Margaret Thatcher: The events that defined her premiership
Margaret Thatcher - The Iron Lady
Margaret Thatcher was one of the most controversial and divisive prime ministers in British history. Nicknamed ‘The Iron Lady’ because of her uncompromising leadership style and policies, she not only changed Britain forever, she also divided it.
Even in death, Thatcher polarised the nation. While the silent majority kept their thoughts to themselves, or respectfully mourned the passing of a frail old lady who had suffered several strokes and dementia, a disrespectful minority held street parties and launched an online campaign to get the Wizard of Oz song, ‘Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead’ to the number one spot in the UK pop charts.
The shameful behaviour of a small minority, most of whom were not even old enough to have been alive during Thatcher’s premiership, was not supported by the majority. It was even attacked by former Sex Pistol, Johnny Rotten who said on his blog that, the people who were celebrating the late former prime ministers’ death were ‘loathsome’. This was despite the fact that ‘he had been ‘her enemy in her life’.
There is no doubt that some of Margaret Thatcher’s policies caused great hardship for some people and, in the case of the miners, destroyed whole communities. But, some would say that, even though the decisions that she took were harsh, they were decisions that had to be taken.
During Margaret Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, we all saw great social change, war in the South Atlantic, the Cold War with the Soviet Union and a bloody terror campaign by the IRA. Here are ten of the major events that defined the career of Margaret Thatcher.
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Margaret Thatcher’s Election as Prime Minister, 4th May 1979
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When Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, her election, in itself, was a major achievement as it was the first time in history that a woman had been elected the leader of a major western state. Thatcher didn’t see herself as a feminist, though, she preferred to be thought of as a housewife who looked after husband and once famously stated that she owed nothing to women’s lib.
When she first arrived at Downing Street, the crowd showed the first signs of the divisions that would become far deeper later, with an equal measure of both cheering and heckling. Seemingly oblivious to the mixed reception she was getting, Thatcher delivered a speech that, in hindsight, now seems more than a little ironic.
“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”
The Falklands War, 2nd April - 14th June 1982
Already unpopular at the end of her first term in office, Thatcher’s ratings at home received a huge boost when she stood firm once again, this time it was against the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands. For many people in the UK, the brief 74-day conflict, resurrected a feeling of patriotism that hadn’t been felt for many years and Margaret Thatcher undoubtedly benefited from that wave of patriotism. For such a short war, though, we mustn’t forget that it was a costly one, with nearly one thousand deaths and many more injured.
Margaret Thatcher’s uncompromising leadership during the Falkland’s War played no small part in her a landslide general election victory in 1983 and, her impromptu press conference outside Downing Street to announce the British re-capture of South Georgia, gave us another of her memorable quotes:
“Just rejoice at that news . . . Rejoice,"
The Bombing of the Grand Hotel, Brighton, 12th October 1984
Margaret Thatcher’s policy of no compromise with terrorists was one that caused deep divides of opinion. Some say, that a more pragmatic approach would have saved many lives and may have even brought the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland to an end earlier, while others backed her firm stand one hundred percent.
Her resolve to stand firm was only strengthened, when, in the early hours of 12th October 1984, an IRA bomb was detonated at the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the Conservative Party’s annual conference. Mrs Thatcher and her husband Dennis, escaped injury, but five other people died and thirty four people were taken to hospital.
Despite the atrocity, Thatcher insisted that the conference should continue and she cemented her reputation as the Iron Lady with the words:
"The fact that we are gathered here now . . . is a sign not only that this attack has failed, but that all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail".
The Miner’s Strike, 1984–85
The 1984/85 British miners dispute split the nation in two, when Margaret Thatcher’s Right Wing government took on the Left Wing Unions. What resulted was a bitter dispute that probably changed the course of British history. At the time, the British Unions were able to hold the country to ransom, and there were frequent strikes and stoppages that were making the UK the laughingstock of Europe. On the other hand, the closure of the coal mines led to tens of thousands of people losing their jobs and the decimation of whole communities. The miners’ strike cost the country an estimated £3 billion, over 11,000 people were arrested and many mining communities have never recovered from the closures.
Margaret Thatcher did triumph in the end. The ‘uneconomic’ pits were closed and the Unions’ were reined in. But, the miners and their families paid a very high price for the economic stability of the country and that is just one of the reasons why Mrs Thatcher will always be hated in some quarters.
In this particular case, the Thatcher quote that I have chosen on the miners’ strike will undoubtedly invoke different sentiments in different people, depending on which side of the dispute you were on at the time.
"We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty."
A newly edited, single-volume of ‘The Path to Power’ and ‘The Downing Street Years’; this is Margaret Thatcher in her own words.
The Poll Tax Riots, March 1990
Where the closure of the coal mining pits impacted on certain communities, the Poll Tax affected everybody, and, it brought the UK closer to a revolution than it has ever been in modern times. Prior to the Poll Tax, or Community Charge, people had paid for local services via rates, which was a tax based upon the value of the property you owned. The poll tax, however, charged a fixed charge for every adult in the country. Although there were some dispensations, the introduction of the Poll Tax would have meant that those on low incomes paid exactly the same amount as those on high incomes and, some people who had never had to pay a local services tax before, would now have to.
The resulting backlash was inevitable and it proved to Margaret Thatcher’s downfall. Poll Tax riots erupted across the UK, culminating in what became known as the Battle of Trafalgar, on 31 March 1990, when rioters fought with police, burned vehicles and looted and torched shops in and around Trafalgar Square in London.
Once again, Thatcher refused to back down, but this time, her single-minded, uncompromising style of government was too much for her fellow cabinet colleagues to take. Even then when, according to John Andrew of the Guardian newspaper, the scenes at Trafalgar Square “resembled a revolutionary tableau", she still dug in her heals with this quote from the time:
“I can defend it (The Poll Tax) clearly, explicitly at any time, in any place and to any person.”
Resignation 28th November 1990
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Was Margaret Thatcher good for Great Britain?
Margaret Thatcher officially left office on 28th November 1990, having resigned as Conservative Party Leader, six days before. She resigned following a leadership challenge made by Michael Heseltine in which she had failed to achieve enough votes to retain her position. At first, she said that she would stand again but, after colleagues told her that she was sure to not get the votes that she needed for a victory, she had no choice but to resign.
Thatcher left Downing Street, having been the longest serving prime British Prime Minister since 1827 and, to date, being the first and the only female Prime Minister. As she left, with husband Dennis, she made her final speech which included the following words:
“We're leaving Downing Street for the last time after 11 and a half wonderful years and we're happy to leave the UK in a very much better state than when we came here.”
Like everything else about Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, her final statement will no doubt be a topic of heated debate, for many more years to come.
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