Margaret Thatcher, the first and only woman to ever serve as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, has died at the age of 87. A spokesperson announced that she had a stroke, though she had been in poor health in recent years and was reportedly suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
A family statement (via the BBC) said "It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announced that their mother Baroness Thatcher died peacefully following a stroke this morning."
The longest serving post-war Prime Minister, Thatcher was elected to three terms, starting in 1979. A lion of the conservative movement, both in the U.K. and abroad, she took over a Britain that was mired in the economic decline of the 1970s and oversaw a strong, and at times controversial recovery. Almost no sector of British society was unaffected by the government's policies of free markets, privatization, and tighter welfare spending that would eventually come to bear her name as Thatcherism.
"It was with great sadness that l learned of Lady Thatcher’s death. We've lost a great leader, a great Prime Minister and a great Briton"— UK Prime Minister (@Number10gov) April 8, 2013
Current PM David Cameron added later that "She didn't just lead our country, she saved our country." A statement from the Queen said she was saddened by Thatcher's death and she would send a private message of condolence to her family.
She changed our country forever and all of us owe so much to her. A legacy few will ever equal. Rest in peace Margaret— William Hague (@WilliamJHague) April 8, 2013
The dominant figure of post war British politics is dead. Love her or loathe her Margaret Thatcher shaped this country as few others did— Nick Robinson (@bbcnickrobinson) April 8, 2013
Among the more controversial decisions from tenure were the 1982 war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands; a miner's strike the broke one of the nation's most powerful unions (and led to several protest deaths); and her negotiations with China on the return of Hong Kong; her support of South Africa's apartheid government of the 1980s.
An uncompromising figure—she once said, "There are dangers in consensus: it could be an attempt to satisfy people holding no particular views about anything"—she is still seen as a divisive figure, and continues to have her share of detractors and enemies. Yet, her political skills were undeniable and allowed her to remake the British government and society in her own philosophy; slashing unemployment and inflation; privatizing previously nationalized industries, like energy; while preserving vital services like the National Health Service. Her continual electoral victories lead to Labor party to remake itself in response, leading to the "Third Way" Labor party of Tony Blair that eventually dominated the 1990s.
After leaving office in the 1990s, Thatcher was made a member of the Order of Merit (a gift given only by the Queen) and was given a lifetime peerage as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, and admitted to the House of Lords. She will receive a state funeral with "military honors" at St. Paul's Cathedral, but will not lie in state, per her own wishes.
There are numerous obituaries that were obviously prepared ahead of time, but offer a comprehensive overview of her life and times. Here are some of the key passages and moments from her life:
From the BBC:
In 1949, she was adopted as the prospective Conservative candidate for the seat of Dartford in Kent which she fought, unsuccessfully, in the 1950 and 1951 general elections.
However, she made a significant dent in the Labour majority and, as the then youngest ever Conservative candidate, attracted a lot of media attention.
In 1951 she married a divorced businessman, Denis Thatcher, and began studying for the Bar exams. She qualified as a barrister in 1953, the year in which her twins Mark and Carol were born.
From The Wall Street Journal:
In moves that were widely copied, Mrs. Thatcher took on Britain's all-powerful trade unions and privatized state-run industries, governing with a take-no-prisoners style that earned her both admiration and dislike.
"She showed everyone what a political leader with a powerful agenda could accomplish," said George Shultz, who was secretary of state to Ronald Reagan.
Thatcher was defined by the battles she took on: she waged war against Argentina, clashed with striking miners and forced fellow leaders to cut Britain’s financial contributions to the forerunner of the European Union.
She survived an assassination attempt in 1984 when the Irish Republican Army bombed her hotel in Brighton during her Conservative Party’s annual conference, killing five people. She stuck to her schedule and addressed party members the following morning.
From The Washington Post:
“The Iron Lady,” as she was dubbed, was credited with converting a spent Conservative Party from an old boys club into an electoral powerhouse identified with middle-class strivers, investors and entrepreneurs. No one denied her political genius. Future prime minister Tony Blair eventually copied her methods to remake the rival Labor Party.
“Her huge political achievement was to snatch the Conservative Party from the privileged but often well meaning old upper-class gentlemen, and give it to the shopkeepers, the businessmen, the people in advertising and anyone she considered ‘one of us,’ ” writer John Mortimer, a staunch critic, wrote of Mrs. Thatcher. “She greatly improved her party’s electability but robbed it of compassion.”
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