Margaret Thatcher And Her Influence On The United Kingdom

First female prime minister in the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher held this office three times in a row, from 1979 to 1990. What is interesting is the fact that everybody in the world know her, know her face and have a certain perspective of her. For instance, I am French and since my childhood, I knew that this lady existed, I knew what she looked like, I knew that she had ruled the United Kingdom and that many people disliked her. In my mind and due to the influence of all I have heard about her around me, I had the image of a strict and tough politician who has caused many pains to English workers and the image of a person who has changed this country forever. Even before studying her path at school, I had a pre-established representation of her in my mind and I think that was the case of many people in other countries as well. Why is that? How and why did she have such impact on the minds of people? First, we will see in which way she has changed the country, then we will explain why she was called the Iron lady. Finally, we will see why she remains in minds.

“She didn’t just lead our country, she saved our country”, these are the words pronounced by David Cameron after her death, the former leader of the Conservative Party. In fact, when Margaret Thatcher arrived in power, the United Kingdom faced a huge socioeconomic crisis called the “winter of Discontent” from 1978 to 1979 due to the fall of James Callaghan’s labour government. There were widespread strikes of workers all over the country during that period due to a high inflation and the limits of pay rises. It was in the set of the defeat of this policy and Labour’s subsequent electoral defeat and unprecedented political, economic, and social change for the country that Margaret Thatcher was elected First Prime Minister. She had to face this period of recession and unemployment.

Thus, she battled this recession by raising interest rates to control inflation, she established a plan of privatisation of industry, housing and public transport to relaunch the economy. In doing this, she was remembered as the destructor of Britain’s traditional industry. Moreover, she attacked labour organization such as the miner’s union by closing gradually the mines because they were not enough profitable. She stopped the miner’s strike in 1984-1985 with violence. The miners lost their jobs and fell into poverty. Some of them have lost their house and never recovered. They rejected such capitalist measure. Nowadays in the Yorkshire, the few mines left employ 2000 persons compared 200 000 in 1984. The miners attributed the unemployment, drug traffic and alcoholism of the county to the politic of Margaret Thatcher. “If she wants to be incinerated, I am sorry but there is no coal left and it is her fault” said Geoff Smith, manager of the working club of Armthorpe’s village. This is one of the darkest examples of the deep changes that Margaret Thatcher has made in the United Kingdom.

On another hand, she decreased public expenditures and encouraged market deregulation. This measure has allowed the City (the financial district and historic centre of London) to become an inescapable financial place. “She unleashed a new era of global banking and transformed the City of London from a closed shop to international trading house”, those are the words written by David Thomas and Richard Partington in the Financial News  and reflect what the financial field remembers from Margaret Thatcher, an image far different from the one of the miners.

In fact, the growth has not touched all level of society and inequalities are deeper than before. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, poverty has increased under Margaret Thatcher: in 1979, 13.4% of the population lived below 60% of median incomes before housing costs. In 1990, it had increased to 22.2%, which represents 12.2m people. Huge rises will follow in the mid-1980s. Moreover, one of the important changes which happened under Thatcher was the loss of the Unions power. In the 1970s, the British unions were thriving and about 50% of all workers were members. However, Margaret Thatcher was against the Unions since they organised a huge strike during “the winter of discontent” which paralysed the country. It is partly due to the dissatisfaction driven by this strike that she became First Prime Minister, because she was against them. She considered them as a threat since their paralysation of the country and their disregard for laws. She did not give in during the five years Irish unions hunger strike in 1981 as well. She imposed herself as an inflexible woman politician.

In fact, it is her intransigence and inflexibility that have shaped the image of the Iron Lady. Quotations like “If you lead a country like Britain, a strong country, a country which has taken a lead in world affairs in good times and in bad, a country that is always reliable, then you have to have a touch of iron about you.” or “Any leader has to have a certain amount of steel in them, so I am not that put out being called the Iron Lady” depict what kind of person she was. It is important to mention that she was born in a merchant family. She was a good student, she raised up the importance of hard work and earned her degree in chemistry in 1947. She also served as president of the Conservative Association at the university. After her graduation, she went on to work as a research chemist in Colchester. However, she was still interested in politics, thus she tried to succeed in this field. She tried to become a conservative candidate for a Dartford parliamentary seat in the 1950 elections. Despite all her failures and the fact that she became a mother, she kept trying and in 1959, Thatcher won a seat in the House of Commons. Subsequently, she worked as a secretary for pensions and national insurance in 1961. In 1970, Thatcher became secretary of state for education and science and she became prime minister in 1979. Her entire professional career depicts a real determination and that will become her trademark.

