by William Bates
|Thatcher and Europe: Margaret Thatcher (left) with |
German chancellor Helmut Koh (centre) and
French president Francois Mitterand (right).
(source: Der Spiegel)
Margaret Hilda Thatcher was the only woman Prime Minister in the history of the United Kingdom and the longest-serving Premier since Lord Liverpool in 1827.
She was born on 13 October 1925 in Grantham, Lincolnshire, the daughter of a grocer, Alfred Roberts and his wife, Beatrice. She was first selected as a candidate in the constituency of Dartford in Kent for the 1950 and 1951 elections. Her failure to win the relatively safe Labour seat did not discourage her and, after marrying her husband Denis Thatcher in 1951, became a barrister, qualifying in 1953. In 1959, she won the seat of Finchley for the Conservative party. Within two years, she was a government minister and by 1964 a member of the shadow Cabinet. When Edward Heath's Conservative government took office, Margaret Thatcher went on to become Education Secretary, managing unprecedented cuts, some of which she disagreed with, for example cutting free school milk, which she saw as of little financial benefit but involving huge political costs. This led to the cry of 'Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher'. She later wrote: "I learned a valuable lesson. I had incurred the maximum of political odium for the minimum of political benefit."
However, upon becoming Prime Minister in 1979 (having replaced Heath as Conservative leader in 1975), she often introduced policies which have caused problems to this day. One of her biggest mistakes was joining the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1990, which led to interest rates in excess of twenty percent under her successor John Major. The handover of Hong Kong was authorised by Thatcher in 1984 and took place, as agreed, in 1997. To this day, Hong Kong is used to ship thousands of tonnes of Chinese goods to Britain avoiding import taxes and customs checks.
This aside, however Margaret Thatcher had huge political triumphs. She crushed the militant NUM (under its socialist leader Arthur Scargill), which had brought the Heath government to its knees in the early 1970s. Another of her greatest achievements was defeating the Argentine junta during the Falkland War, in a situation in which many lesser leaders would have backed down. The Right-to-Buy scheme, which enabled tenants of council houses to purchase their own homes, was revolutionary and allowed people to get free of the oppressive welfare state; however, it was unfortunate that the money was not reinvested into new housing stock.
Margaret Thatcher was a strong and decisive, if slightly controversial leader, who led the Tories to their greatest victories of modern times and helped dismantle the Soviet bloc. If the likes of David Cameron were more like her, it is safe to say that Britain would still have a triple-A credit rating and not be part of a jumped-up trading bloc. In her own words : “What we should grasp, however, from the lessons of European history is that, first, there is nothing necessarily benevolent about programmes of European integration; second, the desire to achieve grand utopian plans often poses a grave threat to freedom; and third, European unity has been tried before, and the outcome was far from happy."