Useful Notes: Margaret Thatcher
"Power is like being a lady: If you have to tell people you are, you aren't."Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, LG OM PC FRS (October 13, 1925 — April 8, 2013) served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. She is widely considered the most divisive figure in recent British political history. To some she is seen as an deity, to others as the Antichrist. 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 Reagan didn't). More importantly, Reagan's greatest weapon was his affability: the traits people often associated with him were "sunny optimism", sense of humour, charisma, etc. Margaret Thatcher, by contrast, thrived on confrontation and was always up for a fight, believing that a hard line was needed so as not to be seen as weak: "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!" The Iron Lady's premiership is notable for the radical economic changes that were enacted. Since the end of the Second World War, both Labour and Conservative governments had followed “consensus politics”. This era was known for price controls and protectionism, with a lot of effort being put into reconstruction and market planning. The emphasis of most governments was on security rather than growth and unemployment was negligible throughout most of the fifties and sixties. The downside of this was high inflation, stagnant GDP and a general sense of inefficiency (As seen in things like Yes Minister's empty hospital.), all of which was worsened by the increasing power of trade unions, which often seemed to eclipse that of the governments themselves during the seventies. All of this, combined with the rapid collapse of The British Empire and the sinking of the UK's position internationally created an impression that politics was all about “managing decline”. After this all culminated in the “Winter of Discontent” which brought down the Callaghan government, Thatcher came to power promising to turn things around. Britain's Keynesian era came to a close with her move towards Monetarism. The heavy economic controls and protectionism of previous years were thrown out in favour of a free market. This period is famous for the government's strong push toward privatisation, with formerly state-controlled industries and utilities - the “family silver” - being sold off by the truckload. The trade unions, which had dominated British politics in the sixties and seventies (often appearing to be more powerful than the governments themselves) were finally brought down. She also ended the practice of the government keeping afloat unprofitable industries (such as the coal mines and British Leyland), many of which were sold to foreign companies or even closed altogether. How this era is remembered varies considerably by where you live: In the south of England, she is fondly remembered as the hero who saved the country from socialist deterioration and “Made Britain Great Again”. In the north, and especially Scotland, she ranks somewhere between Hitler and the Antichrist. There is also an occupational divide – people in the private sector applaud her business-friendly environment, while those from the public sector (or state-owned industries) loathe her for making them redundant. The coal miners in particular have an immense hatred for her in no small part because of the 1984-1985 strike which they organized to help keep their jobs, backfired against them, mainly because Thatcher stockpiled coal for such an event and the fact that even though UK coal mines still have rich reserves, it became cheaper to import it from other nations such as South Africa (the Apartheid regime didn't deter British businessman it the least, including Maggie's husband Dennis). note An important part of Thatcherism was the belief that jobs of new industries would pop up to replace old ones, but for many people - especially in the North this never happened. Many today look back at the Thatcher era as the root of the current disunity between Britain's constituent nations: To this day a huge number of Scottish voters won't contemplate supporting the Conservative party (which since 1997 has never had more than one MP in Scotland) because they still have not forgiven it for Thatcherism. Tony Blair's move towards Scottish in 1998 was welcomed on the basis that it would prevent any future Tory government from having direct control over Scotland (the Scottish Conservatives are currently third place in Holyrood with only 15 representatives). In fact, the modern Scottish Independence movement is driven by a desire not to be part of a country where Thatcher's party might be in power. Ironically, New Labour policies owed 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".), and the politics of Britain in the twenty-first century are sometimes described as the “Thatcherite Consensus” in that most people accept it as natural that utility companies be independent and competitive (although the railways are a popular exception), and few on either front bench would seriously consider renationalising much of what Thatcher privatised (at least until Jeremy Corbyn came along). 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. note Finally in 1990, after more than eleven years in power, Margaret Thatcher was brought down by an coup from within the Conservative Party. There were two main triggers of her downfall: Firstly, her rolling out of the Community Charge, which was almost universally derided as a “Poll Tax”. note The implementation (in 1989 for Scotland, and 1990 for England and Wales) was disastrous. Landlords and local councils could not keep track of who was living where at what time, let alone which rate each was supposed to pay (there were different rates for those in employment and those out). Putting together a reliable register of occupants was impossible, and so the Charge could never be properly enforced, with large scale evasion, organised resistance to the policy and even riots in March 1990 quickly proving an insurmountable barrier. Secondly, Thatcher's relations with the European Economic Community (which was on the brink of becoming the European Union) were turning sour. Having campaigned in the 1975 referendum to keep Britain in the common market, during her later premiership she became increasingly Euroskeptic as she found that the EEC was putting blocks on Thatcherism, and frustrating her attempts to take the economy the way she wanted it. She developed a habit of publicly badmouthing other European leaders, 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, Sir Geoffrey Howe, her Deputy Prime Minister, resigning in a commons speech that devastated his former boss and resulted in her facing the second leadership challenge in just over a yearnote . A combination of members losing confidence in their leader and complacency among the staff running campaign meant that although she did beat Michael Hesseltine note in the first ballot, it was not by the 15% margin necessary to prevent another round of voting (she was four votes short). Initially she announced her intention to stand for another ballot, but after consulting her cabinet ministers (who were getting tired of her autocratic leadership style) one by one, it became clear that she could not win note . She therefore withdrew her candidacy (effectively conceding defeat) and put her support behind her Chancellor, John Major, to succeed her. He won, and on 28th November 1990 Thacter tearfully left Downing Street as the Queen appointed Major to be the new Prime Minster. After seventeen months as a backbench MP, Thatcher stood down from the Commons in the 1992 General Election, and was kicked upstairs in the Dissolution Honours. In her maiden speech from the red benches, she savaged Major's government over the Maastricht Treaty. In the new millennium, she largely retired from public life and increasingly suffered mental health problems after the death of her husband, Sir Denis (this is the subject of the 2011 film The Iron Lady). When she finally died in April 2013, there was a simultaneous outpouring of tearful grief and ecstatic celebration, with “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead!” having a sudden surge in popularity. The Baroness' body was given a ceremonial funeral in St. Paul's cathedral, attended by the Royal Family, several generations of British politicians and some visiting foreign statesmen. There were rumours about protesters disrupting the proceedings (angry at the £10m cost), but they came to nothing and her coffin was pulled through the streets in near-total silence. Even Big Ben's chimes were suspended for the duration. Over in Los Angeles, the singer Cher was surprised in to be asked 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". Harry Styles also infamously tweeted “RIP Baroness Thatcher” to a fanbase who responded with blank stares. One would be remiss to leave out Thatcher's foreign policies, which were controversial then and remain so now: 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 even 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. She also receives criticism for Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which banned state schools from promoting homosexual relationships (although this proved largely symbolic, as no actual offence was created or penalty specified, the legislation scared many LGB student support groups into closing themselves) or of publishing materials with that intention. On the other hand, she was an early herald of the dangers of climate change and environmental pollution (though many in her party today like to ignore this part of her legacy). 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 (yet ironically it has had female leadership for longer than Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, UKIP and the Green Party combined). 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 founding the model of “presidential” leadership followed by Tony Blair, and for practically inventing the entire economic environment of modern Britain. Few today could imagine returning to the politics and economics of the seventies. 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.) 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.
— Margaret Thatcher