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Baroness Margaret Thatcher

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Published: 8 Apr 2013      


Margaret Thatcher, who died today at the age of 87, was an extraordinary kind of national leader. Her spokesman Lord Bell made the announcement of her passing today, "It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announced that their mother Baroness Thatcher died peacefully following a stroke this morning. A further statement will be made later."

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Buckingham Palace, meanwhile, released a statement of HRH's intentions. "The Queen was sad to hear the news of the death of Baroness Thatcher," it read. "Her Majesty will be sending a private message of sympathy to the family."

Baroness Thatcher was a lady of passionate and unswerving moral and political conviction. She lived her political life not as a career but as a mission.

But it was in the Prime Minister's role - in reshaping her country as capitalism's staunch defender, her contribution with her ally and friend Ronald Reagan to the collapse of the Soviet socialist empire, and her fierce anti-trade-union stance that Margaret Hilda Roberts Thatcher will be best remembered.

She was from the start an outsider. Not just a woman in a nation whose leadership was dominated by men, but the daughter of a grocer. She made her way to the top by sheer energy and talent, studying at Oxford and then rising to the top of Britain’s Conservative party by 1975, when she was 50. She had said a couple of years before  “I don’t think there will be a woman prime minster in my lifetime.” She proved herself  very wrong.

Born in 1925 to Beatrice and Alfred Roberts, a Grantham shopkeeper, Margaret Hilda studied chemistry and law at Oxford, which she attended on scholarship. At 34 she fought for and won the Tory Parliamentary seat in north London's Finchley, and then climbed her party's ranks. At 44, she landed in the Cabinet, in the traditional woman's position as Education Minister. But she didn't stop there.

In 1975, she challenged Edward Heath for leadership of the Tory party. When she informed Heath of her decision to run, he didn't so much as look up from his desk, instead dismissing her by saying, "You'll lose." She didn't.

She was prime minister from 1979 to 1990 and at first she alienated almost everybody. As she cut spending and entitlements, unemployment rose above three million, and by 1981 her approval rating sank to 25%.

Her response

“To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catch phrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say.  You turn if you want to . . . the lady’s not for turning.”

Soon the economy began to improve, and then she boosted Britain’s morale by responding to Argentina‘s 1982 invasion of the Falklands Islands with swift and decisive military force. She broke the backs of labour unions whose power she felt was suffocating the British economy, and she allowed residents of council homes, to buy their houses, giving millions a new part in the economy.

People loved her or hated her.

Her unyielding toughness with IRA hunger strikers alienated many who felt she drove protesters in Ireland to violence.

She insisted after the fall of the Berlin Wall that an attempt to unite East andWest Germanywas doomed to failure.

She was, depending on your view, either the triumphant champion or the pitiless enforcer of capitalism. That is why she was a revolutionary leader. She was all about powerfully held principles.

She summed up her philosophy in a 1987 interview when she said.

“I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand,

 “I have a problem, it is the government’s job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!”

“I am homeless, the government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society?

There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families, and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.

It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations.”

As an economic reformer, Maggie, as she was informally called, set about privatising Britain's nationalised industries. Even her detractors, and there were many, credited her policies with helping to turn around various companies, including the once second-rate British Airways, which became a profitable, world-class system.

Her  illness

Lady Thatcher, who was awarded title of Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven in 1992, had suffered a series of strokes in recent years, and in 2005 her doctors advised that she no longer give speeches in public. Her decline was dramatised in the 2011 feature film The Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep, who, in a remarkable likeness, received both a Golden Globe award and an Oscar for the role.

Her husband, businessman Denis Thatcher, whom she met at a 1949 Paint Trades Federation gathering and married in 1951, died in 2003. She considered him both a husband and a friend, and together they had twins, born in 1953.

Surviving their parents are businessman Mark Thatcher, who has had brushes with the law (including an allegation of U.S.tax evasion, though the case was eventually dropped), and author-TV personality Carol Thatcher.

Whether you loved her or hated her, she was a great lady of politics who stood up for her beliefs and never shied away from hard decisions. She was an inspiration to women everywhere and proved that traditional male / female stigmas can be overcome with sheer determination and conviction.