Former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, the controversial “Iron Lady”, who shaped British politcs, died from a stroke recently at the ripe age of 87.
Thatcher was Britain’s first woman premier, a right-wing colossus and key figure in the Cold War. She led Britain from 1979 to 1990. Since her exit from power, the “Iron Lady” had been experiencing varying health which included dementia that caused her to make a rare appearance in public in recent years.
She was last in hospital in December for a minor operation to remove a growth from her bladder. The former Conservative Party leader remains the only female premier in British history and was the 20th century’s longest continuous occupant of Downing Street.
Shocked by the news of her death, several world leaders sent in tributes. Elisabeth, the Queen of England, put her condolence across in the following words:
“The queen was sad to hear the news of the death of Baroness Thatcher. Her majesty will be sending a private message of sympathy to the family”
British Prime Minister, David Cameron said: “It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Lady Thatcher. We have lost a great leader, a great Prime Minister and a great Briton.” United States of America President, Barak Obama, condoled the government and people of Britain and described Thatcher as a great friend of US.
Michael Howard, the leader of late Thatcher’s Conservative Party between 2003 and 2005 also said in his condolence message: “It is terribly sad news. She was a titan in British politics. I believe she saved the country, she transformed our economy and I believe she will go in history as one of our very greatest prime ministers”.
President Goodluck Jonathan also joined world leaders in mourning the death of the former prime minister. In his condolence message, Jonathan described Thatcher as one of the greatest world leaders of our time.
“Having already attained a legendary status in her lifetime after positively transforming Britain in her eleven and half years as prime minister, Baroness Thatcher will, with her passage today, formerly take her place in history as one of the greatest world leaders of our time”, said the Nigerian leader.
Right- Wingers, particularly her Conservative Party members, hailed her as pulling Britain out of the economic doldrums. However, the left wing disagreed and accused her of dismantling traditional industry, claiming her reforms aided in unpicking the fabric of society.
Much as the opinions of both the Right and Left wings on the late prime minister’s administration may count for something, one thing is clear and that is that Thatcher built a closer tie and “special relationship” with late US President Ronald Reagan which helped to bring the curtain down on Soviet Communism.
Her enduring legacy can be summed up as “Thatcherism” which represents a set of policies that her supporters claim promoted personal freedom and broken down class divisions that had characterised Britain for centuries. She was also known for her tough policies which pitched her government into a string of tough battles.
One of such policies was her stand on Falkland Islands. When Argentina invaded this remote British territory in 1982, Thatcher dispatched troops and ships and secured victory in two months.
The late Baroness showed early signs of strong inclination towards partisan politics in her student days. She will especially be remembered for her first recorded political speech while she was a student of Oxford University in June 1945.
“…. I speak as a very young Tory and we are entitled to speak, for it is the people of my generation who will bear the brunt of the change from the trials of the past into calmer channels.”
One thing that characterised the late Baroness was her tough stand on issues which eventually earned her the sobriquet, “Iron Lady” by a Russian journalist. She was very controversial. Indeed controversy was but a stimulus for her to stick evermore strongly to her moral and political convictions. This is not strange because she was born into an old tradition. She came from a family that was embedded in the old traditions and heritage that once made Britain truly great.
Her moral stance, her personal habits of thrift and hard work all stemmed from a sound schooling by her father in the basic conservative approach to issues.
It is interesting to note that Britain’s initial launching into its period of greatness, its consummation as the greatest empire in history, and its latter-day revival from economic doldrums to a tour de force were all accomplished under the influence of late Margaret Thatcher among other women.
Queen Victoria reigned over the British empire throughout its period of greatness, giving the crown the stability it attained. However, in the later half of the 20th century, the rise of Thatcher in the political ranks of the Conservatives in Britain primed her for her role as a three-term Prime Minister.
Between the time of her election in 1979 and her forced resignation from the office of Prime Minister in 1990, Mrs Thatcher’s economic policies transformed the British economy from its 1970s state of listless drifting to one of the strongest of global economies.
NATO’s Secretary- General, Anders Fog Rasmussen, summed up Mrs Thatcher’s leadership of Britain in the following terms:
“Baroness Thatcher was an extraordinary politician who was a staunch defender of freedom, a powerful advocate of NATO and the transatlantic bond. She strongly supported NATO values and principles, believed in a strong defence and played a leading role in ending the Cold War. Throughout her tenure as Britain Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher stood on principle and showed great courage, vision and leadership.”
Thatcher was born Margaret Hilda Roberts on October 13, 1925 in Grantham eastern England. She was the daughter of a grocer. After her secondary education and a degree in chemistry at Oxford University, she married businessman Denis in 1951 and two years later had twins, Carol and Mark.
She was first elected to the House of Commons in 1959 and succeeded former Prime Minister Edward Health, as opposition Conservative leader in 1975 before becoming premier four years later.
The “Iron Lady,” had been adjudged the best leader Britain has ever produced after Winston Churchill. Now she is dead. With her dies the final slice of real, courageous British political leadership. But the questions many ask are, will her exit mark the end of the quality of Britishness? Has she died with the age of true leadership in Britain? Time will tell.