Exit of Iron Lady

Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher

Margret Thatcher, former prime minister of Britain from May 4, 1979 to November 28, 1990, dies of stroke, leaving the whole world to mourn her

By Olu Ojewale  |  Apr. 22, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

SHE is better imagined alive than in death. Strong, vocal, independent and perhaps, stubborn, all these attributes have, again been brought forth as the world mourns the passing away of Margret Thatcher, the only female prime minister ever elected in Britain. Thatcher, who was famously given a sobriquet of Iron Lady for her tough stance on issues, died of stroke in London on Monday, April 8. She was 87. Thatcher had been suffering from stroke and dementia for a long time. Her majesty’s government of Queen Elizabeth II has authorised a ceremonial funeral with military honours, a little less than a state burial, for her at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London on Wednesday, April 17.

Her death was announced by Tim Bell, her former advisor and spokesman, saying: “It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announce that their mother, Baroness Thatcher, died peacefully following a stroke this morning.” She died at the Ritz Hotel, London.

Since the announcement of her death, encomiums have been pouring in from world leaders for the lady who took Britain by storm with her policies and uncompromising style of leadership. David Cameron, the British prime minister and current leader of Thatcher’s Conservative Party, said his country had lost “a great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton.” President Barack Obama of the United States, said with the death of Thatcher, “the world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend.”

President Goodluck Jonathan said in his condolence message: “Baroness Thatcher will be eternally honoured for serving her country with immense passion and strong-willed determination as well as for the great transformation that resulted from her economic and social policies which laid the solid basis for the remarkable economic growth that was witnessed in Britain under the Conservative Government that she led.”

Indeed, within a few months of becoming the prime minister in 1979, Thatcher dazzled Britain with a free-market economic revolution which transformed the political and economic landscape of the country formerly called the “sick man of Europe.” Her economic policy, which later bore her name “Thatcherism,” saw Britain selling off most of its public corporations to the private sector. Driven by patriotism, capitalism, and a business orientation, Thatcher dismantled the welfare policies of the Labour Party and the arm-twisting unions which often grounded the country.

It was a mixed bag result. The economy gradually moved from being a manufacturing economy to a service economy with high unemployment. The privatisation policy brought wealth to a good number of Britons who seized on the opportunity, while others groaned as public services now in private hands became more expensive and, in some cases the service poorer. But Thatcher was unfazed as she famously told her colleagues: “After any major operation, you feel worse before you convalesce, but you don’t refuse the operation when you know that without it, you won’t survive.” No doubt, succeeding leaders after her, have continued to build on the foundation she laid for the nation’s economy in her 11 years and six months in office.

Perhaps, she would be best remembered for her hard-line position during the pivotal strike actions in 1984 and 1985, when she faced coal miners in an ultimately successful bid to break the power of Britain’s labour unions. She was demonised by the left as an implacably hostile union hater, and being indifferent to the suffering of the masses, but her economic foundation favoured the country in the long run.

Thatcher became a world figure when she led Britain to war against Argentina in 1982, following the latter’s invasion of the British-ruled Falkland Islands. Caught by surprise, Thatcher eventually launched a military campaign that recaptured the islands. In launching her counter attacks against Argentina, Thatcher defied her military commanders who had reasoned that it was not feasible.

“When you are at war, you cannot allow the difficulties to dominate your thinking: you have to set out with an iron will to overcome them,” she said in her memoir, “Downing Street Years.” “And anyway what was the alternative? That a common or garden dictator should rule over the queen’s subjects and prevail by fraud and violence? Not while I was prime minister,” she wrote in the book. And in the international polity, she was famous for her independent mindedness. She had a soul-mate in former President Ronald Reagan of the US in international policy and diplomacy.

Just as she prevailed in the Falkland war, Thatcher managed to thwart revolts in the Conservative Party many times and led the party to victory three times. But in her third term, she was riddled with setbacks. She could not manage the dissension over monetary policy, taxes and Britain’s place in the European Community, which caused her government to give up some hard-won gains against inflation and unemployment. By the time she was unceremoniously removed in another Tory revolt because of her resistance to expanding the country’s role in the European Union, the economy was in a recession and her popularity was at the lowest ebb.

She was succeeded as the Tory leader by John Major, former chancellor of exchequer, in her cabinet. After retiring from the House of Commons, as the British parliament is called, in 1992, she was given a life peerage as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, which entitled her to sit in the House of Lords.

Former Margaret Hilda Roberts was born on Oct. 13, 1925, in Grantham, Lincolnshire, 100 miles north of London, where Alfred Roberts, her father, owned a grocery store. Alfred Roberts was also a Methodist preacher and a local politician. He and his wife, Beatrice, reared Margaret and Muriel, her elder sister, to follow the tenets of Methodism expressed in personal responsibility, hard work and traditional moral values. She learnt politics from her father who later became the mayor of Kseteven.

In 1943, at 17, Thatcher was admitted to Somerville College, Oxford, to study chemistry. Barred from joining the Oxford Union debating society, (it did not admit women until 1963) she became a member of the Oxford University Conservative Association and its president in 1946. She graduated in 1947 and earned a master’s degree in chemistry and then worked as a chemical researcher. Because of her interest in politics, she studied law at the University of London.

At 23, she was selected to be a Conservative candidate for Parliament, and in 1949 she met Denis Thatcher, a successful businessman and former artillery officer, who had been decorated for bravery during World War II. They married in December 1951. In August 1953, Thatcher gave birth to a set of twins, named Mark and Carol, who survive her, along with grandchildren. Her husband, Denis, died in 2003.

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