A research chemist before becoming a barrister, Thatcher was elected Member of Parliament for Finchley in 1959. Edward Heath appointed her Secretary of State for Education and Science in his Conservative government. In 1975, Thatcher defeated Heath in the Conservative Party leadership election to become Leader of the Opposition and became the first woman to lead a major political party in the United Kingdom. She became Prime Minister after winning the 1979 general election.
Thatcher was re-elected for a third term in 1987. During this period her support for a Community Charge (referred to as the "poll tax") was widely unpopular, and her views on the European Community were not shared by others in her Cabinet. She resigned as Prime Minister and party leader in November 1990, after Michael Heseltine launched a challenge to her leadership. After retiring from the Commons in 1992, she was given a life peerage as Baroness Thatcher (of Kesteven in the County of Lincolnshire) which entitled her to sit in the House of Lords. In 2013 she died of a stroke in London at the age of 87. Always a controversial figure, she has nonetheless been lauded as one of the greatest, most influential and widest-known politicians in British history, even as arguments over Thatcherism persist.
Thatcher was born Margaret Hilda Roberts on 13 October 1925, in Grantham, Lincolnshire. Her father was Alfred Roberts, originally from Northamptonshire, and her mother was Beatrice Ethel (née Stephenson) from Lincolnshire. She spent her childhood in Grantham, where her father owned two grocery shops. Prior to the Second World War, in 1938 the Roberts family gave sanctuary to a teenage Jewish girl who had escaped from Nazi Germany. Aged 12, Margaret saved pocket money to help pay for her journey, later describing this in her memoirs as among the significant events of her formative years.
Alfred Roberts was an alderman and a Methodist local preacher, and brought up his daughter as a strict Wesleyan Methodist attending the Finkin Street Methodist Church. He came from a Liberal family but stood (as was then customary in local government) as an Independent. He was Mayor of Grantham in 1945–46 and lost his position as alderman in 1952 after the Labour Party won its first majority on Grantham Council in 1950.
Margaret Roberts attended Huntingtower Road Primary School and won a scholarship to Kesteven and Grantham Girls' School. Her school reports showed hard work and continual improvement; her extracurricular activities included the piano, field hockey, poetry recitals, swimming and walking. She was head girl in 1942–43. In her upper sixth year she applied for a scholarship to study chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford, a women's college at the time, but she was initially rejected and was offered a place only after another candidate withdrew.
Roberts arrived at Oxford in 1943 and graduated in 1947 with Second-Class Honours in the four-year Chemistry Bachelor of Science degree, specialising in X-ray crystallography under the supervision of Dorothy Hodgkin. Her dissertation was on the structure of the antibiotic gramicidin. Thatcher never really devoted herself entirely to studying chemistry as she only intended to be a chemist for a short period of time. Even while working on chemistry, she was already thinking towards law and politics. She was reportedly more proud of becoming the first Prime Minister with a science degree than the first female Prime Minister, and as Prime Minister attempted to preserve Somerville as a women's college.
During her time at Oxford, she was noted for her isolated and serious attitude. At Oxford, she met a young man named Tony Bray (1926–2014) who was impressed by her and later recalled that she was "very thoughtful and a very good conversationalist. That's probably what interested me. She was good at general subjects". Her enthusiasm for politics as a girl made him think of her as "unusual". Bray met Roberts' parents and described her father as "slightly austere" and "totally correct" and her mother as "very proper" and "motherly".
At the end of the term at Oxford, Bray gradually became more distant and hoped for their relationship to "fizzle out". Bray later recalled that he thought Roberts had taken the relationship more seriously than he had done. When asked about Bray in later life, Thatcher prevaricated and said that she had not had any boyfriends before Denis Thatcher, but acknowledged the circumstances between herself and Bray. Soon after she met her future husband Denis, and on her first meeting with him she described him as "not a very attractive creature – very reserved but quite nice".
Roberts became President of the Oxford University Conservative Association in 1946. She was influenced at university by political works such as Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom (1944), which condemned economic intervention by government as a precursor to an authoritarian state.
After graduating, Roberts moved to Colchester in Essex to work as a research chemist for BX Plastics near Manningtree. In 1948 she applied for a job at ICI, but was rejected after the personnel department assessed her as "headstrong, obstinate and dangerously self-opinionated". Professor Jon Agar had explored her career in chemistry and argued that her understanding of modern scientific research impacted her views as Prime Minister.
Roberts joined the local Conservative Association and attended the party conference at Llandudno in 1948, as a representative of the University Graduate Conservative Association. Meanwhile, she became a high-ranking affiliate of the Vermin Club, a group of grassroots Conservatives formed in response to a derogatory remark about the party. One of her Oxford friends was also a friend of the Chair of the Dartford Conservative Association in Kent, who were looking for candidates. Officials of the association were so impressed by her that they asked her to apply, even though she was not on the Conservative Party's approved list: she was selected in January 1951, aged 25, and added to the approved list post ante.
At a dinner following her formal adoption as Conservative candidate for Dartford in February 1951 she met divorcé Denis Thatcher, a successful and wealthy businessman, who drove her to her Essex train. In preparation for the election Roberts moved to Dartford, where she supported herself by working as a research chemist for J. Lyons and Co. in Hammersmith, part of a team developing emulsifiers for ice cream. Shortly after her marriage, she and her husband began attending Anglican services and would later convert to Anglicanism.
In the 1950 and 1951 general elections, Roberts was the Conservative candidate for the safe Labour seat of Dartford. The local party selected her as its candidate because, though not a dynamic public speaker, Roberts was well-prepared and fearless in her answers; another prospective candidate recalled that "Once she opened her mouth, the rest of us began to look rather second-rate". She attracted media attention as the youngest and the only female candidate. She lost on both occasions to Norman Dodds, but reduced the Labour majority by 6,000, and then a further 1,000. During the campaigns, she was supported by her parents and by Denis Thatcher, whom she married in December 1951. Denis funded his wife's studies for the bar; she qualified as a barrister in 1953 and specialised in taxation. Later that same year their twins Carol and Mark were born, delivered prematurely by Caesarean section.
In 1954, Thatcher was defeated when she sought selection to be the Conservative party candidate for the Orpington by-election of January 1955. She chose not to stand as a candidate in the 1955 general election, in later years stating: "I really just felt the twins were ... only two, I really felt that it was too soon. I couldn't do that." Afterwards, Thatcher began looking for a Conservative safe seat and was selected as the candidate for Finchley in April 1958 (narrowly beating Ian Montagu Fraser). She was elected as MP for the seat after a hard campaign in the 1959 election. Benefiting from her fortunate result in a lottery for backbenchers to propose new legislation, Thatcher's maiden speech was, unusually, in support of her private member's bill (the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960), requiring local authorities to hold their council meetings in public; the bill was successful and became law. In 1961 she went against the Conservative Party's official position by voting for the restoration of birching as a judicial corporal punishment.
