Thatcher reshaped Britain
Margaret Thatcher, who died Monday at the age of 87, was the most influential British prime minister in U.S. politics since Winston Churchill.
Churchill was close to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Thatcher to President Ronald Reagan, whom she affectionately called “Ronnie.” If anything, she was a more effective and forceful advocate of free enterprise than Reagan.
The first woman to become British prime minister, Thatcher led the Conservative Party to three successive voting victories and governed from May 1979 to November 1990.
Thatcher was the daughter of a shopkeeper, and she inherited the habits of hard work, tenacity and thrift — and an interest in politics. After graduation from Oxford, she entered Conservative Party politics. After nine years of trying, she won a seat in Parliament and by 1970 was rewarded with a Cabinet post.
Thatcher at first had the advantage of being regularly underestimated by both friend and foe. But, in 1979, she led the Tories to victory and became prime minister, with the condescending consensus that her tenure would be a short one.
Thatcher inherited a nation that was on its way to Third World status because of an ossified and truculent trade-union movement, which dominated the opposition Labour Party. The country was subject to constant, crippling wildcat strikes — by hospital workers, railway workers, truck drivers, gravediggers, manufacturing workers — at state-owned enterprises that Labour had nationalized after World War II.
She showed her mettle by crushing a yearlong strike by the powerful mineworkers’ union in 1984-85, a victory that did much to reshape the economic and social order of Britain. That victory was more important but less spectacular than her 1982 victory in the Falklands Islands. The Russian press christened her the “Iron Lady.”
Thatcher was forced out as prime minister in 1990, largely through a combination of a political misjudgment on a tax issue and the feeling among her rivals that it was somebody else’s turn in 10 Downing St.
Thatcher left a substantial mark on British politics. She also rubbed off on U.S. politics and politicians. Let’s hope her good qualities, like courage and tenacity, survive her.