Many celebrities left this world during 2013 – from politicians and actors to authors and rock stars – but no one, in WND’s estimation, contributed more to humanity that Lady Margaret Thatcher.
The “Iron Lady” – WND’s choice for the Most Dearly Departed Person of the Year – died in London April 8, 2013.
Rise of ‘The Iron Lady’
Born Margaret Hilda Roberts, on Oct. 13, 1925, in Grantham, England, the woman who would become Britain’s first female prime minister began life as a grocer’s daughter. It was from her father, and living above his shop that she learned hard work and the meaning of earning one’s own way. She never forgot it.
The list of honors she received is evidence of her life of public service: Member of Parliament, shadow secretary of state, secretary of state for education and science, leader of the opposition, prime minister, baroness and chancellor of the College of William and Mary.
Thatcher left her mark on the 20th century.
She grew up admiring her father, Alfred Roberts, a successful grocery shop owner, devout Methodist, lay preacher, small-town alderman and one time mayor of Grantham. He preached Victorian values, thrift, economy and discipline. For Margaret, her father was her guiding light and inspiration for public service.
Thatcher graduated from Oxford in 1947 with a degree in chemistry. She was active in Oxford’s Conservative circles, becoming in 1946 president of the Oxford University Conservative Association. In 1951 at a Conservative Party dinner, she met Dennis Thatcher, a successful businessman. They were married 10 months later. She ran in the 1950 and 1951 general elections, losing in a majority Labour constituency.
Thatcher narrowly missed serving in Parliament with her political hero, Winston Churchill, who was returned to office as prime minister in 1951 after being ousted following the conclusion of World War II in Europe. She read for the bar and left chemistry for the law. Thatcher took a break from politics in 1953 following the birth of her twins, a boy and a girl – even in motherhood, she was efficient – but her ambition was delayed, not forgotten.
After her early failed attempts at entering Parliament, she looked for a safe Conservative seat from which she could build a solid political base. She found it in Finchley, coincidentally the place chosen to be the home of C.S. Lewis’ fictional Pevensie family in the 2005 film adaptation of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” In that north London borough, she found the doorway to her own very real adventure. She campaigned hard to be the Conservative candidate and was selected in 1958.
Finally elected to Parliament in 1959, her maiden speech was one for open government, and she advocated for local authorities to be forced to hold their meetings in public. As a member for Finchley, she grew close the local Jewish community and became a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel, as well as a founding member of her constituency’s Anglo-Israel Friendship League. She represented the people of Finchley for 33 years.
In 1967, Thatcher caught her break. That year she was made shadow secretary of state, a position she would hold through various incarnations until 1970 when the Conservatives returned to power under Prime Minister Edward Heath. When the Conservatives were defeated in the 1974 elections, Thatcher ran against Mr. Heath for the party leadership. She won on the second ballot after Heath dropped out following Thatcher’s first ballot majority, allowing her to easily defeat the remaining candidates. Heath held a grudge against Thatcher and her aim of pushing the Conservatives to the right.
She took charge in 1975 with the goal of changing the Conservative Party, but ended up changing Labour as well. After Thatcher, no British party could win an election running on Old Left Marxism. She took over as prime minister in 1979, in what are for many dark and distant days. She inherited a Britain shorn of an empire and lacking the will the govern itself.
‘Political soulmates’ change the course of history
In the years just before Ronald Reagan took office as president of the United States, she was the sole standard bearer of a renewed freedom movement in the West. Thatcher served as prime minister through the eight years of Reagan’s presidency, and the two world leaders formed a close personal friendship. Former first lady Nancy Reagan described them as “political soulmates” who changed the course of history.
After Thatcher first met Reagan in 1975, she received a thank-you note from him.
“Please know,” Reagan wrote, “you have an enthusiastic supporter out here in the ‘colonies.'”
In 1997, Thatcher would recall, “As soon as I met Gov. Reagan, I knew that we were of like mind, and manifestly so did he. We shared a rather unusual philosophy, and we shared something else rather unusual as well: We were in politics because we wanted to put our philosophy into practice.”
Thatcher praised Reagan as “one of the great men of our time, and one of the greatest American presidents of all time.”
According to the Ronald Reagan Library, the two exchanged hundreds of letters, messages and phone calls.
Thatcher gave Britain an international role, broke up the forces of disorder and restored Britain’s self-confidence. In this, she was the most successful Western politician of late Cold War era. Nevertheless, her success came with a price. Thatcher was polarizing. She was a figure of hate for the Old Left in Britain, who were used to having things their own way. She stood up to them – something they were not accustomed to – and insisted on order. Thatcher cut government spending and subsidies. The left responded with traditional threats and violence.
The Iron Lady would not relent or be intimidated.
“U-turn if you want to, the lady’s not for turning,” she declared in 1980.
Rule of the mob or rule of law?