Thatcher's talent and drive caused her to be mentioned as a future Prime Minister in her early 20s although she herself was more pessimistic, stating as late as 1970: "There will not be a woman prime minister in my lifetime – the male population is too prejudiced." In October 1961 she was promoted to the frontbench as Parliamentary Undersecretary at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance by Harold Macmillan. Thatcher was the youngest woman in history to receive such a post, and among the first MPs elected in 1959 to be promoted. After the Conservatives lost the 1964 election she became spokesman on Housing and Land, in which position she advocated her party's policy of allowing tenants to buy their council houses. She moved to the Shadow Treasury team in 1966 and, as Treasury spokesman, opposed Labour's mandatory price and income controls, arguing that they would produce effects contrary to those intended and distort the economy.
By 1966, party leaders viewed Thatcher as a potential Shadow Cabinet member. Jim Prior suggested her as a member after the Conservatives' 1966 defeat, but party leader Edward Heath and Chief Whip William Whitelaw eventually settled on Mervyn Pike as the Shadow Cabinet's sole woman member.
At the Conservative Party conference of 1966 she criticised the high-tax policies of the Labour government as being steps "not only towards Socialism, but towards Communism", arguing that lower taxes served as an incentive to hard work. Thatcher was one of the few Conservative MPs to support Leo Abse's Bill to decriminalise male homosexuality. She voted in favour of David Steel's bill to legalise abortion, as well as a ban on hare coursing. She supported the retention of capital punishment and voted against the relaxation of divorce laws.
In 1967, the United States Embassy in London chose Thatcher to take part in the International Visitor Leadership Program (then called the Foreign Leader Program), a professional exchange programme that gave her the opportunity to spend about six weeks visiting various US cities and political figures as well as institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. Although she was not yet a Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet member, the embassy reportedly described her to the State Department as a possible future Prime Minister. The description helped Thatcher meet with many prominent people during a busy itinerary focused on economic issues, including Paul Samuelson, Walt Rostow, Pierre-Paul Schweitzer and Nelson Rockefeller. After Pike's retirement, Heath appointed Thatcher to the Shadow Cabinet as Fuel and Power spokesman. Shortly before the 1970 general election, she was promoted to Shadow Transport spokesman and later to Education.
In 1968, Enoch Powell delivered his "Rivers of Blood" speech in which he strongly criticised Commonwealth immigration to the United Kingdom and the then-proposed Race Relations Bill. When Heath telephoned Thatcher to inform her that he was going to sack Powell from the Shadow Cabinet, she recalled that she "really thought that it was better to let things cool down for the present rather than heighten the crisis". She believed that his main points about Commonwealth immigration were correct and that his selected quotations from his speech had been taken out of context. In a 1991 interview for Today, Thatcher stated that she thought Powell had "made a valid argument, if in sometimes regrettable terms".
The Conservative Party under Edward Heath won the 1970 general election, and Thatcher was subsequently appointed to the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Education and Science. During her first months in office she attracted public attention as a result of Iain Macleod's attempts to cut spending. She gave priority to academic needs in schools. She imposed public expenditure cuts on the state education system, resulting in the abolition of free milk for schoolchildren aged seven to eleven. She held that few children would suffer if schools were charged for milk, but agreed to provide younger children with a third of a pint daily, for nutritional purposes. Cabinet papers later revealed that she opposed the policy but had been forced into it by the Treasury. Her decision provoked a storm of protest from Labour and the press, leading to the moniker "Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher". She reportedly considered leaving politics in the aftermath and later wrote in her autobiography: "I learned a valuable lesson [from the experience]. I had incurred the maximum of political odium for the minimum of political benefit."
Thatcher supported Lord Rothschild's 1971 proposal for market forces to affect government funding of research. Although many scientists opposed the proposal, her research background probably made her sceptical of their claim that outsiders should not interfere with funding. The department evaluated proposals for more local education authorities to close grammar schools and to adopt comprehensive secondary education. Although Thatcher was committed to a tiered secondary modern-grammar school system of education and was determined to preserve grammar schools, during her tenure as Education Secretary she turned down only 326 of 3,612 proposals for schools to become comprehensives; the proportion of pupils attending comprehensive schools consequently rose from 32 per cent to 62 per cent.
The Heath ministry continued to experience difficulties with oil embargoes and union demands for wage increases in 1973 and lost the February 1974 general election. Labour formed a minority government and went on to win a narrow majority in the October 1974 general election. Heath's leadership of the Conservative Party looked increasingly in doubt. Thatcher was not initially the obvious replacement, but she eventually became the main challenger, promising a fresh start. Her main support came from the parliamentary 1922 Committee and later The Spectator, but Thatcher's time in office gave her the reputation of a pragmatist instead of an ideologue. She defeated Heath on the first ballot and he resigned the leadership. In the second ballot she defeated Whitelaw, Heath's preferred successor. The vote polarised along right–left lines, with the region, experience and education of the MP also having their effects. Thatcher's support was stronger among MPs on the right, those from southern England, and those who had not attended public schools or Oxbridge.
Thatcher became Conservative Party leader and Leader of the Opposition on 11 February 1975; she appointed Whitelaw as her deputy. Heath was never reconciled to Thatcher's leadership.
Thatcher began attending lunches regularly at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a think tank founded by Hayekian poultry magnate Antony Fisher; she had been visiting the IEA and reading its publications since the early 1960s. There she was influenced by the ideas of Ralph Harris and Arthur Seldon, and became the face of the ideological movement opposing the British welfare state. Keynesian economics, they believed, was weakening Britain. The institute's pamphlets proposed less government, lower taxes, and more freedom for business and consumers.
The television critic Clive James, writing in The Observer during the voting for the leadership, compared her voice of 1973 to a cat sliding down a blackboard. Thatcher had already begun to work on her presentation on the advice of Gordon Reece, a former television producer. By chance Reece met the actor Laurence Olivier, who arranged lessons with the National Theatre's voice coach. Thatcher succeeded in completely suppressing her Lincolnshire dialect except when under stress, notably after provocation from Denis Healey in the House of Commons in April 1983, when she accused the Labour frontbench of being frit.
Thatcher wanted to prevent the creation of a Scottish assembly. She told Conservative MPs to vote against the Scotland and Wales Bill in December 1976, which was defeated, and then when new Bills were proposed she supported amending the legislation to allow the English to vote in the 1979 referendum on devolution.
