The phenomenon of Margaret Hilda Thatcher shook the world up in the 1980s, which are called “The Thatcher Decade” in the Great Britain. Thatcher achieved a record in British history of the 20th century not just because she was the only female leader of the Tories and the only woman to become British Prime Minister. Currently a Baroness, Margaret Thatcher will, undoubtedly, remain in people’s minds as one of the brightest political personalities and reformers of that epoch. She played a great role in transforming Great Britain’s economy through strong will and determination, leaving behind a legacy that has both spurred confidence and anger amongst her countrymen and the world.
Thatcher was born in 1925 to a family of grocery retailers in a little town of Grantham. The years of her youth were darkened by the events of the World War II which had a huge influence on Margaret and formed her conservative political viewpoints. After graduating from Oxford University and receiving a degree in chemistry, she worked as a chemistry researcher combining this occupation with studying jurisprudence. Ambitious lady was planning to become a politician and her marriage to Denis Thatcher, a rich divorced businessman and convinced conservative, made her career rise easier and smoother.
In 1959 she won a seat in the House of Commons and spent a decade in the Parliament under domination of the opponents, the Labour Party. In 1970, when the Tories came to power again, Thatcher was appointed as the Minister of Education, and during her tenure she undertook a series of controversial but determined steps, earning a reputation of a brave and strong-minded woman. Soon Thatcher won the ballot to lead the conservatives, and in 1979 she became the first female British Prime Minister. Coming into office, Thatcher was destined to face an extreme challenge: to treat the “..pathetic sick man of Europe” and find a cure for “British Disease” (Geelhoed 9)
In the end of the 1970s the Great Britain was absorbed by a heavy economic crisis, accompanied by such negative outcomes as high inflation, arrogance of governmental bodies, social decadence and so on. But Thatcher came to power with her own detailed program of economic recovery, in which such measures as lowering inflation rate, decreasing governmental spending and structured fiscal reformation were set as the priorities. Using her great political intuition she managed to form her Cabinet from loyal and motivated supporters of her strategic program, which is now known as “Thatcherism” (Evans).
Thatcher positioned herself as a tough and equitable fighter with socialism. She seized the reins of power in those times when socialistic ideas were dominating in Britain, they rooted into British society so much that conservatives were considered to be brakes of a broken car. Powerful left-wing unions were keeping the situation in labor market under their control following the policies of keeping unprofitable mines and not-paying businesses. Not a stable production growth but governmental blackmailing was the reason of wage growth.
Unfortunately, within some first years Thatcher’s economic reforms did not bring to the expected fast positive results and, moreover, caused increase of the cost of living and unemployment, especially in mining where dozens of unprofitable mines were closed and people were left without a job. That is why Thatcher decided to regain her popularity using foreign policy. Successful military campaign in the Falkland Islands strengthened the positions of Thatcher and guaranteed her second term as the Prime Minister, which can be remembered with launching a large anti-union campaign, dramatic but not always effective changes in education and health care systems, and extensive privatization program.
Margaret Thatcher’s policies were very tough but not too dogmatic. Besides, she was not only a devoted politician, but also a pragmatic person. She could always spot the problem on time and make necessary corrections to prevent possible economic failures. Well-planned activities of Thatcher’s government proved that market system can really work in the Great Britain. At that, the measures of governmental involvement were minimal and mostly concentrated on supporting some companies and enterprises facing financial difficulties.
It is necessary to mention the significant role which Thatcher played on international stage. Though she was generally against Euro integration and bringing “liberal and socialistic European laws” into her conservative society, British foreign policy of those times was quite opened. Moreover, Thatcher was an active participant and mediator in the relations between two superpowers, the U.S. and the USSR in times of Cold War. Her friendly ties both with Reagan and Gorbachev helped to minimize tensions between these countries despite of certain misunderstandings on some key points (especially regarding nuclear weapon). Also, Thatcher is known as an activist in fight against international terrorism.
However, this negative attitude of Thatcher toward the matters of international integration, as well as her failures in fixing fiscal and especially social systems in the country predetermined her downfall in the end of the 1980s. Thatcherism ignored the issues of social politics to a certain extent, and, as a result, social inequality and homelessness increased, affecting well-being of the lowest social layers. Many argued that Thatcher was in power for too very long period of time. That is why in 1990 she refused to enter the ballot.
Undoubtedly, reformative steps of Thatcher’s government gave an impetus to rapid economic development of Britain. The country’s GDP growth and productivity rates were among the highest in the world. Besides, privatization of oil, gas, telecommunication and other industries boosted their economic efficiency a lot. However, Thatcher could not improve the situation in such important social sectors as healthcare and communal services.
Yet, Thatcher was a leader whose style of competence and determination has been adored by her nation. Her personal popularity was huge and she had a reputation of “The Iron Lady”. This nick name was given to Thatcher by Soviet mass media as a response on her tough comments on aggressive foreign policies of the Soviet Union. She herself liked this name very much, saying that: “..if you lead a country like Britain, a strong country, a country which has taken a lead in world affairs in good times and in bad, a country that is always reliable, then you have to have a touch of iron about you” (Margaret Thatcher Quotes).
Many contemporary politicians and analysts tend to praise Thatcher’s policies. William J. Hague, one of the former leaders of the Tories admires the achievements of Thatcher and honors her because she made British nation “..free from trade union barons and the intimidation of the picket line, from planned economies and the shackles of failing nationalised industry, from punitive taxes and from an oppressive philosophy that told millions of people don’t own your own home, don’t own shares, don’t aspire to create wealth, from a foreign policy of retreat and surrender,” (The Guardian, 2000).
However, there are many opponents of Thatcher and Thatcherism among the experts, who especially emphasize her failures in social sphere. An American economic analyst Eric Evans gives the following estimation of her policies: “…Despite, or perhaps because of, the extraordinary political triumphs of Margaret Thatcher, Britain by the late 1980s had become a more grasping, greedy, mendacious and mean-spirited society and so it has remained” (Evans, 2004). The survey conducted by the Guardian in 2000 revealed that public opinion about Thatcher in the Great Britain is ambiguous: 46% people consider her to be a positive reformer, and 54% think that she changed the country for worse (The Guardian, 2000).
Nevertheless, the majority of specialists are accordant on the opinion that Thatcher was a heaven-born politician, whose entire career was based on her consistency and fortitude. A lot of times the destiny and future developmental outlooks of the Great Britain were dependent on the decisions of Margaret Thatcher and her political judgments. It is impossible to underestimate historical and political importance of such an outstanding personality as Thatcher. Undoubtedly, her convictions and personal determination contributed the most into strengthening of British economy and improving the country’s image on global level.
Evans, E. J. (2004). Thatcher and Thatcherism. NY: Routledge.
Geelhoed, E. B. ; Fobbs J. F. (1992). Margaret Thatcher: In Victory and Downfall, 1987 and 1990. NY: Praeger
Margaret Hilda Thatcher. (2003). UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. Ed. 1. Farmington Hills, MI: UXL (Gale).
Margaret Thatcher Quotes. (2000, March 7). Brainy Quotes. Brainy Media Inc. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from ;http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/margaret_thatcher.html;.
The Thatcher Era. (2000, November). The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from ;http://www.guardian.co.uk/Thatcher/;.