Thatcher continued cutting to restore fiscal discipline. In 1982, her domestic focus was shifted to foreign affairs after Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands based on flimsy Argentine claims. Most expected Britain to accept the loss, but she knew the greater risk to the British psyche was to take one more loss, one more retreat and one more national humiliation. Thatcher would have none of that.
She ordered the British military to reconquer the islands and throw the invaders back into South Atlantic. Two months and 8,000 miles later, they did just that. Britain – Thatcher – was triumphant. The people rewarded her resolute leadership with re-election in 1983.
But Thatcher had her down moments; the 1981 Irish Republican Army Hunger Strikes were one. The media attention on the hunger strikers mainstreamed Sinn Fein and eliminated any chance of sidelining them. In the future, Sinn Fein would have to be treated as a legitimate Catholic Irish political party. But, Thatcher did not cave to terror. The British Army continued to tighten its grip on the IRA and to clamp down on the protestant terrorists as well.
Her second term in office was defined by her struggle with the miners’ union. The government has announced plans to close 11 percent of the state-owned coal mines the National Union of Mineworkers, or NUM, threatened to strike. The government claimed the closures were needed to return the mines to profitability.
The U.K. Miners’ Strike, which lasted from March 1984 to March 1985, was illegal; union leadership refused to hold a vote and simply declared a strike. That was the opening Thatcher needed. She had an instinct for sensing with opponents had damaged themselves. Thatcher defined the struggle as one between the rule of the mob and the rule of law. She held on, refusing to budge to union demands.
After a year of out of work and out of pay, most of the miners were ready to go back to work, despite union leadership. Thatcher had out-planned the NUM. In advance of the showdown she knew was coming, she had ordered the stockpiling of fuel and prepared the police for anti-riot actions. She could wait for the union to fold like a Blackjack player in for too much. Her opponents usually had to fold.
‘Thatcherism’: In Britain to stay
By the time of her third general election victory in 1987, “Thatcherism” was in Britain to stay. Inflation was low, and the economy was growing. Her partnership with Ronald Reagan was cornering the Soviet Union, and the Old Left was retreating. But the flaws were there.
Thatcher became increasingly demanding of her party’s leadership, the old men of the Conservatives who were slower than her in opposing government waste and less courageous in facing down bureaucracy. She became impatient with those who could not see, as she could, that the proposed European Union would be an albatross around the British economy. Thatcher was a visionary leader of a party whose power brokers were still living in the past. She plowed ahead unaware of the danger posed by the politicians in the shadows, those with wounded pride at having been dressed down for not getting with the Thatcherite program.
In November 1990, her cabinet troubles became public in a fight over the adoption of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, or ERM, which was a precursor to a single European currency, the euro. She was against it, but Thatcher had given in to her cabinet. She regretted it and her disparagement provoked a reaction from the pro-Europe members of her party. Her leadership was challenged and a ballot was held, which she won but not comfortably enough to avoid a second ballot.
Thatcher was asked to step down rather than divide the party. She did, and the fall was all the more sensational because it occurred during the initial broadcast of the original BBC production of famed political drama “House of Cards,” in which the opening scene depicted her leaving office.
Deposed by her party, she eventually took a seat in the House of Lords in 1992 becoming The Right Honourable The Baroness Thatcher. She continued to fight against the Eurocrats’ encroachments on British sovereignty. Though the U.K. joined the ERM, it was forced to withdraw after it was revealed that ERM left Britain vulnerable to George Soros and other speculators who proceeded to weaken the pound. Margaret Thatcher was right.
With the Eurozone teetering and the European Union having morphed into a leviathan of statist inefficiency, Thatcher has been proven right, again. The success of her reshaping of British politics forced Tony Blair and the Labour Party to change their rhetoric to become a credible challenger to the Conservatives. Thatcher had made the Tories the natural party of government; to compete, Labour had to learn the language or aspiration rather than agitation.
‘What would Maggie do?’
Even in death, Thatcher is a towering figure. Her legacy has been the partial cause of rift between the current Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and his party rival, the headline-grabbing Mayor of London Boris Johnson. Johnson ruffled Tory feathers in his Nov. 28 speech criticizing the state of Britain’s infrastructure and economy entitled, “What would Maggie do?” Indeed.
In retirement, she stayed active until suffering a series of strokes in 2002. Dennis Thatcher, her husband of more than 50 years, died in 2003. Her fellow Cold warrior, Ronald Reagan, followed in 2004.
Baroness Thatcher joined them last spring at the age of 87 upon suffering her final stroke.
Thatcher was called many things in her lifetime. She was a daughter, a wife and a mother. She was a chemist and a barrister. Thatcher was affectionately known as the Iron Lady and Maggie by her supporters, while to her enemies she was often simply “that woman” or, more colorfully, “Attila the Hen.” She governed not as an old Tory, nor as a stereotype, but as herself.
As leader of the Conservative Party for nearly 16 years and prime minister for 11, she was perhaps the most important politician of her generation.
In a dark time, she was many things to many people. But when the English-speaking peoples and the free world needed her, she was what she needed to be – a hero.