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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Margaret Thatcher

(Margaret Roberts, b. 1925, m. Denis Thatcher 1951, baroness 1992)
The longest-serving prime minister of the 20C (1979–90), but also the only one to be removed from office in peacetime by pressure from within her own party. Born in the Lincolnshire town of Grantham, daughter of a grocer who became mayor of the town, she studied chemistry at Oxford University (1947–51). She married Denis Thatcher in 1951 and their twins, Mark and Carol, were born in 1953. Meanwhile she was studying law, and she became a barrister in 1954. She was elected in 1959 for the safe Conservative seat of Finchley, in north London, and first entered the cabinet as secretary of state for education and science (1970–4) in the administration of Edward Heath. In 1975 she challenged Heath for the party leadership. Although apparently having only an outside chance, she won.

Her victory in the general election of 1979 began an era which became stamped with her name. 'Thatcherism' and 'Thatcherite' became part of the language, referring to her own brand of aggressive 'conviction' politics which rejected the broad consensus (characteristic of British attitudes since World War II), promoting instead the free play of market forces, often regardless of any socially harsh results, and dismantling the restrictive practices of both the trade unions and the professions. She was rescued from early unpopularity by her determined handling of the *Falklands War in 1982.

Two years later her response to an internal problem, the *miners' strike of 1984–5, gave another boost to her reputation for toughness, which had been won originally through her intransigence on Britain's behalf in economic negotiations with the *EC. It was the Russians who had first called her the Iron Lady, in 1976, because of her pronouncements on the Cold War as leader of the Opposition; and she herself proclaimed in 1980 that she was 'not for turning' (see The *Lady's Not For Burning).

Her qualities of strength and dominance later contributed to her downfall, as it came to seem that cabinet colleagues could not work with her and that certain deeply unpopular policies (in particular the *poll tax) were specifically her own. Two senior ministers resigned over the *Westland affair in 1986; her chancellor, Nigel Lawson, resigned in 1989 over the Exchange Rate Mechanism; and her longest surviving colleague, Geoffrey Howe, resigned in 1990 over her attitude to Europe, precipitating the leadership challenge in which John *Major emerged as her successor.

The Thatcher years polarized British politics in a way unknown since the 1930s. Her supporters saw *privatization as the creation of a new share-owning democracy; her opponents likened the same measures as selling the family silver (in Harold Macmillan's analogy), and argued that the unrepeatable benefits of *North Sea oil had been squandered. Her admirers talked much of the 'economic miracle' of the 1980s, a period which others saw as characterized by the two extremes of *yuppies and *homeless. 'There is no such thing as society', she said in 1987; 'there are individual men and women, and there are families.'

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