For critics, she was a heartless tyrant who ushered in an era of greed that kicked the weak out onto the streets and let the rich become filthy rich.
"Let us not kid ourselves, she was a very divisive figure," said Bernard Ingham, Thatcher's press secretary for her entire term. "She was a real toughie. She was a patriot with a great love for this country, and she raised the standing of Britain abroad."
Thatcher was the first - and still only - female prime minister in Britain's history. But she often found feminists tiresome and was not above using her handbag as a prop to underline her swagger and power. A grocer's daughter, she rose to the top of Britain's snobbish hierarchy the hard way, and envisioned a classless society that rewarded hard work and determination.
She was a trailblazer who at first believed trailblazing impossible: Thatcher told the Liverpool Daily Post in 1974 that she did not think a woman would serve as party leader or prime minister during her lifetime.
But once in power, she never showed an ounce of doubt.
Thatcher could be intimidating to those working for her:
British diplomats sighed with relief on her first official visit to Washington D.C. as prime minister to find that she was relaxed enough to enjoy a glass of whiskey and a half-glass of wine during an embassy lunch, according to official documents.
Like her close friend and political ally Ronald Reagan, Thatcher seemed motivated by an unshakable belief that free markets would build a better country than reliance on a strong, central government. Another thing she shared with the American president: a tendency to reduce problems to their basics, choose a path, and follow it to the end, no matter what the opposition.
She formed a deep attachment to the man she called "Ronnie" - some spoke of it as a schoolgirl crush. Still, she would not back down when she disagreed with him on important matters, even though the United States was the richer and vastly stronger partner in the so-called "special relationship."
Underestimated at first - by her own party, by the media, later by foreign adversaries, they all soon learned to respect her. Thatcher's "Iron Lady" nickname was coined by Soviet journalists, a grudging testament to her ferocious will and determination.
Thatcher set about upending decades of liberal doctrine, successfully challenging Britain's welfare state and socialist traditions, in the process becoming the reviled bete noire of the country's leftwing intelligentsia.
She is perhaps best remembered for her hardline position during the pivotal strike in 1984 and 1985 when she faced down coal miners in an ultimately successful bid to break the power of Britain's unions. It was a reshaping of British economic and political landscape that endures to this day.
Margaret Hilda Roberts was born on Oct. 13, 1925. She learned the values of thrift, discipline and industry as the dutiful daughter of Alfred Roberts, a grocer and Methodist lay preacher who eventually became the mayor of Grantham, a modest-sized town in Lincolnshire 110 miles (180 kilometers) north of London.
Educated at Oxford, Thatcher began her political career in her mid-20s with an unsuccessful 1950 campaign for a parliamentary seat in the Labour Party stronghold of Dartford. She earned nationwide publicity as the youngest female candidate in the country despite her loss at the polls.
She was defeated again the next year, but on the campaign trail she met Denis Thatcher, a successful businessman whom she married in 1951. Their twins Mark and Carol were born two years later.
Margaret Thatcher first won election to Parliament in 1959, representing Finchley in north London. She climbed the Conservative Party ladder quickly, joining the Cabinet as education secretary in 1970.
In that post, she earned the unwanted nickname "Thatcher the milk snatcher" because of her reduction of school milk programs. It was a taste of battles to come.
As prime minister, she sold off one state industry after another: British Telecom, British Gas, Rolls-Royce, British Airways, British Coal, British Steel, the water companies and the electricity distribution system among them. She was proud of her government's role in privatizing some public housing, turning tenants into homeowners.
She ruffled feathers simply by being herself. She had faith - sometimes blind faith - in the clarity of her vision and little use for those of a more cautious mien.
Success in the Falklands War set the stage for a pivotal fight with the National Union of Miners, which began a 51-week strike in March, 1984 to oppose the government's plans to close a number of mines.
The miners battled police on picket lines but couldn't beat Thatcher, and returned to work without gaining any concessions.
Thatcher won a third term in another landslide in 1987, but may have become overconfident.
She trampled over cautionary advice from her own ministers in 1989 and 1990 by imposing a hugely controversial "community charge" tax that was quickly dubbed a "poll tax" by opponents. It was designed to move Britain away from a property tax and instead imposed a flat rate tax on every adult except for retirees and people who were registered unemployed.
That decision may have been a sign that hubris was undermining Thatcher's political acumen. Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in London and other cities, leading to some of the worst riots in the British capital for more than a century.
The shocking sight of Trafalgar Square turned into a smoldering battleground on March 31, 1990 helped convince many Conservative figures that Thatcher had stayed too long.Eight months after the riots, Thatcher was gone, struggling to hold back tears as she left Downing Street after being ousted by her own party.
It was a bitter end for Thatcher's active political career - her family said she felt a keen sense of betrayal even years later.
Thatcher wrote several best-selling memoirs after leaving office and was a frequent speaker on the international circuit before she suffered several small strokes that in 2002 led her to curtail her lucrative public speaking career.
Denis Thatcher died the following year; they had been married more than a half century.
She suffered from dementia in her final years, and her public appearances became increasingly rare.
She is survived by her two children, Mark Thatcher and Carol Thatcher, and her grandchildren.