Britain's economy during the 1970s was so weak that Foreign Minister James Callaghan warned his fellow Labour Cabinet members in 1974 of the possibility of "a breakdown of democracy", telling them: "If I were a young man, I would emigrate." In mid-1978, the economy began to improve and opinion polls showed Labour in the lead, with a general election being expected later that year and a Labour win a serious possibility. Now Prime Minister, Callaghan surprised many by announcing on 7 September that there would be no general election that year and he would wait until 1979 before going to the polls. Thatcher reacted to this by branding the Labour government "chickens", and Liberal Party leader David Steel joined in, criticising Labour for "running scared".
The Labour government then faced fresh public unease about the direction of the country and a damaging series of strikes during the winter of 1978–79, dubbed the "Winter of Discontent". The Conservatives attacked the Labour government's unemployment record, using advertising with the slogan "Labour Isn't Working". A general election was called after the Callaghan ministry lost a motion of no confidence in early 1979. The Conservatives won a 44-seat majority in the House of Commons and Thatcher became the first female British prime minister.
In 1976, Thatcher made a foreign policy speech which lambasted the Soviet Union for seeking "world dominance". Nicknamed her "Britain Awake" speech, the Soviet Army journal Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star) rebutted her stance in a piece entitled "Iron Lady Raises Fears" by Captain Yuri Gavrilov (alluding to "Iron Chancellor" Bismarck of imperial Germany). The Sunday Times covered the Red Star article the next day and Thatcher embraced the epithet a week later; in a speech to Finchley Conservatives she compared it to the Duke of Wellington's nickname "The Iron Duke". The metaphorical sobriquet followed her throughout her political career, and has since become a generic descriptor for strong-willed female politicians.
Thatcher became Prime Minister on 4 May 1979. Arriving at Downing Street she said, paraphrasing the so-called Prayer of Saint Francis:
Thatcher remained in office throughout the next decade. For much of her premiership, she was described as the most powerful woman in the world.
Thatcher was Leader of the Opposition and Prime Minister at a time of increased racial tension in Britain. Commenting on the local elections of May 1977, The Economist noted "The Tory tide swamped the smaller parties. That specifically includes the National Front (NF), which suffered a clear decline from last year". Her standing in the polls rose by 11% after a January 1978 interview for World in Action in which she said "the British character has done so much for democracy, for law and done so much throughout the world that if there is any fear that it might be swamped people are going to react and be rather hostile to those coming in", as well as "in many ways [minorities] add to the richness and variety of this country. The moment the minority threatens to become a big one, people get frightened". In the 1979 general election, the Conservatives attracted voters from the NF, whose support almost collapsed. In a meeting in July 1979 with Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington and Home Secretary William Whitelaw she objected to the number of Asian immigrants, in the context of limiting the total of Vietnamese boat people allowed to settle in the UK to fewer than 10,000.
As Prime Minister, Thatcher met weekly with Queen Elizabeth II (only six months Thatcher's junior) to discuss government business, and their relationship came under close scrutiny. Biographer John Campbell wrote that their relations were "punctiliously correct but there was little love lost on either side". The Queen's press secretary Michael Shea reportedly leaked anonymous rumours of a rift, which were officially denied by William Heseltine, the Private Secretary to the Sovereign. Campbell concludes that Thatcher had "an almost mystical reverence for the institution of the monarchy" despite "trying to modernise the country and sweep away many of the values and practices which the monarchy perpetuated". Thatcher later wrote: "I always found the Queen's attitude towards the work of the Government absolutely correct ... stories of clashes between 'two powerful women' were just too good not to make up."
Thatcher's economic policy was influenced by monetarist thinking and economists such as Milton Friedman and Alan Walters. Together with Chancellor of the Exchequer Geoffrey Howe, she lowered direct taxes on income and increased indirect taxes. She increased interest rates to slow the growth of the money supply and thereby lower inflation, introduced cash limits on public spending, and reduced expenditure on social services such as education and housing. Cuts to higher education resulted in her becoming the first Oxford-educated post-war Prime Minister without an honorary doctorate from Oxford University, after a 738–319 vote of the governing assembly and a student petition.
Her new centrally-funded City Technology Colleges did not achieve much success, and the Funding Agency for Schools was set up to control expenditure by opening and closing schools; a right-wing think tank described it as having "an extraordinary range of dictatorial powers".
Some Heathite Conservatives in the Cabinet, the so-called "wets", expressed doubt over Thatcher's policies. The 1981 England riots resulted in the British media discussing the need for a policy U-turn. At the 1980 Conservative Party conference, Thatcher addressed the issue directly, with a speech written by the playwright Ronald Millar that included the lines: "You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning!"
Thatcher's job approval rating fell to 23% by December 1980, lower than recorded for any previous Prime Minister. As the recession of the early 1980s deepened, she increased taxes, despite concerns expressed in a March 1981 statement signed by 364 leading economists.
By 1982, the UK began to experience signs of economic recovery; inflation was down to 8.6% from a high of 18%, but unemployment was over 3 million for the first time since the 1930s. By 1983, overall economic growth was stronger, and inflation and mortgage rates had fallen to their lowest levels since 1970, although manufacturing employment as a share of total employment fell to just over 30%, with total unemployment remaining high, peaking at 3.3 million in 1984.
By 1987, unemployment was falling, the economy was stable and strong and inflation was low. Opinion polls showed a comfortable Conservative lead, and local council election results had also been successful, prompting Thatcher to call a general election for 11 June that year, despite the deadline for an election still being 12 months away. The election saw Thatcher re-elected for a third successive term.
Thatcher had been firmly opposed to British membership of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, a precursor to European monetary union, believing that it would constrain the British economy, despite the urging of both her Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson and Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe, but she was persuaded by John Major to join in October 1990, at what proved to be too high a rate.
Thatcher reformed local government taxes by replacing domestic rates (a tax based on the nominal rental value of a home) with the Community Charge (or poll tax) in which the same amount was charged to each adult resident. The new tax was introduced in Scotland in 1989 and in England and Wales the following year, and proved to be among the most unpopular policies of her premiership. Public disquiet culminated in a 70,000 to 200,000-strong demonstration in London on 31 March 1990; the demonstration around Trafalgar Square deteriorated into riots, leaving 113 people injured and 340 under arrest. The Community Charge was abolished in 1991 by her successor, John Major. It has since transpired that Thatcher had herself failed to register for the tax, and was threatened with financial penalties if she did not return her form.
