The story of her rise to power is impressive and formidable. But she was never widely loved, even by those in her own party, let alone those outside it. That’s why there are parties celebrating her death taking place in the UK today.
Margaret Thatcher was born on October 13, 1925, in the small town of Grantham; her mother was a dressmaker and her father a grocer. According to Thatcher, her father was responsible for introducing her to politics and instilling in her the importance of being able to stand on her own two feet.
She became a Member of Parliament (MP) in 1958 and a junior minister in 1961. In 1970, when Edward Heath won the election for the Conservative Party, he named her education secretary. She replaced Heath as leader of the party in the mid-1970′s and on May 4, 1979, she became the first-ever female Prime Minister in Britain.
As it happens, I left the UK in the early 80′s, so was not under her regime for long. I sure missed a lot. Here are seven important things you should know about Margaret Thatcher:
1. SHE BROKE THE GLASS CEILING BUT WAS NOT A FEMINIST
Far from being a feminist, many people, myself included, believe that she set back the cause of feminism, by being such a bad example of a woman in power. She seemed to believe that she had to prove herself by being tougher than any man.
Interestingly, in 1973, Thatcher famously said: “I don’t think there will be a woman prime minister in my lifetime.” Six years later, she proved herself wrong.
From The Guardian:
If a single phrase captured her political identity, it was from her 1980 party conference speech: “This lady’s not for turning.” She played by the rules that demanded that she present herself as soft and yielding, but by her diligent attention to detail, the concentration of her focus, and her appetite for conflict, ultimately she subverted them.
2. SHE WAS THE LONGEST-SERVING PRIME MINISTER IN 150 YEARS
Thatcher led the Conservative Party to victory three times. As the longest-serving Prime Minister of the 20th century, she spent 11 years and 209 days in office. In fact, she was the longest-serving British premier since Lord Liverpool, who held the post from 1812 to 1827.
3. SHE STOLE MILK FROM YOUNG CHILDREN
As a child growing up in England, I enjoyed my third of a pint of fresh milk every day. In 1970, when the Conservatives won the general election, Thatcher became Secretary of State for Education and Science. The following year, she decided to cut public funding for free milk for schoolchildren, which had been in place since the second world war. That earned her the nickname ‘Margaret Thatcher the milk snatcher,” and should have been a warning of things to come.
4. SHE WORKED TO PRIVATIZE EVERYTHING
Once elected Prime Minister in 1979, Thatcher and her Cabinet immediately began pushing through tough economic measures. Privatization came to be fundamental of the Thatcher regime, and it affected virtually every part of society — health, education, business, the railways. At the same time, there were also tax increases, and unemployment was rampant.
From The Guardian:
Lord David Owen, the leader of the Social Democratic Party at the time, said Thatcher’s policies created an overwhelming anxiety in Britain.
“A lot of people felt threatened by Margaret Thatcher. A lot of people felt that their whole way of life was challenged,” he said. “And they hated her.”
But, Owen said, Thatcher was determined to drive through her policies, no matter how unpopular.
5. SHE ORDERED THE POLICE TO DESTROY THE MINERS’ STRIKE
The miners’ strike is easily the most horrendous part of Thatcher’s legacy. There were numerous strikes in the 80′s in Britain, but this one lasted a year and was one of the most damaging industrial disputes ever seen in Britain.
In 1984, the strike essentially pitted the Prime Minister against the most powerful and militant trade union in Britain, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), by closing coal pits and privatizing the national coal industry. This was a fight that Thatcher ultimately won, breaking the back of Britain’s working class, and causing immense suffering.
Miners went on strike in their tens of thousands against planned colliery closures. In working to defeat them, the government ordered the police to go in and break up the picket line; hundreds of injuries were inflicted, but no police officer was ever indicted.
A memoir from one miner, in The Guardian:
I was on strike but I had never been on a picket line. One day in August 1984, I stopped by the colliery to talk to a couple of senior staff. I saw all these riot police coming. There were hundreds of them. As I left to go back to my car, all hell broke lose. I saw a police officer with a fire extinguisher in his hand, bashing a lad in the back. I tried to get closer to note down the officer’s number but they were wearing black boilersuits with no numbers. The next thing I knew, a police officer struck me from behind. I was coming in and out of consciousness as I was dragged across the road into an alleyway.
6. SHE HATED EVERYTHING TO DO WITH COMMUNISM
Thatcher played an important role in world politics as the Cold War was winding down. In this, she marched in step with the powers in the U.S.
She was vehemently anti-Communist, but did develop a strong attachment to then-Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev. And once she became best buddies with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Thatcher took her impressions of Gorbachev to Reagan. The three cemented their close relationship as communism fell.
7. SHE INSTITUTED A WILDLY UNPOPULAR POLL TAX
This tax, introduced in 1989, meant that my mother, living alone in a small house in the west of England, would have to pay the same amount of tax as a billionaire living in a castle.
It seems that having been “successful” in so many areas, Thatcher thought she could get away with anything. But with this one, she had gone too far.
Up until this point UK citizens paid for local council services under a system known as the ‘rates.’ Under the rates people paid tax based upon the value of their property. Thatcher’s new tax changed this to the number of people living in a household. Protests broke out all over the country, and by the end of the year, Thatcher had been forced to step down.
Many people breathed a huge sigh of relief.
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