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OUTSTANDING PEOPLE OF GREAT BRITAIN: MARGARET THATCHER, ENGLISH POLITICAL LEADER

Margaret Thatcher is the second daughter of a grocer and a dressmaker who became the first woman in European history to be elected Prime Minister. She become the first British prime minister in the twentieth century to win three consecutive terms and, at the time of her resignation in 1990, the nation's longest-serving prime minister since 1827. Some people have seen her as a true political revolutionary in that she broadened the base of the Conservative Party to include the middle class along with the wealthy aristocracy.

Thatcher was born Margaret Hilda Roberts on October 13, 1925, in Grantham, Lincolnshire, England. A clever child, whose father was an ardent worker in local politics, she decided early in life to become a member of Parliament. She was educated at Sornerville College and at Oxford University, where she was the first woman president of the Oxford University Conservative Association. She earned a Master of Arts degree from Oxford in 1950 and worked briefly as a research chemist.

In 1950 she ran unsuccessfully for Parliament, although she did increase the Conservative Party vote by 50 percent in her district. The following year she married Denis Thatcher, a director of a paint firm. After her marriage she read for the Bar and specialized in tax law.

On her second attempt, in 1959, Thatcher won a seat in Parliament. Analytical, articulate and ambitious, she soon became prominent among other politicians. Because of her debating skills she was frequently called upon by fellow conservatives to respond to the policies of the Labour Party, their political opponents. She served as joint parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance from 1961 to 1964,. then as secretary of state for education and science under Prime Minister Edmund Heath from 1970 to 1974.

Thatcher's political career was not always well regarded, however. In 1972, when she was at the Ministry of Education, for instance, she was referred to in the Sun newspaper as "the most unpopular woman in Britain". Yet she continued to rise in the ranks, and after the Conservative Party lost two general elections in 1974 she succeeded as party leader.

When the conservatives won a decisive victory in the 1979 general elections Thatcher became Prime Minister. Upon entering office she advocated measures that would limit government control, such as giving individuals greater independence from the state, ending government interference in the economy, and reducing public expenditures. Although her conservative philosophy met with approval, during her first two terms unemployment nearly tripled, the number of poor people increased, and bankruptcies resulted from her efforts to curb inflation. Thatcher became known as the "Iron Lady" because of her strict control over her cabinet and the country's economic policies. Extending her firm approach into foreign relations, she helped Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) establish independence in 1980 and two years later she oversaw the successful British seizure of the Falkland Islands from Argentina. These operations led to her landslide re-election in 1983.

During her third term Thatcher continued the "Thatcher revolution" by returning education, health care, and housing to private control. She also supported the campaign to keep Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, a position that could have been fatal: in 1984 terrorist bombers nearly succeeded in killing Thatcher and several members of her administration in Brighton, Sussex. The bombing wasallegedly the work of members of the Irish Republican Army, a nationalist organisation devoted to uniting Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland.

In 1990, when a split within the Conservative Party was costing Thatcher political support, she resigned from office. During her tenure as Prime Minister, however, she set historic precedents and, according to political observers, she brought long-needed changes to British government and society.

 

 


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