Margaret Thatcher the British “Iron Lady” Dies at 87


Margaret Thatcher the Iron lady “It was with great sadness that I learned of Lady Thatcher’s death,” Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement. “We’ve lost a great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton.

“By Fred Barbash,

Somalilandsun – Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher,1925-2013, the grocer’s daughter whose overpowering personality, bruising political style and free-market views transformed Britain and transfixed America through the 1980s, died Monday after a stroke, her spokesman said in a statement. She was 87.

The first woman to lead a major Western power, Mrs. Thatcher served for 11 years in 2 uninterrupted terms in office before stepping down Nov. 28, 1990, making her the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century.

Margaret Thatcher, the combative “Iron Lady” who infuriated European allies, found a fellow believer in Ronald Reagan and transformed her country by a ruthless dedication to free markets in 11 years as prime minister.

Newly declassified documents shed new light on the special relationship between former President Ronald Reagan and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. (Archives: Dec. 28, 2012)

Infuriated by Britain’s image as the “sick old man of Europe,” she set out to dismantle Britain’s cradle-to-grave welfare state, selling off scores of massive state-owned industries, crushing the power of organized labor and cutting government spending with the purpose of liberating the nation from what she called a “culture of dependency.”

On the world stage, she collaborated closely with her friend Ronald Reagan to modernize Europe’s anti-Soviet nuclear shield by deploying cruise and Pershing II missiles in Britain, a costly and controversial enterprise that some analysts would later say contributed to the breakup of the Soviet Union. Mrs. Thatcher then joined Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, in repelling Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, counseling Bush not to go “wobbly” on her.

She fought her own war as well, dispatching an armada to retake by force a colonial outpost off South America — the Falkland Islands — after it was invaded by Argentina in 1982. At the same time, she negotiated the end of Britain’s lease over another colonial relic, Hong Kong.

During her career, Mrs. Thatcher was frequently at war with consensus, which she disdained as the abandonment of “all beliefs, principles, values and policies.” At a low point in her popularity ratings, facing a clamor for change from her own party members, she gave a defiant response: “You turn if you want to,” she declared. “This lady’s not for turning.”

While unapologetically advancing what she considered the Victorian values that made Britain great, Mrs. Thatcher thoroughly modernized British politics, deploying ad agencies and large sums of money to advance her party’s standing. “The Iron Lady,” as she was dubbed, was credited with converting a spent Conservative Party from an old boys club into an electoral powerhouse identified with middle-class strivers, investors and entrepreneurs. No one denied her political genius. Future prime minister Tony Blair eventually copied her methods to remake the rival Labor Party.

She was, wrote Conservative Party contemporary Chris Patten, “a political bruiser who understood the importance of an element of fear in political leadership. . . . While denouncing the notion that politics was the art of the possible, that is exactly what she practiced, albeit skillfully and bravely redefining the limits of political possibility.”

“Her huge political achievement was to snatch the Conservative Party from the privileged but often well meaning old upper-class gentlemen, and give it to the shopkeepers, the businessmen, the people in advertising and anyone she considered ‘one of us,’ ” writer John Mortimer, a staunch critic, wrote of Mrs. Thatcher. “She greatly improved her party’s electability but robbed it of compassion.”

Mrs. Thatcher, who in recent years struggled with a debilitating dementia, suffered her fatal stroke at London’s Ritz Hotel, the lavish landmark long beloved by the former prime minister and where she had recently been staying.

“It was with great sadness that I learned of Lady Thatcher’s death,” Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement. “We’ve lost a great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton.”

Groomed by her father

She was born Margaret Hilda Roberts on Oct. 13, 1925, above her father’s grocery shop in Grantham, England. It was an era when no woman held any position of significant national authority anywhere in the world and few Britons, male or female, could contemplate rising to the top politically if not born there in the first place.

But, in Alfred Roberts, she had a father who groomed her for leadership nevertheless. In addition to running grocery, he was a lay Methodist preacher and a politician committed to the Conservative Party, serving as alderman and mayor.

He began preparing his daughter for leadership before she was 10. Lacking formal education himself, he enrolled the future prime minister at an elite local girls school. He filled the household with politically oriented newspapers and books. He brought her to lectures and prompted her to stand up and ask questions.

She attended Oxford’s Somerville College, a women’s school, majored in chemistry and became president of the Oxford University Conservative Association, where she made useful party contacts.

At 23, she won the Tory candidacy for an unwinnable seat in Dartford. It was the first of several predictable defeats before she was selected, in 1958, to run from the solidly Conservative constituency of Finchley, north of London. Finchley sent her to the House of Commons.

By then, Margaret Roberts had married Denis Thatcher, a successful paint dealer and Conservative activist. Ten years her senior and previously married, he financed her training in law and her entry into practice with a specialty in tax law. The couple had twins, Mark and Carol, in 1953.

Denis Thatcher died in 2003. Survivors include the twins, Mark and Carol Thatcher, according to the statement by her spokesman, Lord Tim Bell.

Thatcher’s political rise

When Mrs. Thatcher arrived at the House of Commons, the Conservatives were in power but philosophically divided. The core conflict within the party, as Mrs. Thatcher saw it, was between people such as Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, who had come to terms with socialism as part of a “postwar settlement,” and those such as Mrs. Thatcher, who had not.

She relied on ferocious preparation, study and attention to detail to get noticed by party leaders. In October 1961, they plucked her from the backbenches of the House of Commons and made her parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Pensions, the lowest rung on the ladder to leadership. In 1970, after a Conservative general election victory, she ascended to the Ministry of Education.

Here was born the image of “Thatcher the uncaring” that would follow her throughout her career. Amid cuts in public spending prompted by the economic downturn of the 1970s, Mrs. Thatcher was ordered by the Treasury to eliminate, among other things, free milk in schools. “Thatcher, Thatcher, Milk Snatcher,” cried the tabloids.

Read the full Washington post obituary