So ends an era. Margaret Thatcher, passed away at approximately 11am, April 8, 2013. Mrs. Thatcher, born Margeret Roberts on October 13, 1925, died at the age of 87.
The so-called Iron Lady, Thatcher will be remembered as one of the most important and controversial Prime Ministers in the U.K.’s history. A woman of uncompromising morals and a political acumen rivaled by few, Thatcher oversaw massive reforms throughout the country’s economy and government.
Her life is undoubtedly a story of courage and triumph, and was a woman who rose from being a grocer’s daughter to becoming the first female Prime Minister in the United Kingdom’s history.
She challenged the conventions of the “boys club” that saw men hold most of the power, and the liberal policies and outlook that guided government policies in the post-World War II era.
From an early age she demonstrated both a sharp intelligence and an ability to work hard. She attended Oxford, and received a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and later worked as a researcher for various chemical companies. She also gained a reputation in politics by becoming President of the Oxford University Conservative Association and later as a member of the University Graduate Conservative Association.
In 1950 and 1951 Margaret ran for office on the Conservative Party’s ticket in the general elections. She faced an uphill battle by challenging the labor party in their safe seats; although she lost both elections, she managed to build up her name and reputation. She finally won an election in 1959 and quickly rose through the Conservative ranks; during her early political career she held a wide variety of positions.
In 1970 fellow Conservative Edward Heath was appointed Prime Minister and Thatcher was given appointed the Education Secretary. She quickly gained a reputation for fiscal conservatism, cutting free milk to school children, but also shifting the emphasis to educational quality.
In 1974 the Heath government was defeated when the Liberal party seized control by forming a minority government. While Heath tried to maintain control of the labor party, he was ultimately defeated in party elections by Thatcher. In 1979 Thatcher’s Conservative Party went on to defeat the Liberal party and thus ascended to the post of Prime Minister.
Her economic philosophy, “Thatcherism,” based on the conservative principles of scholars such as Milton Friedman, and mirroring Reaganomics, called for a small government with minimal market intervention. She was also a strong proponent of privatization.
Her reforms achieved mixed results. On one hand they reduced inflation and increased the efficiency of market forces, and gradually improved national growth rates. On the other hand unemployment rates swung widely, poverty increased, and the gap between the rich and the poor widened considerably during the time she was in office.
Her administration itself would be marked with mixed results. While she attracted a loyal following, her average approval ratings came in around 40 percent and fell as low as 23 percent in 1980. Her approval ratings would gradually improve as her economic reforms took effect and the overall economy gradually recovered, reducing the then record high unemployment rates.
Still, in 1990 Conservative challenger Michael Heseltine forced Thatcher to resign after forcing a second ballot in internal party voting. Her time as Prime Minister would end in tears and she left office feeling betrayed.
While Thatcherism may have produced some negative effects, her economic philosophy went on and was replicated around the world; many of her beliefs now form the cornerstone of the world economic system.
Small governments, deregulation, market competition, low taxes, and free trade now under-gird the evolving global economy and have brought about rapidly rising growth rates in developing nations, but also increased gaps between the rich and the poor in developed countries and financial instability in the world financial system.
Whether or not “Thatcherism” will stand the test of time remains to be seen. Still, Margaret Thatcher was an important and admirable person who stood by her convictions. In an age when politicians seem to flip-flop stances from one speech to the next, many voters would likely appreciate her commitment to her beliefs.
While she was known for ruling with an iron fist, Thatcher’s considerable achievements offer proof that her methods worked. With governments across Europe and the United States choked in gridlock, perhaps the world could use a few more “iron women” and “iron men.”
She may have left her party disgraced and felt betrayed, but she has left this world as an honorable and venerable woman.