Margaret Hilda Thatcher’s overwhelming sense of self-confidence andambition ruled her life from the time she was a small child in Grantham, thoughher Oxford years and during her early years in politics. It led her to becomethe first female Prime Minister of Great Britain, and also helped through herdifficult political years as “Attila the Hun”.
Britain’s first female Prime Minister was born on October 13, 1925 in asmall room over a grocer’s shop in Grandham, England. Margaret Hilda was thesecond daughter of Alfred and Beatrice Roberts.
She often stated that she wasbrought up very strictly:I owe everything in my life to two things: a good home, and a good education. My home was ordinary, but good in the sense that my parents were passionatelyinterested in the future of my sister and myself. At the same time, they gaveus a good education – not only in school, but at home as well (Gardiner, 1975,p.13).
As a child, thrift and practicality were instilled in Margaret’scharacter.
The Methodist church played an active part in the lives of theRoberts. She attended good schools as a child and spent her years studying withthe intent of attending Oxford. Margaret arrived at Oxford in the autumn of1943. During her years here, Margaret worked in a canteen for the war effort,continued her interest in music by joining various choirs and joined the OxfordUniversity Conservative Association where she became very active in it’spolitical activities.
After Oxford, Margaret became the youngest female candidate of theDartford Association. She was unofficially engaged to Denis Thatcher at thistime, and they married in December 1951. Twins were born the following year.
During this period, she studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1954. In thesame year she was a candidate for the Oysington Conservative Association.
Margaret won in a Tory landslide at Finchley, a suburb of London in 1959.
Her parliamentary career had begun. A stroke of good luck gave her theopportunity of presenting her first bill almost immediately. This bill was toallow the press to attend the meetings of the local councils. The bill waseventually passed and it greatly enhanced her reputation. In 1964 she was partof the opposition and saw the other side of politics. Between 1970 and 1974Thatcher was the Secretary of State for Education and Science. She enjoyed thetough verbal conflict of parliamentary debates. She had a quick mind and aneven quicker tongue, along with an enormous self-confidence. She liked to fightand liked to win.
In 1975, the Conservatives were the first party in Britain to chose awoman as leader and potential Prime Minister:It was the backbenchers, not the Leader, or his Shadow Cabinet, who forced aballot, and it was a backbenchers- candidate who emerged triumphant from it. When the election was announced on January 23, and in the first ballot Margarethad the support of only one member of a Shadow Cabinet of 23 she was regardedwith suspicion by most of those managing the party machine at Central Office,and opposed by many in the National Union. In short, she was an anti-establishment candidate. Her campaign manager was a backbencher, backbenchersof varying shades of opinion made up her campaign committee who voted decisivelyfor change(Gardiner, 1975, p.204).
In May 1979, Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister of GreatBritain. Her party won again in 1983 and 1987. Thatcher resigned as PrimeMinister and leader of the Conservative Party in November 1990, after loosingthe support of the party. She remained in the House of Commons until 1992. Inthe same year, Thatcher was made a Baroness by the queen and became a member ofthe House of Lords.
Abse, author of “Margaret daughter of Beatrice” paints an entirelydifferent picture of Thatcher’s family background. In his psycho-biography, hedescribes Margaret’s mother as strict, cold and unloving. He states that thisresulted in her being narcissistic, aggressive, and a workaholic, as well asbeing attracted to money. Thatcher has claimed to owe everything to her father,and at no point does she acknowledge her mother’s contribution. Abse alsoclaims that Thatcher is chronically and traumatically frustrated, and that shewent into politics for recognition and gratification. Fellow politicians werenot enamored of Thatcher, especially after she ended a 8 million a year freemilk program for primary school children while Secretary of State for Education.
He says: the public subliminally sensed she was acting out the role of adepriving mother, as indeed she was, and reacted with fury. Thatcher, milksnatcher’ rang out at almost everyone of her public meetings and, in the Commons,my less decorous colleagues cat-called every time she rose with ditch thebitch’. She was never to recover personal popularity until she became thewarrior queen of the Falklands war (Abse, 1989, p.2—–9).
During the food shortage in the 1970’s, Thatcher was found to behoarding food. Her excuse was that he husband was soon to retire and that sheneeded to stock up for the future. Besides being a millionaire, Mr. Thatcherwas still working ten years later. She attempted to bring back capitalpunishment. She thrived on confrontation and crisis, and was been involved inpolitical indiscretions. With regards to her children, Abse claims that Margaret appeared to be cold, unfeeling and unloving. She was a permissivemother and was incapable of acknowledging her own domestic failures.
When she took office, Thatcher promised to put the British economy backon it’s feet. She wanted an economic program that would reduce inflation, breakthe power of unions to disrupt the economy, to create new industry and trade,and to bring the country to a new level of prosperity. She promised to bringabout a complete and radical change in the British society by dissolving thewelfare state. Thatcher believed in free economy, not a government controlledone. Unfortunately, none of the things she promised actually happened as sheplanned..
Thatcher wanted to return to the Victorian values of hard work, thrift,self reliance and a strong sense of duty. She did not believe in compromise. She campaigned to cut government spending, reduce income tax and to do away withgovernment support for small firms that could not prosper on their own. Sheraised the value added sales tax on all but the most essential goods to 15%. She cut government spending on foreign aid, and the services supported by towns,villages, and cities across the country. These programs were unsuccessful dueto the fact that high interest rates and high sales taxes stopped businesses andindividuals from spending. The economy went into a decline. The unemploymentrate rose, and the government had to put out more money on unemploymentinsurance. The people started to call her “Attila the Hen.”The British people forgot their woes and forgave Thatcher after theFalkland War. She won the next election with the campaign slogan “Maggie is ourman”. She was not able to bring peace to Ireland, and at one point she wasalmost killed.
Some people thought she was too powerful, particularly in the area offree speech. In 1988, she stepped up efforts to sensor papers, books andmagazines. In 1989, she attempted to privatize the national health service.
Thatcher’s personal vision of the future was that of a “Britain whereeveryone has a financial stake and a commitment to Britain’s success”(Harris,1988, p.241). Part of this commitment was home-ownership, which was one of thecontributing factors to the first election in 1979. In her second term ofoffice, she created Popular Capitalism’ by the selling of state assets orprivatization.
Thatcher’s basic goal was not the extension of the government, but thelimitation of it. She believed that if the government was limited to specificroles, it would get stronger. She believed in tax reform, small firmencouragement schemes, help for new technologies, responsibilities and thefamily, law and order and improvement of the environment. Her “ideology isempirical and instinctive, but not the product of great study or reflection, andit amounts to a rather simple (though not unsophisticated) radicallibertarianism”(Mayer, 1979, p.11). Mayer goes on to say that she is hardly amother-figure for a nation. Though she is caring and considerate with closeassociates, she does not project warmth or humor. The public sees her as astrict nanny, not a loving mommy. She is tough minded and has great stamina anda tenacious spirit. Thatcher has stated that she has never doubted herfundamental convictions.
Margaret Thatcher grew up in an era when women were not normallysuccessful as politicians or as business women. Even so, she managed totransform her sex from a liability to a major political asset. She may havebeen unpopular at times due to her approach to life and politics, but a “softer”female Prime Minister might not have been as effective. Recognition was earnedthrough her overwhelming sense of ambition and dedication to the job: “Thatcher,Milk Snatcher” was bestowed the title Baroness and there-by received therecognition that she had craved all her life.
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