ON THIS DAY – May 4th
Margaret Thatcher became the UK’s prime minister. She is the only woman to have held that office.
Margaret Hilda Roberts was born in Grantham, England, in 1925, the daughter of a grocer, but she won her way to Oxford, one of the world’s leading universities.
In 1959, after marrying and giving birth to twins, she was elected to Parliament. She rose rapidly in the Conservative Party and, after that Party won the General Election in 1970, Margaret became secretary of state for education and science.
Having lost power in 1974, the Conservatives chose the radical Margaret Thatcher as their next leader. Under her control, the Party shifted further to the Right in its policies.
At that time, the Labour Party was in government and the Prime Minister was James Callaghan, forever disgraced by his attitude of “crisis, what crisis?” when the country was at a standstill through an epidemic of workers’ strikes.
He lost a vote of confidence in early 1979 and the consequent General Election gave the Conservative Party a majority in Parliament. As head of that Party, Margaret became Prime Minister.
She immediately set about dismantling socialism in the UK. She privatized numerous industries, enabled people in social housing to buy their homes, and encouraged citizens to own shares.
History will probably remember her most for breaking the stranglehold of the trade unions, which had been driving the country into economic collapse.
In 1983, despite the worst unemployment figures for half a decade, Margaret was re-elected to a second term, thanks largely to the decisive British victory in the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina.
The “Iron Lady” took a stand against the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which was regularly planting bombs in Britain. She was targeted, and escaped death by inches when a timed explosion part destroyed her hotel suite. Showing typical grit, instead of going into hiding, she re-wrote the speech she was to give just six hours later and defied the terrorists.
In 1987, an upswing in the economy led to her election to a third term. But Margaret alienated some in her own Party because of her tax policies and opposition to further British integration into the European Community. In November 1990, she failed to receive a majority in the Conservative Party’s annual vote for selection of a leader. Weakened by her own Party, she resigned as prime minister. She was still a strong public figure and in 1992 became Lady Thatcher, with a seat in the House of Lords.
In later years, Margaret wrote her memoirs, as well as other books on politics. She continued to work with the Thatcher Foundation, which she created to foster the ideals of democracy, free trade and co-operation among nations. She stopped appearing in public in the early 2000s after suffering a series of strokes. She died on April 8, 2013, at the age of 87.
Margaret Thatcher was either loved or hated. One of her most famous quotes, when she was being pressured to do a U-turn on her no-nonsense principles, was: “U turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.”
I had the great privilege of working on her behalf. Fond memories to Margaret Thatcher.