Thatcher believed that the trade unions were harmful to both ordinary trade unionists and the public. She was committed to reducing the power of the unions, whose leadership she accused of undermining parliamentary democracy and economic performance through strike action. Several unions launched strikes in response to legislation introduced to limit their power, but resistance eventually collapsed. Only 39% of union members voted for Labour in the 1983 general election. According to the BBC, Thatcher "managed to destroy the power of the trade unions for almost a generation". The miners' strike of 1984–85 was the biggest confrontation between the unions and Thatcher's government.
In March 1984 the National Coal Board (NCB) proposed to close 20 of the 174 state-owned mines and cut 20,000 jobs out of 187,000. Two-thirds of the country's miners, led by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) under Arthur Scargill, downed tools in protest. Scargill had refused to hold a ballot on the strike, having previously lost three ballots on a national strike (in January and October 1982, and March 1983). This led to the strike being declared illegal.
Thatcher refused to meet the union's demands and compared the miners' dispute to the Falklands conflict two years earlier, declaring in a speech in 1984: "We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty." After a year out on strike, in March 1985, the NUM leadership conceded without a deal. The cost to the economy was estimated to be at least £1.5 billion, and the strike was blamed for much of the pound's fall against the US dollar. The government closed 25 unprofitable coal mines in 1985, and by 1992 a total of 97 had been closed; those that remained were privatised in 1994.
The resulting closure of 150 coal mines, some of which were not losing money, resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and had the effect of devastating entire communities. Miners had helped bring down the Heath ministry, and Thatcher was determined to succeed where he had failed. Her strategy of preparing fuel stocks, appointing hardliner Ian MacGregor as NCB leader, and ensuring that police were adequately trained and equipped with riot gear, contributed to her triumph over the striking miners.
The number of stoppages across the UK peaked at 4,583 in 1979, when more than 29 million working days were lost. In 1984, the year of the miners' strike, there were 1,221, resulting in the loss of more than 27 million working days. Stoppages then fell steadily throughout the rest of Thatcher's premiership; in 1990 there were 630 and fewer than 2 million working days lost, and they continued to fall thereafter. Thatcher's time in office witnessed a sharp decline in trade union density, with the percentage of workers belonging to a trade union falling from 57.3% in 1979 to 49.5% in 1985. In 1979 up until Thatcher's last year in office, trade union membership also fell, from 13.5 million in 1979 to fewer than 10 million.
The policy of privatisation has been called "a crucial ingredient of Thatcherism". After the 1983 election the sale of state utilities accelerated; more than £29 billion was raised from the sale of nationalised industries, and another £18 billion from the sale of council houses. The process of privatisation, especially the preparation of nationalised industries for privatisation, was associated with marked improvements in performance, particularly in terms of labour productivity.
Some of the privatised industries, including gas, water, and electricity, were natural monopolies for which privatisation involved little increase in competition. The privatised industries that demonstrated improvement sometimes did so while still under state ownership. British Steel Corporation had made great gains in profitability while still a nationalised industry under the government-appointed chairmanship of Ian MacGregor, who faced down trade-union opposition to close plants and halve the workforce. Regulation was also significantly expanded to compensate for the loss of direct government control, with the foundation of regulatory bodies such as Ofgas, Oftel and the National Rivers Authority. There was no clear pattern to the degree of competition, regulation, and performance among the privatised industries; in most cases privatisation benefited consumers in terms of lower prices and improved efficiency, but the results overall are said to have been mixed.
Thatcher always resisted rail privatisation and was said to have told Transport Secretary Nicholas Ridley: "Railway privatisation will be the Waterloo of this government. Please never mention the railways to me again." Shortly before her resignation, she accepted the arguments for privatising British Rail, which her successor John Major implemented in 1994.
The privatisation of public assets was combined with financial deregulation in an attempt to fuel economic growth. Chancellor Geoffrey Howe abolished the UK's exchange controls in 1979, which allowed more capital to be invested in foreign markets, and the Big Bang of 1986 removed many restrictions on the London Stock Exchange.
In 1980 and 1981, Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners in Northern Ireland's Maze Prison carried out hunger strikes in an effort to regain the status of political prisoners that had been removed in 1976 by the preceding Labour government.
Bobby Sands began the 1981 strike, saying that he would fast until death unless prison inmates won concessions over their living conditions. Thatcher refused to countenance a return to political status for the prisoners, declaring "Crime is crime is crime; it is not political", but nevertheless the British government privately contacted republican leaders in a bid to bring the hunger strikes to an end. After the deaths of Sands and nine others, the strike ended. Some rights were restored to paramilitary prisoners, but not official recognition of political status. Violence in Northern Ireland escalated significantly during the hunger strikes.
Thatcher narrowly escaped injury in an IRA assassination attempt at a Brighton hotel early in the morning on 12 October 1984. Five people were killed, including the wife of Cabinet Minister John Wakeham. Thatcher was staying at the hotel to attend the Conservative Party conference, which she insisted should open as scheduled the following day. She delivered her speech as planned, albeit rewritten from her original draft, in a move that was widely supported across the political spectrum and enhanced her popularity with the public.
On 6 November 1981, Thatcher and Irish Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald had established the Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Council, a forum for meetings between the two governments. On 15 November 1985, Thatcher and FitzGerald signed the Hillsborough Anglo-Irish Agreement, the first time a British government had given the Republic of Ireland an advisory role in the governance of Northern Ireland. In protest the Ulster Says No movement attracted 100,000 to a rally in Belfast, Ian Gow, later assassinated by the PIRA, resigned as Minister of State in the HM Treasury, and all fifteen Unionist MPs resigned their parliamentary seats; only one was not returned in the subsequent by-elections on 23 January 1986.
Thatcher supported an active climate protection policy and was instrumental in the passing of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and in founding the Hadley Centre for Climate Research and Prediction. She helped to put climate change, acid rain and general pollution in the British mainstream in the late 1980s, and in 1989 she called for a global treaty on climate change. Her speeches included one to the Royal Society on 27 September 1988 and to the UN General Assembly in November 1989. However, following her retirement as Prime Minister in 1990, she became sceptical about climate change policy and rejected climate alarmism.
Thatcher's first foreign policy crisis came with the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. She condemned the invasion, said it showed the bankruptcy of a détente policy, and helped convince some British athletes to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics. She gave weak support to US President Jimmy Carter who tried to punish the USSR with economic sanctions. Britain's economic situation was precarious, and most of NATO was reluctant to cut trade ties. The Financial Times reported that her ministry had secretly supplied Saddam Hussein with military equipment since 1981.