Thus, she became the head of a party mainly aristocratic even though she emphasised values such as hard work and meritocracy. In addition to this image of Iron Lady, she is remembered as the creator of the Thatcherism, ultraliberalism measures. Even nowadays, Thatcherism is considered as a credo for the Conservative Party. It consists on economic growth: government should focus on creating conducive conditions in order to make growth happened. The aim is to have economic stability and economic efficiency with low taxes, low interest rates, low inflation, low welfare payments and privatisation of state assets. However, Thatcherism is a sceptical view of government’s ability to deliver progress. Thatcher believed that government cannot achieve nothing except through people. Indeed, through this belief, we can notice the importance of hard work and meritocracy that Thatcher prioritised: everything should be left to individuals, they have to make their own choices and take their responsibility about their lives. Government just had to provide security and economic stability. 

Iron Lady, Thatcherism, how did she do to associate all those terms to her? The answer is no more than that: with her determination and her power of speech. In fact, after looking at several of her speeches, I have noticed relevant characteristics which explain why she was such an influential speaker. First, she remained calm, determined, thoughtful and confident. She always had a faint smile and looked at the audience when she spoke. Moreover, she took advantage of her reputation as the Iron lady to make humour in her speeches. A perfect example is her speech at the Finchley Conservatives. She said: “I stand before you tonight in my Red Star chiffon evening gown. (Laughter, Applause), my face softly made up and my fair hair gently waved (Laughter), the Iron Lady of the Western world. A cold war warrior, an amazon philistine, even a Peking. plotter. Well, am I any of these things? (No!) Well yes, if that's how they … (Laughter) …Yes, I am an iron lady, after all it wasn't a bad thing to be an iron duke, yes if that's how they wish to interpret my defence of values and freedoms fundamental to our way of life.” She made this speech in the context of her endless battle against Unions to protect democracy. Furthermore, she is well known for her “No! No! No!” during her response in the House of Commons regarding calls for greater central control in Europe. She imposed her opinion with determination and saved face.

It is important to mention that Margaret Thatcher was and remains a polarising figure. For instance, she is still an inspiration for the Conservative Party which maintained the Thatcherism as a credo. Moreover, Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party said “we disagree with much of what she did as the labour party but, we can disagree and also hugely respect her extraordinary achievement”, when she passed away. Subsequently, the left party paid her tribute after her death. This demonstrates the respect for her determination and achievement. Indeed, she put all her determination in what she wanted to achieve in a way she believed the better one. Furthermore, it seems that she was more appreciated in the United State according to the figures of YouGov (an online market research firm). In fact, 56 % of Democrats view her favourably as well as 82 % Republicans and 56% of Independents. Only 5 % of American Democrats think that she was a terrible Prime Minister compared to 50 % of supporters of Britain’s left-leaning Labour Party. Moreover, Margaret Thatcher is considered as the greatest British Prime Minister since 1945 with 28% compared with the famous Winston Churchill who has just 24%. 

On another hand, her death has caused a wave of joy in Irish and Scottish cities. For instance, in Glasgow, between 200 and 300 republican militants went out on the street to express their contentment. This reaction is due to the darkest moments of the IRA’s hunger strike which took end in 1981 and after 10 militants’ deaths. In London took place a gathering to celebrate her death. There were more than 6000 persons and some of them represented her with masks and sorts of marionettes. Such a high number of people celebrating her death depicts the deep rancour still alive in certain British hearts. Moreover, some anti-thatcher members decided to make the song “Ding Dong the witch is dead”, taken from the famous movie The Wizard of Oz directed by Victor Fleming and George Cukor (1939), the best-selling title after her death. All those elements prove that Margaret Thatcher has deeply shaped the British society that we know nowadays.

To conclude, Margaret Thatcher remains a controversial figure in the sense that some people see her as the saviour of Britain from economic decline, others believe that she destroyed the livelihoods of millions of workers. She remains loved and loathed at the same time. However, many people and media remembered her as a powerful woman who worked her way through the ranks thanks to her hard work without never giving up.

16 December 2021
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