Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Iron Lady passes. RIP Baroness Thatcher 1925-2013

The only woman to so far achieve the position of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, The Rt Hon. The Baroness Thatcher, LG, OM, PC, FRS has died peacefully following a stoke in London Monday, she was 87.

Born Margaret Roberts in Linconshire, daughter of a grocer, she studied as a research chemist before entering politics as a member of the Conservitive Party for Finchley in 1958 and became an MP in the following year. She began making a name for herself in 1966 by attacking the Labour Government’s policies which she described as socialist and bordering on Communism.

Thatcher was appointed Secretary of State for Education and Science in 1970 and instituted a number of education reforms but when the Conservatives were later ousted she replaced Edward Heath as leader of the Conservatives in 1975 and thusly became leader of the opposition. As opposition leader she continued her stand against communism and socialism and became the face of the movement opposing the welfare state. Her scathing attack on Russia at a town hall speech earned her the moniker of “The Iron Lady” from the Russians something she gladly adopted.

After a series of devastating labour strikes in the winter before the election of 1979, James Callaghan’s government collapsed and the Conservatives were voted into power with Margaret Thatcher as the UK’s first female Prime Minister. The Conservative Party was re-elected twice leading her to serve as PM until 1990.

Thatcher limited the number of immigrants into the UK, increased interest rates to lower inflation, reduced expenditure on social services and cut higher education spending. Her “Poll tax” reform of local government met widespread condemnation despite leading the British economy into recovery. She reduced the power of trade unions which she thought undermined democracy through their constant strike action. She refused to give into their demands and had dozens of coal mines closed devastating communities and leading to much of her unpopularity.

Thatcher privatised utilities like BT and British Gas and many industries which were previously owned by the government. She encouraged growth in finance and service sectors to reduce reliance on the failing old style manufacturing industry and made the City of London one of the world’s most successful financial centres.

Thatcher took a hard-line stance against convicted hunger-striking IRA terrorists in Northern Ireland who were seeking to be classed as political prisoners. She refused to give into their demands and upon dying the prisoners became martyrs for the Republican cause inciting widespread unrest and an increase in IRA recruitment. The Brighton Hotel bombing was carried out as an assassination attempt on her life in 1984, in defiance she made a galvanising speech at the Conservative Party conference the following day.

Thatcher’s distrust of communism led her to become a staunch political ally of then US President Ronald Reagan and assisted him in bringing an end to the Cold War by accepting reformist USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev.  She was a prominent supporter of NATO and permitted the US to station 160 cruise missiles at an RAF base. She tripled the UK’s nuclear forces despite opposition from the CND.

In April 1982 Thatcher sent a Royal Naval Task Force to retake the Falkland Islands which had been invaded by Argentina. The resulting Falklands War was the largest British military campaign since WWII and the Naval Officers who took part in the conflict liken her to Churchill such was the respect they had for her resolve. Her decision to have the HMS Conqueror torpedo and sink the cruiser ARA General Belgrano killing more than 400 of her crew was met with controversy but victory came 6 weeks later and the “Falklands Factor” let to Thatcher’s relection in 1983.

Due to the “poll tax” and her stance on the European Exchance Rate Mechanism in 1990, Thatcher’s supporters in government either resigned or dropped support and initiated a leadership challenge. Her cabinet persuader her to withdraw from opposing it and she left Downing Street after an unprecedented 11 and a half years in office.

Thatcher continued to serve as an MP until 1992 when she retired at 66. She wrote memoirs and books, established a foundation and worked as a consultant for a tobacco company. She didn’t shy from public speaking and was vocal against the Serbian assault on Gorazde and Sarajevo in 1992 and criticised the Maastricht Treaty. In recent years she made fewer public appearances due to ailing health and the onset of dementia. In accordance with her wishes she will not receive a state funeral, but will be honoured by a church service at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, where she will be accorded military honours.

Baroness Thatcher along with President Ronald Reagan and An Taoiseach Charles J. Haughey are the three individuals, albeit quite different, who awakened my own political views and with which whom I most politically identify with. While I may not entirely agree 100% with her actual decisions I held nothing but respect for her rejection of the political U-Turn - probably the most reprehensible factor in modern politics.

"The Iron Lady" was also not a practitioner of caving in under political pressure even if to save her own career. I wish for a day where people are in a position to vote for a person with the strength of character as the great Margaret Thatcher and not the spineless corrupt freeloading scumbags we're forced to choose between today.

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