Thatcher became closely aligned with the Cold War policies of US President Ronald Reagan, based on their shared distrust of Communism. A disagreement came in 1983 when Reagan did not consult with her on the invasion of Grenada. During her first year as Prime Minister she supported NATO's decision to deploy US nuclear cruise and Pershing II missiles in Western Europe and permitted the US to station more than 160 cruise missiles at RAF Greenham Common, starting on 14 November 1983 and triggering mass protests by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. She bought the Trident nuclear missile submarine system from the US to replace Polaris, tripling the UK's nuclear forces at an eventual cost of more than £12 billion (at 1996–97 prices). Thatcher's preference for defence ties with the US was demonstrated in the Westland affair of January 1986, when she acted with colleagues to allow the struggling helicopter manufacturer Westland to refuse a takeover offer from the Italian firm Agusta in favour of the management's preferred option, a link with Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation. Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine, who had supported the Agusta deal, resigned in protest.
On 2 April 1982 the ruling military junta in Argentina ordered the invasion of the British-controlled Falkland Islands and South Georgia, triggering the Falklands War. The subsequent crisis was "a defining moment of her [Thatcher's] premiership". At the suggestion of Harold Macmillan and Robert Armstrong, she set up and chaired a small War Cabinet (formally called ODSA, Overseas and Defence committee, South Atlantic) to take charge of the conduct of the war, which by 5–6 April had authorised and dispatched a naval task force to retake the islands. Argentina surrendered on 14 June and the operation was hailed a success, notwithstanding the deaths of 255 British servicemen and 3 Falkland Islanders. Argentinian deaths totalled 649, half of them after the nuclear-powered submarine HMS Conqueror torpedoed and sank the cruiser ARA General Belgrano on 2 May. Thatcher was criticised for the neglect of the Falklands' defence that led to the war, and especially by Tam Dalyell in Parliament for the decision to sink the General Belgrano, but overall she was considered a highly capable and committed war leader. The "Falklands factor", an economic recovery beginning early in 1982, and a bitterly divided opposition all contributed to Thatcher's second election victory in 1983. Thatcher frequently referred after the war to the "Falklands spirit"; journalists Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins had suggested in 1983 that this reflected her preference for the streamlined decision-making of her War Cabinet over the painstaking deal-making of peacetime cabinet government.
In September 1982 she visited China to discuss with Deng Xiaoping the sovereignty of Hong Kong after 1997. China was the first communist state Thatcher had visited and she was the first British prime minister to visit China. Throughout their meeting, she sought the PRC's agreement to a continued British presence in the territory. Deng stated that the PRC's sovereignty on Hong Kong was non-negotiable, but he was willing to settle the sovereignty issue with Britain through formal negotiations, and both governments promised to maintain Hong Kong's stability and prosperity. After the two-year negotiations, Thatcher conceded to the PRC government and signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration in Beijing in 1984, agreeing to hand over Hong Kong's sovereignty in 1997.
In April 1986 she permitted US F-111s to use Royal Air Force bases for the bombing of Libya in retaliation for the alleged Libyan bombing of a Berlin discothèque, citing the right of self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter. Polls suggested that fewer than one in three British citizens approved of her decision.
Although saying that she was in favour of "peaceful negotiations" to end apartheid, Thatcher opposed sanctions imposed on South Africa by the Commonwealth and the EC. She attempted to preserve trade with South Africa while persuading the government there to abandon apartheid. This included "[c]asting herself as President Botha's candid friend", and inviting him to visit the UK in 1984, in spite of the "inevitable demonstrations" against his government. Thatcher dismissed the African National Congress (ANC) in October 1987 as "a typical terrorist organisation".
Thatcher and her government backed the Khmer Rouge keeping their seat in the UN after they were ousted from power in Cambodia by the Cambodian–Vietnamese War. Although Thatcher denied it at the time, it was revealed in 1991 that from 1983 the SAS was sent to secretly train the "non-Communist" members of the CGDK to fight against the Vietnamese-backed Kampuchea (PRK) government. The "non-communist members", such as the Sihanoukists and the Khmer People's National Liberation Front, "were dominated, diplomatically and militarily, by the Khmer Rouge". It was reported that the SAS had taught "the use of improvised explosive devices, booby traps and the manufacture and use of time-delay devices", in what activist Rae McGrath denounced as "a criminally irresponsible and cynical policy".
Thatcher and her party had supported British membership of the EC in the 1975 national referendum, but she believed that the role of the organisation should be limited to ensuring free trade and effective competition, and feared that the EC's approach was at odds with her views on smaller government and deregulation. Her opposition to further European integration became more pronounced during her premiership, particularly after her third election victory in 1987. During a 1988 speech in Bruges she outlined her opposition to proposals from the European Community (EC), forerunner of the European Union, for a federal structure and increased centralisation of decision making. She said: "We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level, with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels."
Thatcher was one of the first Western leaders to respond warmly to reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Following Reagan–Gorbachev summit meetings and reforms enacted by Gorbachev in the USSR, she declared in November 1988 that "We're not in a Cold War now", but rather in a "new relationship much wider than the Cold War ever was". She went on a state visit to the Soviet Union in 1984 and met with Gorbachev and Council of Ministers Chairman Nikolai Ryzhkov.
Thatcher was in the US on a state visit when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded neighbouring Kuwait in August 1990. During her talks with President George H. W. Bush, who had succeeded Reagan in 1989, she recommended intervention, and put pressure on Bush to deploy troops in the Middle East to drive the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait. Bush was apprehensive about the plan, prompting Thatcher to remark to him during a telephone conversation that "This was no time to go wobbly!" Her ministry supplied military forces to the international coalition in the build-up to the Gulf War, but she had resigned by the time hostilities began on 17 January 1991. She applauded the coalition victory as a backbencher, but warned that "the victories of peace will take longer than the battles of war". It has since been made public that Thatcher suggested threatening Saddam with chemical weapons after the invasion of Kuwait.
Thatcher, sharing the concerns of French President François Mitterrand, was initially opposed to German reunification, telling Gorbachev that it "would lead to a change to postwar borders, and we cannot allow that because such a development would undermine the stability of the whole international situation and could endanger our security". She expressed concern that a united Germany would align itself more closely with the Soviet Union and move away from NATO. In March 1990, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl promised Thatcher that he would keep her "informed of all his intentions about unification", and was prepared to disclose "matters which even his cabinet would not know". In November 1989, Thatcher hailed the fall of the Berlin Wall as "a great day for freedom".
Thatcher was challenged for the leadership of the Conservative Party by the little-known backbench MP Sir Anthony Meyer in the 1989 leadership election. Of the 374 Conservative MPs eligible to vote, 314 voted for Thatcher and 33 for Meyer. Her supporters in the party viewed the result as a success, and rejected suggestions that there was discontent within the party.
