Autumn 2017 edition - page 22-23

Margaret Thatcher is widely noted as
a first for Britain. She dominated the political
stage as our only female Prime Minister until the
current Theresa May. With another Conserva-
tive female at the head of British politics, it is
inevitable to recall the legacy of one of the most
controversial and pivotal politicians in British
history. As put by Andrew Marr (A History of
Modern Britain), Thatcherism is the “single most
potent medicine ever spooned down the gagging
post-war British”. The word medicine was wisely
chosen: she really did remedy Britain.
The decade of the 70s: 1.3 million peo-
ple unemployed in Britain, increased power for
over-mighty trade unions, and a winter rife with
discontent. Domestically, the country faced a
series of economic, political and social crises that
were soon to be dumped in the hands of the new
Prime Minister - Margaret Thatcher. Whilst many
modernists are quick to scrutinise Thatcher, they
equally fail to acknowledge her advantage as a
woman of an exceptionally strategic nature. The
most successful campaign poster of her election
featured a long queue of discontented people
filing under a sign entitled “Unemployment Of-
fice”, with the tagline “Labour isn’t working”.
From the outset we see that Thatcher’s tactics
did work; she was “shrewd, manipulative and
bold” and many of her successes were rooted
in her personality. Her father, a hard-working
owner of a grocer’s shop, had taught his daugh-
ter how to argue, but more specifically, how to
argue successfully, makingThatcher far more
determined than people give her credit for. For
the peopleThatcher stood for in her election
campaign, the “inflation withered and despairing
middle-classes” that expressed great concern as
to whether Britain could ever tame the Unions,
the future Prime Minister was a beacon of hope.
But more than this, it was she who made the dif-
ference – without her “confrontational self-cer-
tainty and determination not to be bested” the
Tory government of 1979-83 would have been as
pitiful as those that came before it.
The economically troubled years of 1979-
81 did not defeat Thatcher, but instead set in
stone several groundbreaking financial dealings.
Beginning in 1980, she fought a four-year battle
to reduce Britain’s payments to the European
Economic Community, proclaiming quite clearly
“I want my money back”. Unquestionably, she
got it, in the form of an annual budget rebate
that still festers the French. In this case we see
that Thatcher was keen to excel on both and
international and domestic level. In the South
Atlantic region of The Falklands she would do
exactly the same, and with luck on her side, her
gamble to go to war in 1982 was completely jus-
tified. Of all the political gambles in British history,
sending a task force of ships from the enfeebled
Royal Navy a near 8,000 miles away to recapture
several islands was one of the more severe. It
marked a turning point inThatcher’s premiership
and in the space of a few months she would be-
come an indisputable national heroine. The conflict
derived from colonial quarrels. The series of is-
lands was declared a British colony in 1833, but the
Argentinians had also claimed them on the basis of
proximity. The 150th anniversary of British own-
ership provoked fear in the Argentinians, as they
presumed the event would be used to reassert a
British future for the Falklands. As a result, on April
1st Argentinian troops invaded the region and the
eighty British marines located there surrendered.
This triggered mayhem at home for Thatcher. With-
in forty-eight hours the quick-witted Prime Minister
ordered the British task force to claim the islands
back by military force. With the lives of many young
men in jeopardy, a NewYork paper read “The Em-
pire Strikes Back”. Well so she did. At the end of the
war Britain found herself again in the South Atlan-
tic, andThatcher seized the moment as a newfound
intensely divisive figure – and rightly so.
Whilst economic policy and the Falklands
War dominated the first Thatcher government, the
second would be dictated by the miners’ strike. This
was the longest strike in British history and a Mod-
ern History Review article described it as the con-
flict which “epitomisedThatcher’s robust approach
to Britain’s internal problems”. With the miners’
position strengthening every day, the future of
coal mining was becoming urgent for Thatcher,
as nuclear power offered a cheaper and cleaner
alternative source of energy. It was evident that a
decision to abandon the coal industry would dete-
riorate the force of the National Union of Miners
(NUM), whose radical leader, Arthur Scargill, was
a frequent opponent for Thatcher. WhenThatcher
called for pit closures in 1984, Scargill ordered the
miners to strike. Luckily, with characteristic strate-
gy the Prime Minister had ordered the collection of
substantial amounts of coal, which kept the power
stations working until a police operation was fixed
against the striking miners. After a year of conflict
between the police and the NUM, Thatcher forced
the miners to return to work and pit closures still
went ahead. Thatcher had finally resolved the pub-
lic frustration towards the over-mighty trade un-
ions, which had disillusioned both previous Labour
and Conservative governments. It was clear that
the Prime Minister’s victory over Scargill marked
the end of consensus politics in Britain, and the
start of a brasher approach that was undoubtedly
more successful.
This brash approach to politics was mirrored
in her reputation of being a strong opponent to
Soviet communism. In 1976 she had been described
as ‘ the Iron Lady’ by the news media of the USSR.
Initially a title of abuse, in trueThatcher style she
adopted it as a title of her unbending nature. In her
early term of office, Thatcher took a tough stance
against what she deemed to be Soviet expansion
in connection with the ColdWar. It was therefore
surprising that in the second half of her premier-
shipThatcher built a productive relationship with
the Soviet leadership. The turning point in the
relations was the meeting of Thatcher and Mikhail
Gorbachev, when he visited her at her country resi-
dence. Gorbachev would soon inhabit the role of
general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party –
the most important government role in the USSR –
andThatcher strategically stated he was a man she
could “do business with”. Thatcher’s initiation of a
positive relationship with the high-profile leader
helped to raise Britain’s standing in the political
world, thus affirming that Thatcher’s political inter-
ests were not limited to Britain’s borders.
So there you have it. Thatcher had con-
ducted her premiership as the heroine of peace and
war, fighting battles with the miners in the coal-
fields and on the streets, whilst refreshing Britain’s
relationship with rival leaders. It’s no surprise that
many insults targeted at her quickly warped into
compliments – the Iron Lady and SheWho Must Be
Obeyed are just two examples. Whilst at the end of
her premiership most of the public would have vot-
ed her out of Office if the ministers had not beaten
them to it, one cannot deny that Britain and the
world was made anew under Thatcher. David Cam-
eron once stated in a BBC interview that “Margaret
Thatcher didn’t just lead our country; she saved our
country”. Despite being an individual that provokes
much political and social controversy, it would be
misinformed to deduce that Thatcher was little
more than a barbarian leader. One valid interpreta-
tion would be that she led the most “extraordinary
and nation-changing premiership of modern British
history”.
Ellena Dracou 12LB
Margaret Thatcher
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