The Right Honourable Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, LG, OM, PC, FRS (born 13 October 1925) is a British stateswoman and was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990, the only woman as of 2005 to serve in that position. She is a member of the Conservative Party and the figurehead of a political philosophy that became known as Thatcherism, which involves reduced government spending, lower taxes and regulation, and a programme of privatisation of government-owned industries. Even before coming to power she was nicknamed the Iron Lady in Soviet propaganda (because of her vocal opposition to communism), an appellation that stuck.
Thatcher served as Education Secretary in the government of Edward Heath from 1970 to 1974, and successfully challenged Heath for the Conservative leadership in 1975. She was undefeated at the polls, winning the 1979, 1983 and 1987 general elections, and became the longest-serving Prime Minister of the 20th century. In foreign relations, Thatcher maintained the “special relationship” with the United States, and formed a close bond with Ronald Reagan. Thatcher also dispatched a Royal Navy task force to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina in the Falklands War.
The profound changes Thatcher set in motion as Prime Minister altered much of the economic and cultural landscape of Britain. She curtailed the power of the trade unions, cut back the role of the state in business, dramatically expanded home ownership, and in so doing created a more entrepreneurial culture. She also aimed to cut back the welfare state and foster a more flexible labour market that would create jobs and could adapt to market conditions. Exacerbated by the global recession of the early 1980s, her policies initially caused large-scale unemployment, especially in the industrial heartlands of northern England, and increased wealth inequalities. However from the mid 1980s a period of sustained economic growth occured that led to an improvement in Britain’s economic performance. Supporters of Margaret Thatcher assert that Thatcherite policies were responsible for this.
Her popularity finally declined when she replaced the unpopular local government Rates tax with the even less popular Community Charge, more commonly known as the poll tax. At the same time the Conservative Party began to split over her skeptical approach to European Economic and Monetary Union. Her leadership was challenged from within and she was forced to resign in 1990, her loss at least partly due to inadequate advice and campaigning. In 1992 she was created Baroness Thatcher; since then her direct political work has been within the House of Lords and as head of the Thatcher Foundation.
Early life and education
Thatcher was born Margaret Hilda Roberts in the town of Grantham in Lincolnshire in eastern England. Her father was Alfred Roberts, who ran a grocers’ shop in the town and was active in local politics, serving as an Alderman (while officially described as ‘Liberal Independent’, in practice he supported the local Conservatives). When the Labour Party won control of Grantham Council in 1945, Roberts was not re-elected as an Alderman, a decision which affected his daughter deeply.