During her premiership Thatcher had the second-lowest average approval rating (40%) of any post-war Prime Minister. Since the resignation of Nigel Lawson as Chancellor in 1989, polls consistently showed that she was less popular than her party. A self-described conviction politician, Thatcher always insisted that she did not care about her poll ratings and pointed instead to her unbeaten election record.
Opinion polls in September 1990 reported that Labour had established a 14% lead over the Conservatives, and by November the Conservatives had been trailing Labour for 18 months. These ratings, together with Thatcher's combative personality and willingness to override colleagues' opinions, contributed to discontent within her party.
On 1 November 1990, Geoffrey Howe, the last remaining member of Thatcher's original 1979 cabinet, resigned from his position as Deputy Prime Minister over her refusal to agree to a timetable for Britain to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. In his resignation speech on 13 November, Howe commented on Thatcher's European stance: "It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease only for them to find the moment that the first balls are bowled that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain." His resignation hastened the end to Thatcher's premiership.
On 14 November, Michael Heseltine mounted a challenge for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Opinion polls had indicated that he would give the Conservatives a national lead over Labour. Although Thatcher won the first ballot with 204 to 152 votes and 16 abstentions, Heseltine had attracted sufficient support to force a second ballot. Under party rules, Thatcher had not only needed to win a majority, but her margin over Heseltine had to be equivalent to 15% of the 372 Conservative MPs in order to win the leadership election outright; with 54.8% against 40.9% for Heseltine, she came up four votes short. Thatcher initially stated that she intended to "fight on and fight to win" the second ballot, but consultation with her Cabinet persuaded her to withdraw. After an audience with the Queen, calling other world leaders, and making one final Commons speech, on 28 November she left Downing Street in tears. She reportedly regarded her ousting as a betrayal. Her resignation was a surprise to many outside of Britain, with statesmen such as Henry Kissinger and Mikhail Gorbachev privately expressing consternation.
Thatcher was replaced as Prime Minister and party leader by Chancellor John Major, who prevailed over Heseltine in the subsequent ballot. Major oversaw an upturn in Conservative support in the 17 months leading to the 1992 general election and led the party to a fourth successive victory on 9 April 1992. Thatcher favoured Major in the leadership contest, but her support for him waned in later years.
Thatcher returned to the backbenches as a constituency parliamentarian after leaving the premiership. Her domestic approval rating recovered after her resignation; the balance of public opinion was that her government had been good for the country. Aged 66, she retired from the House at the 1992 general election, saying that leaving the Commons would allow her more freedom to speak her mind.
Upon leaving the House of Commons, Thatcher became the first former Prime Minister to set up a foundation; the British wing of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation was dissolved in 2005 because of financial difficulties. She wrote two volumes of memoirs, The Downing Street Years (1993) and The Path to Power (1995). In 1991 she and her husband Denis moved to a house in Chester Square, a residential garden square in central London's Belgravia district.
Thatcher was hired by the tobacco company Philip Morris as a "geopolitical consultant" in July 1992, for $250,000 per year and an annual contribution of $250,000 to her foundation. Thatcher earned $50,000 for each speech she delivered.
In August 1992 she called for NATO to stop the Serbian assault on Goražde and Sarajevo to end ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian War. In an op-ed, she compared the situation in Bosnia–Herzegovina to "the worst excesses of the Nazis", and warned that there could be a "holocaust". She was an advocate of Croatian and Slovenian independence. In a 1991 interview for Croatian Radiotelevision, Thatcher had commented on the Yugoslav Wars; she was critical of Western governments for not recognising the breakaway republics of Croatia and Slovenia as independent states and for not supplying them with armaments after the Serbian-led Yugoslav Army attacked.
She made a series of speeches in the Lords criticising the Maastricht Treaty, describing it as "a treaty too far" and stated: "I could never have signed this treaty." She cited A. V. Dicey when deducing that as all three main parties were in favour of the treaty, the people should have their say in a referendum.
Thatcher served as honorary chancellor of the College of William & Mary in Virginia from 1993 to 2000 and of the University of Buckingham from 1992 to 1998, the first private university in the UK from 1983, which she formally opened in 1976 as the former Education Secretary.
After Tony Blair's election as Labour Party leader in 1994, Thatcher praised Blair as "probably the most formidable Labour leader since Hugh Gaitskell", adding: "I see a lot of socialism behind their front bench, but not in Mr Blair. I think he genuinely has moved." Blair reciprocated in describing Thatcher as a "thoroughly determined person, and that is an admirable quality".
At the 2001 general election, Thatcher supported the Conservative campaign, as she had done in 1992 and 1997, and in the Conservative leadership election following its defeat, she endorsed Iain Duncan Smith over Kenneth Clarke. In 2002 she encouraged George W. Bush to aggressively tackle the "unfinished business" of Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and praised Tony Blair for his "strong, bold leadership" in standing with Bush in the Iraq War.
She broached the same subject in her Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World, which was published in April 2002 and dedicated to Ronald Reagan, writing that there would be no peace in the Middle East until Saddam Hussein was toppled. Her book also said that Israel must trade land for peace, and that the European Union (EU) was "fundamentally unreformable", "a classic utopian project, a monument to the vanity of intellectuals, a programme whose inevitable destiny is failure". She argued that Britain should renegotiate its terms of membership or else leave the EU and join the North American Free Trade Area.
Following several small strokes she was advised by her doctors not to engage in further public speaking. On 23 March 2002 she announced that on the advice of her doctors she would cancel all planned speaking engagements and accept no more.
On 26 June 2003, Thatcher's husband Sir Denis died of pancreatic cancer, and was cremated on 3 July.
On 11 June 2004, Thatcher (against doctor's orders) attended the state funeral service for Ronald Reagan. She delivered her eulogy via videotape; in view of her health, the message had been pre-recorded several months earlier. Thatcher flew to California with the Reagan entourage, and attended the memorial service and interment ceremony for the president at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
In 2005, Thatcher criticised the way the decision to invade Iraq had been made two years previously. Although she still supported the intervention to topple Saddam Hussein, she said that (as a scientist) she would always look for "facts, evidence and proof", before committing the armed forces. She celebrated her 80th birthday on 13 October at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hyde Park, London; guests included the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Alexandra and Tony Blair. Lord (Geoffrey) Howe of Aberavon was also present, and said of Thatcher: "Her real triumph was to have transformed not just one party but two, so that when Labour did eventually return, the great bulk of Thatcherism was accepted as irreversible."
