Published in: 2018
Margaret Roberts was born on 13 October 1925 and died at the age of 88 on 8 April 2013. She grew up in simple and conservative conditions but managed to get a scholarship to Oxford. There she devoted her time to studies and politics. In 1949, at the age of 24, she was the youngest woman ever to run for parliament (only 29 of the Conservatives’ 600 candidates were women). She ran for Dartford and lost. The outcome was the same in the 1951 election.
THE EARLY POLITICAL YEARS. In 1951, she married the wealthy and timid Denis Thatcher, which enabled Margaret to quit her career as a chemist, pursue a law degree, and then return to politics. After two years of study, she graduated as a court lawyer. A few months earlier, she had become a mother of two. In the 1959 election, she was elected to the lower house on a “center-right policy”. She worked hard and was rarely home before midnight: “Home must always be the center of life, but it should not be the limit of one’s ambitions.”
AN EVENTFUL PERIOD. In post-war England, there was a conviction that a strong welfare state was needed to build a strong democracy and keep totalitarian ideologies at bay. New laws were adopted on free health care, free education and a comprehensive program for the nationalization of railways, mines, gas and electricity. Several of Britain’s colonies became independent and the time of the empire was over. By 1970 Western Europe was in a gigantic process of change. The old industries could not compete with the low-cost countries. Keynesianism, in which the state takes measures in times of recession to stimulate demand and curb unemployment, had ceased to function. The western economies already spent a lot of money on the public sector, infrastructure and other public goods, but it was no longer possible to spend its way out of the downturn.
THATCHERISM. In the UK, the solution would be called Thatcherism. The mastermind behind this British variant of monetarism or neoliberalism was Keith Joseph, inspired by, among others, economics laureate Milton Friedman. Thatcherism was against the state’s restrictions on the freedom of the individual, against collective solutions and everything that created “dependence”. It was the virtues of Thatcher’s childhood: hard work, thrift, diligence, honesty, decency, taking responsibility for oneself and for others. It was about the nuclear family and about law and order.
THE IRON LADY. After the 1970 election, Margaret Thatcher was Minister of Education in a government that would save money. She thought the spirit of the ministry was “complacent socialist” and withdrew the free school milk for 7 to 11-year-olds to finance the refurbishment of primary schools. Because of that, she became known in the country as “Thatcher the Milk Snatcher”. After a speech in 1976 in which she attacked communism, the Soviet newspaper The Red Star called her “the Iron Lady”. This nickname has stuck since then. She is also said to have slammed her purse on the table at the Strasbourg European Council in 1979, to underline her demand that Britain’s financial contribution to the EC be reduced. This led to the term “handbagged” – being lectured by a woman.
FINALLY – PRIME MINISTER. Britain – and the West – had its first female prime minister in 1979. She moved into 10 Downing Street, which has been the Prime Minister’s official residence since the 1730s. The men in the party elite were unaccustomed to being subordinate to a woman, moreover of a kind they did not recognize: confident, straightforward and often convinced that she and no one else was right.
THE DEFINING FALKLANDS WAR. In 1982, the military dictatorship in Argentina occupied the Falkland Islands to show strength. Who had the right to the Falkland Islands was a 150-year-old issue. By 1833, the English had forced the Argentine population out of the islands. Since then, the islands had had the status of a British colony. In the 1980s, 1,800 British citizens lived there by supported themselves on fishing and sheep farming. They wanted to remain British. On April 5, three days after the Argentine invasion, the Royal British Navy left for combat. The Argentine forces eventually capitalized. This was a turning point for the, by then, heavily criticized Prime Minister.
THATCHER’S 1980’S. In 1980, previously unimaginable 2.8 million inhabitants were unemployed and inflation was around 20%. Thatcherism and popular capitalism were about more people owning their flats, more people owning shares in companies and more people becoming self-employed. The party took place in London and in the south of the country, while poverty spread in the old industrial cities of northern England, Scotland and Wales.
THE THIRD AND LAST TERM. In 1987, Thatcher became the first British Prime Minister to win three consecutive elections. Behind the election victory was the fact that the country’s economy seemed to have recovered. At the end of the 1980s, there were upheavals in the world: democracy and capitalism triumphed the East, while more and more countries in the West accepted the primacy of the market over politics. Thatcher’s policy became a symbol of this. But in the spring of 1990, opinion polls turned to a record low. The people wanted change and after eleven years and 203 days Margaret Thatcher handed over the keys to 10 Downing street.