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Margaret Thatcher Biography (13/10/25-)

Leading lady and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. Before that she was Education Secretary from 1970 to 1974 under Edward Heath whom she successfully challenged for the Conservative leadership in 1975. She was born Margaret Hilda Roberts in Grantham where her father, Alfred Roberts, ran a grocers' shop and served as an Alderman. Margaret was an academically bright, if not universally popular, schoolgirl who went onto Somerville College, Oxford in 1944 to study chemistry. She worked as a research chemist for British Xylonite and Lyons & Company, where she helped develop mister whippy ice cream.

In 1950 she stood for Parliament in the safe Labour seat of Dartford and after being rejected for the safe Conservative seat, and was narrowly rejected as candidate for Orpington in 1954. She came away from Dartford with a husband though, Denis Thatcher who gallantly offered to drive her home one night after she had missed her last train. They had two children, Mark and Carol, and Denis also supported her through her training to become a barrister. She was selected as candidate for Finchley in 1958 and won the seat in the 1959 election. Her maiden speech was made in support of a Private Member's Bill which was successful and forced local councils to hold meetings in public, thereby allowing press scrutiny in the council chambers.

Margaret Thatcher Biography 1

"I owe nothing whatsoever to women's lib "

Margaret joined the front bench as Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance in September 1961 and whilst in opposition was Conservative spokesperson on Housing and Land before moving to the Shadow Treasury Team after 1966. In the 1960s Thatcher was one of only a few Conservative MPs to support the Bill to decriminalise male homosexuality, and she voted in favour of a bill to legalise abortion but opposed to the abolition of capital punishment. In 1967 she joined the Shadow Cabinet responsible for the energy portfolio then transport and lastly Education becoming Secretary of State for Education and Science after the 1970 election. Whilst in office she earned the nickname 'milk snatcher' after removing free school milk for the under fives but saved the open university and approved 96% of proposals for grammar schools to become comprehensives.

After the election defeat of 1975 she promoted a policy of abolishing the rating system and agreed with Sir Keith Joseph that the Heath Government had lost control of monetary policy. She challenged Heath for the leadership, a campaign masterminded by Colditz escapee Airey Neave, and unexpectedly won appointing Heath's preferred successor William Whitelaw as her Deputy. In 1976 she made an outspoken attack on the Soviet Union which they responded to by calling her The Iron Lady, a nickname she enjoyed. Many other sobriquets that followed her 1979 victory she was less happy about. Her chief goals in power were to reverse Britain's economic decline and to reduce the range of the state as well as standing taller on the international stage. She found a soulmate in Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980 but whom she had met in 1975. Thatcher started by increasing interest rates to drive down inflation which hit the manufacturing sector and caused unemployment to rise sharply and there was a deep recession in the early 1980s blamed on her Government's economic policy. The lady was not for turning and refused a policy u-turn and, despite an open letter from 364 economists, taxes were increased in the middle of a recession. Although unemployment did not reach 3 million till 1982 a year earlier British cities burned as thousands took to the streets. Inflation was going down though allowing interest rates to fall but as the economy started to recover Argentina invaded the Falklands. Thatcher responded with a naval task force and with help from General Pinochet and, more covertly, Ronald Reagan the British forces swiftly recaptured the islands. The resulting wave of patriotic enthusiasm as well as her right to buy policy for council homes, and a uselessly divided opposition, meant she got a landslide victory in the June 1983 general election.

Margaret Thatcher Biography 2

The big theme of her second term was reducing the power of the trade unions with a series of measures that a number of unions reacted to with industrial action. In particular the National Union of Mineworkers led by Arthur Scargill. The Tories had prepared for the strike by building up coal reserves and the deploying well paid police units kitted out with new riot gear brought in after the disturbances of 1981 who taunted the strikers by waving fivers at them. The miners responded with bricks and very ugly scenes developed on picket lines that split the country. Scargill's failure to hold a ballot for the strike undermined public support and the striker's chant of 'vote with your feet' calling miners to join the strike was turned on them as more and more returned to work over the year of the strike.