Thatcher's daughter Carol first revealed that her mother had dementia in 2005, revealing that "Mum doesn't read much any more because of her memory loss". In her 2008 memoir, Carol wrote that her mother "could hardly remember the beginning of a sentence by the time she got to the end". She later recounted how she was first struck by her mother's dementia when in conversation Thatcher had confused the Falklands and Yugoslav conflicts; she recalled the pain of needing to tell her mother repeatedly that her husband Denis was dead.
In 2006, Thatcher attended the official Washington, D.C. memorial service to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the 11 September attacks on the US. She was a guest of Vice President Dick Cheney, and met Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her visit. In February 2007 Thatcher became the first living British prime minister to be honoured with a statue in the Houses of Parliament. The bronze statue stands opposite that of her political hero, Sir Winston Churchill's, and was unveiled on 21 February 2007 with Thatcher in attendance; she made brief remarks in the Members' Lobby of the Commons: "I might have preferred iron – but bronze will do ... It won't rust."
Thatcher was a public supporter of the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism and the resulting Prague Process, and sent a public letter of support to its preceding conference.
After collapsing at a House of Lords dinner, Thatcher, having suffered low blood pressure, was admitted to St Thomas' Hospital in central London on 7 March 2008 for tests. In 2009 she was hospitalised again when she fell and broke her arm. Thatcher returned to 10 Downing Street in late November 2009 for the unveiling of an official portrait by artist Richard Stone, an unusual honour for a living ex-Prime Minister. Stone had previously painted portraits of the Queen and the Queen Mother.
On 4 July 2011, Thatcher was to attend a ceremony for the unveiling of a 10 ft (3.0 m) statue to Ronald Reagan, outside the US Embassy in London, but was unable to attend due to her frail health. On 31 July 2011, it was announced that her office in the House of Lords had been closed. Earlier that month, Thatcher was named the most competent British prime minister of the past 30 years in an Ipsos MORI poll.
Baroness Thatcher died on 8 April 2013, at the age of 87, after suffering a stroke. She had been staying at a suite in the Ritz Hotel in London since December 2012 after having difficulty with stairs at her Chester Square home in Belgravia. Her death certificate listed as the primary causes of death a "cerebrovascular accident" and a "repeated transient ischaemic attack"; secondary causes were listed as a "carcinoma of the bladder" and dementia.
Reactions to the news of Thatcher's death were mixed across the UK, ranging from tributes lauding her as Britain's greatest-ever peacetime Prime Minister to public celebrations of her death and expressions of hatred and personalised vitriol.
Details of Thatcher's funeral had been agreed with her in advance. She received a ceremonial funeral, including full military honours, with a church service at St Paul's Cathedral on 17 April.
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh attended her funeral, only the second time in the Queen's reign that she attended the funeral of any of her former prime ministers; the first and only precedent being that of Winston Churchill in 1965, who had received a state funeral upon his death.
After the service at St Paul's Cathedral, Thatcher's body was cremated at Mortlake Crematorium, where her husband had been cremated. On 28 September, a service for Thatcher was held in the All Saints Chapel of the Royal Hospital Chelsea's Margaret Thatcher Infirmary. In a private ceremony, Thatcher's ashes were interred in the grounds of the hospital, next to those of her husband.
"Thatcherism" represented a systematic, decisive rejection and reversal of the post-war consensus, whereby the major political parties largely agreed on the central themes of Keynesianism, the welfare state, nationalised industry, and close regulation of the economy. The National Health Service was a notable exception; she promised in 1982 that it was "safe in our hands". Influenced at the outset by Keith Joseph, the term came to refer to her policies as well as aspects of her ethical outlook and personal style, including moral absolutism, nationalism, interest in the individual, and an uncompromising approach to achieving political goals.
Thatcher defined her own political philosophy in a major and controversial break with the one-nation conservatism of Edward Heath and her Conservative predecessors in an interview published in Woman's Own magazine, three months after victory in the 1987 general election:
I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand "I have a problem, it is the Government's job to cope with it!" or "I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!" "I am homeless, the Government must house me!" and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations.
The number of adults owning shares rose from 7 per cent to 25 per cent during her tenure, and more than a million families bought their council houses, giving an increase from 55 per cent to 67 per cent in owner occupiers from 1979 to 1990. The houses were sold at a discount of 33–55 per cent, leading to large profits for some new owners. Personal wealth rose by 80 per cent in real terms during the 1980s, mainly due to rising house prices and increased earnings. Shares in the privatised utilities were sold below their market value to ensure quick and wide sales, rather than maximise national income.
Thatcher's premiership was also marked by periods of high unemployment and social unrest, and many critics on the left of the political spectrum fault her economic policies for the unemployment level; many of the areas affected by mass unemployment as well as her monetarist economic policies remained blighted for decades, by such social problems as drug abuse and family breakdown. Unemployment did not fall below its 1979 level during her tenure, although in June 1990 the recorded rate (5.4%) was lower than the rate in April 1979 (5.5%). The long-term effects of her policies on manufacturing remain contentious.
Conversing in Scotland in April 2009, Thatcher insisted she had no regrets and had been right to introduce the "poll tax", and to withdraw subsidies from "outdated industries, whose markets were in terminal decline", subsidies that created "the culture of dependency, which had done such damage to Britain". Political economist Susan Strange termed the new financial growth model "casino capitalism", reflecting her view that speculation and financial trading were becoming more important to the economy than industry.
Critics on the left describe her as divisive and claim she condoned greed and selfishness. Welsh politician Rhodri Morgan and others have characterised Thatcher as a "Marmite" figure. Michael White, writing in the New Statesman, challenged the view that her reforms had brought a net benefit; while others have depicted her approach as "a mixed bag" or as a Curate's egg.
Thatcher did "little to advance the political cause of women" either within her party or the government. Burns states that some British feminists regarded her as "an enemy". June Purvis claims that although Thatcher had struggled laboriously against the sexist prejudices of her day to rise to the top, she made no effort to ease the path for other women. Thatcher did not regard women's rights as requiring particular attention as she did not, especially during her premiership, consider that women were being deprived of their rights. She suggested that women should be shortlisted by default for all public appointments but had once proposed that those with young children ought to leave the work force.
