Useful Notes: Margaret Thatcher

"The mouth of Marilyn Monroe
and the eyes of Stalin."

"Power is like being a lady: If you have to tell people you are, you aren't."
Margaret Thatcher

British Prime Minister (and the only woman to hold that position - so far, at least) for 11 years, Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, LG, OM, PC, FRS (October 13, 1925 — April 8, 2013) is the most divisive figure in recent British political history. The only thing everybody can agree is that she had the most impact on Britain of any PM since Clement Attlee.

She is often compared with Ronald Reagan, but they were not all that similar. While they were both good friends who were for the free market, and vehemently Anti-Communist, Thatcher supported socialized health care, raised taxes, increased spending (things Regan didn't). More importantly, Reagan's greatest weapon was his affability: the traits people often associated with him were "sunny optimism", sense of humor, charisma, etc. Traits that Thatcher simply did not value, and even held in low regard:

"You know, if you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything, wouldn't you, at any time? And you would achieve nothing!"

Reagan was also lionized after his death. Something which could not be said of Thatcher, and the reason is very simple: the 1980s were not as kind to Britain. When she entered Number 10 in 1979, it was with a mandate to reverse the UK's economic decline. She did this by shifting towards a free market (read: disemboweling of trade unions, less manufacturing, more importing), encouraging entrepreneurs, and selling off a lot of government-owned industries and enterprises. All these measures pale in comparison to the biggest change of all: the central bank's conservative monetary policy known as "Monetarism", which raised interest rates to extremely high levels. This single measure is the most responsible for both the low inflation and the large unemployment of the 1980s, which rose to its highest level since The Great Depression. If it was not for the outbreak of The Falklands War, Thatcher probably wouldn't have been reelected.

A lot of it is regionally based. Liverpool in particular suffered during this period, with the Toxteth riots in 1981 (a result of both unemployment and poor race-relations). In Scotland, she's persona non grata both for having used oil revenues from the North Sea to splurge on her policies, and for subjecting them to the much hated Poll Tax a year before it was introduced to England and Wales. She is often credited with jumpstarting the Modern Scottish Independence movement, and many people there will still refuse to vote Tory based on her policies. This despite New Labour policies owing a great deal to Thatcherism: In 1997, Tony Blair was keen to criticise her successor, John Major, but not Thatcher — with the result that Thatcher actually said that 'the country is safe in his hands'. (Fun: "Tony Blair PM" is an anagram of "I'm Tory plan B".)

Paradoxically, Thatcher had the lowest average approval rating of any Prime Minister and yet still managed to win two landslide election victories in 1983 and 1987. Truth is, it was the Conservative Party as a whole that was actually popular, not its polarizing leader. With New Labour gaining ground, Thatcher's solution was spectacularly unwise: she rolled out the "Community Charge", widely regarded as a poll tax. In 1990, there were protests and even riots all across England over the measure. (Not long after he entered office, her successor Major replaced the poll tax with the modern Council Tax, which looked suspiciously similar to the previous rates system.)

What ultimately brought Thatcher's reign down proved to be the way she handled the EU; in particular, her habit of publicly badmouthing them, and making announcements that went against what her foreign office had agreed in negotiations, without consulting anyone else in the government. This eventually culminated in her deputy PM, Geoffrey Howe resigning in a commons speech that proved politically devastating to Thatcher, and resulted in her facing the second leadership challenge in just over a year.note  Between her sinking popularity and the spectacularly cack-handed campaign run by her staff, Thatcher mustered only a little over half the votes in the first round, not enough for an outright victory, and so she pulled out of the contest before the second round, effectively resigning as Prime Minister.

Did we leave anyone out? Oh, and her support for the anti-gay policy Section 28 is considered a blot on her legacy, now that same-sex marriage is legal in the UK. Thankfully, the clause was mostly symbolic as there were no arrests.

One would be remiss to leave out Thatcher's foreign policies, which in hindsight have not gone down well: A staunch anti-communist, Thatcher was a dear friend of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, criticized the ANC (the anti-apartheid party of which Nelson Mandela was a member), opposed sanctions on South Africa when every other Commonwealth country supported them, and sent SAS commandos to train the Red Khmers in Cambodia. Of historic interest, here's a video of Thatcher explaining to school children who watch the UK program Blue Peter how Pol Pot is "bad" Khmer Rouge and how there exists "good" Khmer Rouge.

Ironically, Thatcher's nickname of "the Iron Lady" originated from the Soviet military newspaper Red Star, bestowed on her for an anti-communist speech in 1976 (and not intended as a compliment). Regardless of what people think of her, no one denies that she was a strong leader, able to steer a cabinet of men for 11 years. She was not only the first and only female Prime Minister, but the first and only female leader of the Conservative Party, a body not particularly noted as a bastion of female empowerment. Thus, she is always the cited comparison for any other female leader in any other country, regardless of how tenuous the comparison. On the other hand, she deserves her share of credit for concentrating power in the office of Prime Minister, strengthening the "elective dictatorship" now innate to British politics.

She was also trained as a research chemist, and before embarking on a career in politics and the law, she was part of a team that invented emulsifiers for soft-serve ice cream. Thanks, Maggie. (Indeed, she was prouder of being the first PM with a science degree than of being the first woman PM.)

Over in Los Angeles, the singer Cher was surprised in 2013 to be ask how she felt about being dead. This was due to a confusion on Twitter; the hashtag #nowthatcherisdead was misinterpreted as "now that Cher is dead".

The subject of Margaret Thatcher In Fiction is large enough to get a page to itself!

Mrs. Thatcher was a huge fan of Yes, Minister, and has written a piece of ''Yes, Minister'' Fan Fic.