In the middle of the strike, on October 12 1984, the IRA exploded a bomb during the Conservative Party conference in Brighton. Thatcher escaped injury but five people died in the attack and Margaret Tebbit was left paralysed, the conference went on as normal. Thatcher's political and economic philosophy emphasised free markets and since gaining power she had experimented in selling off nationalised industries starting with the National Freight company, most of the large utilities followed. Thatcher supported Reagan's policies of deterrence against the Soviets and US forces stationed nuclear cruise missiles at British bases, arousing mass protests by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. She supported the US bombing raid on Libya from bases in Britain in 1986 and, by refusing to side with a European consortium, in backing a the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation of the USA over a British company Westland. Michael Heseltine resigned in protest at her style of leadership over this. In 1984 she visited China and signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration with Deng Xiaoping that agreed the handover of Hong Kong in 1997. Also that year at the Fontainebleau summit Thatcher argued that the UK paid far more to the EEC than it received in spending and negotiated a budget rebate using the argument that ‘We want our money back’. In 1985, the University of Oxford voted to refuse her an honorary degree in protest against her cuts in funding for education.

"U turn if you want to but the Lady's not for turning."

In 1987 she became the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to win three consecutive general elections since Lord Liverpool (1812-1827). In the late 1980's Thatcher began to be concerned by environmental policy and in 1988 she made a major speech accepting the problems of global warming, ozone depletion and acid rain. More memorably, at Bruges, she made a speech in which she outlined her opposition to proposals from the European Communities for a federal structure and increasing centralisation of decision-making believing that the role of the EC should be limited to ensuring free trade and effective competition. She was specifically against Economic and Monetary Union, through which a single currency would replace national currencies, and for which the EC was making preparations. In 1989 the economy high interest rates were imposed to stop an unsustainable boom. At the Madrid European summit, Nigel Lawson and Geoffrey Howe forced Thatcher to agree the circumstances in which she would join the Exchange Rate Mechanism, a preparation for monetary union. She took revenge on both by demoting Howe and listening more to her adviser Sir Alan Walters on economic matters. Lawson resigned that October and in November, a so-called ‘stalking horse candidate Sir Anthony Meyer challenged Thatcher for the leadership of the Conservative Party. In 1989 a new system of local government finance to replace the rates was introduced for Scotland in 1989 and for England and Wales in 1990. Called the 'Community Charge' but known as the Poll Tax was applied at the same amount to every individual resident with only limited discounts. Widespread opposition culminated in a huge demonstration in London on March 31 that turned into the largest outbreak of public disorder central London had seen in a century which was followed by millions of people refusing to pay the tax. This along with her government's handling of the economy, her perceived arrogance and a general feeling of 'oh! for fuck's sake won't she go' made her politically vulnerable. Geoffrey Howe resigned on November 1 and condemned Thatcher's policy on the European Communities then openly invited 'others to consider their own response'. Michael Heseltine response was a leadership challenge which resulted in a narrow failure, by two votes, for Thatcher to win automatic re-election. After consulting with cabinet colleagues she found a vast majority thought that she could not win on the second ballot on November 22 Thatcher announced that she would not be a candidate in the second ballot. She supported John Major as her successor, and retired from Parliament at the 1992 election.

Margaret Thatcher biography 3

"People fear rather being swamped by an alien culture."

Margaret THatcher Biography 4

After which she was created Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven and entered the House of Lords and more controversially, Denis Thatcher was given a Baronetcy which ensured that their son, Mark, would inherit a title other than 'spoilt gobshite'. Leaving power rather confused her and aside from writing her memoirs her role as 'backseat driver' in the Major administration was not well received. She publicly endorsed William Hague for the Conservative leadership in 1997 and her legacy and interference in the post power years has left a divided and powerless party. She made many speaking engagements around the world including very vocal support of the murdering former dictator General Pinochet that the new Labour administration extradited to Spain on charges of torturing political opponents. In March 2002 she was told by her doctors to make no more public speeches on health grounds though she attended the funeral of Ronald Reagan in 2004. Denis Thatcher death in 2003 shook her badly. Her direct political work limited to membership of the House of Lords and as head of the Thatcher Foundation.

Pictures by Daniel Morgernstern