Thatcher's stance on immigration in the late 1970s was perceived as part of a rising racist public discourse, which film critic Martin Barker called "new racism". Sociologists Mark Mitchell and Dave Russell responded that Thatcher had been badly misinterpreted. Race was not an important focus of Thatcherism. The leading racist force in Britain at the time was the National Front (NF). She believed that it was winning over large numbers of Conservative voters with warnings against floods of immigrants. Her strategy was to destroy the NF attack by acknowledging that many Britons did have serious fears that needed to be addressed. Her deputy and Shadow Home Secretary William Whitelaw supported the campaign against the NF, but Thatcher as leader successfully opposed the Conservative contributions to the campaign. In January 1978, Thatcher launched an attack on immigration with the goal of attracting voters away from the NF and back to the Conservatives. In an April 1978 speech she likened the NF to communists. Thatcher's rhetoric was followed by the return of Conservative voters from the National Front. The NF peaked in 1978 and collapsed in 1979, never to recover; immigration was not a major political issue in the 1980s. The Conservative and Labour parties by the 1980s had similar positions on immigration policy. In her eleven years as Prime Minister there were no policies passed or proposed by the government to restrict immigration. Her ministry had adopted Labour policy recommendations in passing the British Nationality Act in 1981. Following her success in taking votes from the NF in 1979, some on the left accused her of being just as racially prejudiced. In a 2001 analysis, academic Muhammad Anwar asserted that Thatcher had made no major speeches on race as Prime Minister.
Many of Thatcher's policies had an influence on the Labour Party, which had returned to power in 1997 under Tony Blair. Blair rebranded the party "New Labour" in 1994 with an aim of increasing its appeal beyond its traditional supporters, and to attract those who had supported Thatcher, such as the "Essex man". She is said to have regarded New Labour as her greatest achievement.
Shortly after Thatcher's death, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond argued that her policies had the "unintended consequence" of encouraging Scottish devolution. Lord Foulkes of Cumnock agreed on Scotland Tonight that she had provided "the impetus" for devolution. In an article for The Scotsman, Thatcher had argued against devolution on the basis that it would eventually lead to Scottish independence.
Thatcher's tenure of 11 years and 209 days as Prime Minister was the longest since Lord Salisbury (13 years and 252 days, in three spells) and the longest continuous period in office since Lord Liverpool (14 years and 305 days). She remains the longest-serving Prime Minister officially referred to as such, as the post was only officially given recognition in the order of precedence in 1905.
Having led her party to general election victories three times in a row (twice in landslide), she ranks as the most popular party leader in British history in terms of votes cast for the winning party, with over 40 million ballots casted for the Conservatives in total between 1979 and 1987. Her final election win was hailed as a "historic hat trick" by The Independent and other newspapers.
Thatcher was voted the fourth-greatest Prime Minister of the 20th century in a poll of 139 academics organised by MORI, and in 2002 she ranked highest among living persons in the BBC poll 100 Greatest Britons. In 1999, Time magazine deemed Thatcher as one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century. In 2015 she topped a poll conducted by Scottish Widows as the most influential woman of the past two centuries, and in 2016 topped BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour Power List of women judged to have had the biggest impact on female lives over the past 70 years.
One of the earliest satires of Thatcher as Prime Minister involved satirist John Wells (as writer and performer), actress Janet Brown (voicing Thatcher) and future Spitting Image producer John Lloyd (as co-producer), who in 1979 were teamed up by producer Martin Lewis for the satirical audio album The Iron Lady, which consisted of skits and songs satirising Thatcher's rise to power. The album was released in September 1979.
Thatcher was the subject or the inspiration for 1980s protest songs. Musicians Billy Bragg and Paul Weller helped to form the Red Wedge collective to support Labour in opposition to Thatcher. Known simply as "Maggie" by both supporters and opponents, the chant song "Maggie Out" became a signature rallying cry among the left during the latter half of her premiership.
Thatcher was parodied by John Wells in several media. Wells collaborated with Richard Ingrams on the spoof "Dear Bill" letters, which ran as a column in Private Eye magazine; they were also published in book form and became a West End stage revue titled Anyone for Denis?, with Wells in the role of Denis Thatcher. It was followed by a 1982 TV special directed by Dick Clement, in which Thatcher was portrayed by Angela Thorne.
Satirical puppet show Spitting Image lampooned Thatcher as a cross-dressing bully who ridiculed her own ministers. She was voiced by Steve Nallon.
According to theatre critic Michael Billington, Thatcher left an "emphatic mark" on the arts throughout her time as Prime Minister.
Since her resignation as Prime Minister in 1990, Thatcher has been portrayed in a number of television programmes, documentaries, films and plays. She was portrayed by Patricia Hodge in Ian Curteis's long unproduced The Falklands Play (2002) and by Andrea Riseborough in the TV film The Long Walk to Finchley (2008). She is the protagonist in two films, played by Lindsay Duncan in Margaret (2009) and by Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady (2011), in which she is depicted as suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
Thatcher became a Privy Councillor (PC) upon becoming Secretary of State for Education and Science in 1970. She was the first woman entitled to full membership rights as an honorary member of the Carlton Club on becoming Leader of the Conservative Party in 1975.
As Prime Minister, Thatcher received two honorary distinctions:24 October 1979 (1979-10-24): invited to become an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chemistry (FRIC)
1 July 1983 (1983-07-01): elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS), a point of controversy among some of the then-existing Fellows
Within two weeks of her resignation, Thatcher was appointed a Member of the Order of Merit (OM) by Queen Elizabeth II in December 1990. Her husband Denis was honoured with a hereditary baronetcy at the same time. As the spouse of a knight, Thatcher was entitled to use the honorific title "Lady" but chose not to formally use the title. She became Lady Thatcher in her own right in 1992, upon her ennoblement in the House of Lords.
Thatcher was awarded twice in 1991 with the highest civilian awards of the United States and South Africa respectively:7 March 1991 (1991-03-07): awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on behalf of President George H. W. Bush
15 May 1991 (1991-05-15): awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Good Hope on behalf of President F. W. de Klerk
In the Falklands, Margaret Thatcher Day has been marked each 10 January since 1992, commemorating her first visit to the Islands in January 1983, six months after the end of the Falklands War.
Thatcher became a member of the House of Lords in 1992 with a life peerage as Baroness Thatcher, of Kesteven in the County of Lincolnshire. As a peer, Thatcher was entitled to use a personal coat of arms. A second coat of arms was created for Thatcher following her appointment as a Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter (LG) in 1995, the highest order of chivalry for women. Despite having received her own arms, Thatcher often used the Royal Arms instead of her own against protocol.Arms of Baroness Thatcher
In the US, Thatcher received the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award, and became Patron of The Heritage Foundation in 2006; the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom was established in 2005.The Downing Street Years. HarperCollins. 18 October 1993. ISBN 978-0-00-255049-9.
The Path to Power. HarperCollins. 1 June 1995. ISBN 978-0-00-255050-5.
Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World. Harper Perennial. 25 March 2003. ISBN 978-0-06-095912-8.