Friday, October 21, 2011

Margaret Thatcher

Only Woman Prime Minister of United Kingdom
Born on          13 October 1925
Born in            Grantham, England

Margaret Thatcher is the first woman Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and was the first woman to lead a major political party in the country. She acted upon many important positions and took major responsibilities as the leader of the Conservative Party before she eventually elected to the premiership in 1979 after which she was reelected for the second and third time consecutively. During her tenure as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher took an uncompromising stand against the trade unions, opposed the Soviet Union and established economic policies of Free Markets, entrepreneurialism and reduced State intervention in the country's economy. Though she was reelected for a third term in 1987, her popularity had begun to decline by the end of her third term as a result of her views on European community and Community Charge Plan, that many people could not stomach. Even so, Thatcher still remains a revolutionary figure who revitalized Britain's economy, impacted the trade unions, transformed UK into a fast growing economy and established the country as a world power.

Childhood and Education
Margaret Hilda Roberts was born on 13 October 1925 in the town of Grantham in Lincolnshire. Her father Alfred Roberts owned two grocery shops in Grantham and was active in local politics and religion serving as an Alderman and Methodist lay preacher. After attending Hunting tower Road Primary School and Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, she applied for a scholarship to attend Somerville College, Oxford. She went to Oxford in 1943 and studied Natural Science specializing in Chemistry. She was elected as President of the Oxford University Conservative Association in 1946. She studied crystallography and received a post graduation B Sc. degree in 1947. In 1950, she took the degree of Masters of Arts. After graduation, Margaret Thatcher moved to Colchester to work as a research chemist for BX plastics. During this period she joined the local Conservative Association. She was also a member of Association of scientific Workers and in 1949, she moved to Dart ford to stand for election as a Member of Parliament.

Political Career
She was the youngest ever female Conservative candidate, when she contested for the safe labor seat in Dart Ford in 1950 and 1951 elections. Though she could not win the seat, her campaign attracted high media attention. While active in the politics, she married a wealthy businessman Denis Thatcher in 1951 and qualified as a barrister in 1953 with specialization in Taxation. In the same year she gave birth to her twin children, Carol and Mark.

Before being elected as a Member of Parliament in 1959 election, she had faced several rejections in the past. Within 2 years, in 1961, she was promoted to the front bench as Parliamentary Undersecretary at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. She moved to the Shadow Treasury in 1966 where she opposed Labor's mandatory price and income control, which she believed would distort the economy. Thatcher was also against the Government’s high tax policy, as she was of view that low taxes work as an incentive and motivation to work hard.

In 1967, she was selected by the Embassy of the United States in London to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program. Later that year, Thatcher was moved and joined the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Fuel spokesman and shortly after the 1970 general election she was promoted to Shadow transport and after that, Education.

Prime Minister of United Kingdom (1979-1990)
Thatcher became the Prime Minister on 4 May 1979, with the mandate to reverse the economic decline and to reduce the role of state in the economy. She vowed to reduce the government’s excessive interference in economy, which she believed was a hurdle in its growth. Her political policies emphasized on reducing the state intervention, free markets and entrepreneurialism. She took new economic initiatives and began her economic reforms by increasing interest rates and introducing budget cuts. She cut the budget on social services like health care, education and housing, and placed legal restrictions on trade unions. By 1983, the economic growth of UK was stronger and the term ‘Thatcherism’ came to refer the ideologies and policies of Margaret Thatcher and her uncompromising approach of achieving political goals. After the election of 1983, the Conservative majority expanded and Margaret Thatcher continued to enact her economic policies.  

The Falklands
On 2 April 1982, a ruling military in Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, a British overseas territory that Argentina had claimed after 1810 dispute. The Thatcher government recaptured the islands and the salvagers were deported to Argentina. Argentina surrendered on 14 June and the operation was deemed as a success for the Thatcher government and resulted in a greater support for the government. The lasting effect of the Falklands compounded with the economic recovery in early 1983 was seen in the 1983 election, when the Conservative party won 42% of the votes.

Trade Unions
Margaret Thatcher was committed to curb the power and influence of trade unions by privatizing mines and pits. Her reforms instigated Violence and protests from the mine workers, but were successfully combated by the government. In 1984, National Union of Mineworkers ordered a strike against the legislation imposed on them to curb their power. Violent clashes broke out in many places in which a number of people were injured and arrested. After a year of striking, The National Union gave up without a deal.
European Community
Thatcher was opposed to the proposal from the European Community for a federal structure and increasing centralization of decision making. She was not against the Britain’s membership in the European Community, but she believed that it should be limited to ensuring free trade and effective competition. On the contrary to the European approach to governing, she was a supporter of smaller government and deregulatory trends. Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe, who was a great supporter of her, tried to persuade Thatcher to agree to the proposal, which she refused. Margaret felt that the membership will constrain the UK economy. A split emerged over the European policy within the Conservative Party and eventually Geoffrey resigned from his position of Deputy Prime Minister.

Economic Changes during 1987-1990
Thatcher introduced a new system to raise revenue; she replaced the local government taxes with a Community Charge or ‘Poll tax’. Property taxes were made uniform and the same amount was charged to every individual resident and the residential property tax was replaced with a head tax whose rate would be established by local governments. As a result the Prime Minister’s popularity declined in 1989. Unrest mounted in the country as Margaret refused to compromise on the tax. Several protest meeting were held, resulting in a number of riots, the most serious of which occurred at Trafalgar Square, London on 31 March 1990.

Fall from Power
In 1990, The Conservative Party began to split on the issue of European                                                                                                    Community, as Margaret Thatcher remained firmly opposed to British membership in the European Monetary system. Apart from it, opposition for her tax policy made her politically weak and vulnerable. Her combative personality and uncompromising approach to overrule other’s opinion contributed to the discontentment in the party members. On 1 November 1990, Geoffrey Howe, once her great supporter, resigned from his position as Deputy Prime Minister and his resignation speech on 13 November in the House of Commons led to the downfall of the Margaret Thatcher’s Government in UK. On 22 November an announcement was made informing that she would not be contesting the second ballot. She was the only Prime Minister of the 20 centaury to serve three times.

Life after Parliament
Margaret Thatcher became a member of the House of Lords in 1992. She had already been honored by the Queen as the ‘Order of Merit’, one of the UK’s highest distinctions in 1990. After leaving the House of the Commons, she authored her memoirs in two volumes: The Path to Power and The Downing Street years. From 1993 to 2000 served as Chancellor of the College of William and Mary in Virginia. She was also Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, the UK’s only private university. She was widowed on 26 June, 2003. In February 2007, she became the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to be honored with a statue in the House of Parliament while still alive.

From :