13 October 1925 – 8 April 2013
British Prime Minister (1979-1990) and the most divisive figure of modern British history. Adored by some, despised by others, the grocer’s daughter from Grantham entered history simply for rising through the Conservative Party’s ranks, serving under Ted Heath as Education Secretary, to become Britain’s first female leader, but with an uncompromising style, the “Iron Lady” was intent on doing so much more. She introduced a widespread programme of New Right economic reforms, focusing on free market capitalism, monetarism and enterprise in a bid to reverse Britain’s decline throughout the 1970s. Because, or in spite, of these policies, Britain entered a new boom period, but not without deep rooted societal costs. The loss of Britain’s great industrial base and the now unemployed communities at their heart became the focus of much anger, with the privatisation of the state owned industries, the closure of the coal mines and crushing of the trade unions leaving Britain a totally changed place. She supported President Reagan closely in his Cold War efforts and narrowly survived assassination by the IRA when they bombed the Grand Hotel in Brighton. The successful repelling of the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982 is arguably the most uniformly good thing she did, but that is not without its critics. After three election victories, Thatcher’s unyielding focus brought her downfall. The disastrous Community Charge (or poll tax) and her obdurate views on Europe saw the iconic resignation of her closest ally Geoffrey Howe, leading to a leadership challenge from Michael Hesseltine and then her resignation. She retired to the House of Lords, and then from public life altogether as strokes and dementia took her health. She died in 2013, aged 87, from a stroke at the Ritz.