May 4th 1979: Thatcher becomes Prime Minister

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Margaret Thatcher (1925 – 2013)

 

On this day in 1979, Margaret Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. She is known for her conservative policies which are now commonly referred to as ‘Thatcherism’.  Her Conservative party’s victory in the 1979 general election came twenty years after she was first elected to Parliament to represent Finchley. Upon becoming Prime Minister, Thatcher had to deal with high employment and financial problems that crippled the country, to which her government responded with deregulation, privatisation and reducing the power of trade unions.

 

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Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan, a close friend and ally during the Cold War

 

She also led Britain during the Falklands War with Argentina in 1982, which propelled her to re-election in 1983. Thatcher’s popularity waned and she was eventually challenged for the Conservative leadership by others in her party and thus resigned as Prime Minister in 1990. Known as ‘the Iron Lady’, Thatcher was the longest-serving British Prime Minister of the 20th Century. She died from a stroke in 2013 and remains a very controversial and divisive figure in British history.

 

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Thatcher’s 2013 funeral procession in London

 

I am going to say right off the bat that I am no Thatcher fan. I believe she ultimately harmed our country with the excessive deregulation and attacks on trade unions which crippled our working class. However, I still have a great deal of respect for Mrs. Thatcher for her strong leadership and shattering the glass ceiling of politics. The vitriol that is often spewed about her, especially by my peers at university ( which is always going to be left-wing) in Sheffield (a city whose mining industry was hurt by Thatcherite policies), irritates me. The incredibly personal and insensitive attacks which call her – what I consider an incredibly misogynistic choice of words – a ‘witch’, are uncalled for. She was a politician who was popularly elected by the majority of the country whose policies you disagree with, not an inherently evil woman hell-bent on destroying the nation and the working class especially. But this debate will continue to be had, in the pages of the history books, on the floor of the House of Commons, in university seminars and in Sheffield pubs, and it is certainly a debate worth having about a crucial figure in our history.

 

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