Margaret Hilda Roberts was born on 13 October 1925 to Alfred Roberts, originally from Northamptonshire and Beatrice Roberts née Stephenson from Lincolnshire. She was brought up a devout Methodist and has remained a pious Christian throughout her life. She studied natural sciences in Oxford, specialized inchemistry. She was the president of the Oxford University Conservative Association in 1946, the third woman to hold the post. She studied crystallography and received a postgraduate BSc degree in 1947. Three years later, in 1950, she achieved a Master of Arts advanced degree, according to her entitlement as an Oxford BA of seven years’ standing since matriculation. Following graduation, Margaret Roberts moved to Colchester in Essex, to work as a research chemist for BX Plastics. During this time she joined the local Conservative Association and attended the party conference at Llandudno in 1948, as a representative of the University Graduate Conservative Association. In January 1949, a friend from Oxford, who was working for the Dartford Conservative Association, told her that they were looking for candidates. After a brief period, she was selected as the Conservative candidate, and she subsequently moved to Dartford, in Kent, to stand for election as a Member of Parliament. To support herself during this period, she went to work for J. Lyons and Co., where she helped develop methods for preserving ice cream and was paid £500 per year.
At the 1950 and 1951 elections, she fought the safe Labour seat of Dartford and (at least) reduced the Labour majority in the constituency by 6,000. While active in the Conservative Party in Kent, she met Denis Thatcher, whom she married in 1951. Denis was a wealthy divorced businessman who ran his family’s firm; he later became an executive in the oil industry. Denis funded his wife’s studies for the bar. She qualified as a barrister in 1953 and specialized in taxation. Thatcher began to look for a safe Conservative seat in the mid-1950’s and was narrowly rejected as candidate for the Orpington by-election in 1955, and was not selected as a candidate in the 1955 election. She won the seat after hard campaigning during the 1959 election and was elected as a member of Parliament. In 1961 she went against the Conservative Party’s official position by voting for the restoration of birching.
Thatcher established herself as a potent conference speaker at the Conservative Party Conference of 1966, with a strong attack on the high-tax policies of the Labour government as being steps “not only towards Socialism, but towards Communism” (strong anti-communist rhetoric). Thatcher was one of few Conservative MPs to support Leo Abse’s Bill to decriminalize male homosexuality and voted in favor of David Steel’s bill to legalize abortion, as well as a ban on hare coursing. She supported the retention of capital punishment and voted against the relaxation of divorce laws. In 1967, she was selected by the Embassy of the United States in London to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program (then called the Foreign Leader Program), a professional exchange program in which she spent about six weeks. When the Conservative party under Edward Heath won the 1970 general election, Thatcher became Secretary of State for Education and Science.
In her first months in office, Thatcher came to public attention as a result of the administration of Edward Heath’s decision to cut spending. She gave priority to academic needs in schools, and imposed public expenditure cuts on the state education system, resulting in, against her private protests, the abolition of free milk for school-children aged seven to eleven. She was called “Margaret Thatcher milk snatcher”. Of the experience, Thatcher later wrote in her autobiography, “I learned a valuable lesson. I had incurred the maximum of political odium for the minimum of political benefit.” (Reitan, E.A., 2003, p. 15).
The Conservatives were defeated in the February 1974 general election, and Thatcher’s portfolio was changed to Shadow Environment Secretary. In this position she promised to abolish the rating system that paid for local government services, which was a favored policy proposal within the Conservative Party for many years. She became Conservative Party leader on 11 February 1975. On 19 January 1976, she made a speech in Kensington Town Hall in which she made a scathing attack on the Soviet Union. The most famous part of her speech ran: “The Russians are bent on world dominance, and they are rapidly acquiring the means to become the most powerful imperial nation the world has seen. The men in the Soviet Politburo do not have to worry about the ebb and flow of public opinion. They put guns before butter, while we put just about everything before guns” (Weinraub, Bernard, “For British Tories a Private Feud Goes Public”, The New York Times).
The Conservatives attacked the government’s unemployment record, and used the slogan “Labour Isn’t Working” to assist them. In an interview in January 1978, Thatcher remarked, “people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture” (Interview for Granada TV with journalist Gordon Burns on 27 January 1978). In the run up to the 1979 General Election, most opinion polls showed that voters preferred James Callaghan of the Labour party as Prime Minister, even as the Conservative Party maintained a lead in the polls. After a successful motion of no confidence in spring 1979, Callaghan’s Labour government fell. The Conservatives would go on to win a 44-seat majority in the House of Commons and Margaret Thatcher became the United Kingdom’s first female Prime Minister.
Thatcher became Prime Minister on 4 May 1979: “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”. Relations with the US were important for Thatcher and she became a very close ally, philosophically and politically, with President Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980 in the United States. Reagan and Thatcher were seen as two leading figures of neo-liberalism and new world order. During her first government (1979-1983); she introduced new economic initiatives including reduced state intervention, free markets, and entrepreneurialism, restoration of the entrepreneurial spirit. In her view, six obstacles for full-employment and prosperity were high state spending, high direct taxation, egalitarianism, nationalization, trade union movement, anti- enterprise culture. The term “Thatcherism” came to refer to her policies as well as aspects of her ethical outlook and personal style, including moral absolutism, nationalism, interest in the individual, and an uncompromising approach to achieving political goals.
On 2 April 1982, a ruling military junta in Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. The following day, Thatcher sent a naval task force to recapture the islands and eject the invaders and the operation was considered as a success for the British Victory brought a wave of patriotic enthusiasm and support for the Thatcher government. The lasting effect of the Falklands War, along with an economic recovery in early 1983, increased Thatcher’s popularity in the UK.
During her second government (1983-1987), in terms of economics, the policy of privatization had continued. The UK government sold most of the large national utilities to private companies. By the mid 1980’s, the number of individual stockholders had tripled. In 1985, the University of Oxford voted to refuse Thatcher an honorary degree in protest against her cuts in funding for higher education. Thatcher successfully reduced the power of the trades unions. According to the BBC, Thatcher “managed to destroy the power of the trade unions for almost a generation”. Thatcher refused to meet the demands of the unions for example, in 1984 the National Union of Mineworkers by saying: “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”. Thatcher was narrowly escaped injury at the Brighton hotel when her hotel was bombed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). She enhanced her personal popularity with the public.
Thatcher permitted US forces to station more than 160 nuclear cruise missiles at Greenham Common; Thatcher took a hard line against the protestors. She modernized the British naval fleet with Trident II nuclear submarines. Thatcher was among the first of Western leaders to respond warmly to reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. They met in London in 1984, three months before he became General Secretary. Thatcher declared that she liked him, and told Ronald Reagan, saying, “We can do business together”.
Thatcher died on 8 April 2013 at The Ritz Hotel in London after suffering a stroke. British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “It was with great sadness that I learned of Lady Thatcher’s death. We’ve lost a great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton”. Margaret Thatcher has been depicted in many television programmes, documentaries, films and plays, most recently and famously by Meryl Streep in the The Iron Lady (2011).
Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ
– “Excerpts from a speech in which Thatcher discusses her Christian faith in relation to her politics“, Modern History Sourcebook. August 1997. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1988thatcher.html, Retrieved on 2007-03-29.
– Campbell, John (2003). Margaret Thatcher; Volume Two: The Iron Lady. Pimlico.
– Beckett, Clare (2006). Margaret Thatcher. Haus Publishing Limited.
– “Biography“, Margaret Thatcher Foundation, http://www.margaretthatcher.org/essential/biography.asp, Retrieved on 2007-12-09.
– “Margaret Thatcher”, Wikipedia, retrieved on 09/04/2013 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Thatcher.