Margaret Thatcher 1925 – 2013

While we have known for sometime that Margaret Thatcher hasn’t been well, it still came as a shock to us all when it was announced yesterday that she had passed away, aged 87. As Britain’s longest serving Prime Minister in modern times and the first woman to lead a major Western democracy, she was always bound to be remembered. Without her, Britain would be a vastly different place, with her bold reforms shaping our world as it stands today. Even so, whether you agree with her politics or not, at the time it would have been impossible to guess just how big her lasting impact would be, leaving a legacy that few will ever equal.

The daughter of a grocer, who himself was heavily involved in politics, her early life did a lot to shape her future. Studying at Oxford University, she first became involved in politics, later becoming an MP for Finchley, in 1959 at the age of 34, at a time when female politicians were still a rarity. After the Conservatives lost the 1974 election, the Party realised it needed a different approach. To the surprise of many, she won the leadership election, subsequently winning the 1979 election with a majority of 43 and taking her first step into Number 10.

With the economy in tatters and following the Winter of Discontent, she was determined to make changes. Clamping down on government spending, unemployment increased and the economy continued its downturn. The period will be remembered for the minor’s strikes and discontent that brought many onto the streets to show their displeasure. Many called for her to change course, but she persevered. Consequently, the economy recovered and thanks to her policies, including privatisation and liberalising the stock market, the stage was set for the UK to experience prosperous decades, full of economic growth and improving quality of life. Her reforms might have been damaging at the time, but it was very much short-term pain for long-term gain, with a whole generation experiencing for the first time what it was like to own their own home. Of course, like everyone, she made mistakes and caused hardship for some, but her changes have given many of us what we have today.

Not only strong domestically, but she was also powerful abroad, earning her “Iron Lady” nickname. When Argentina took the Falklands, she took the decision to take them back, even though many of her advisors thought that it was a bad idea. Joining forces with Ronald Reagan, they pioneered free-market conservatism that has since spread throughout the entire world. She supported the reform of Soviet President Mikhael Gorbachev, helping to end the Cold War, ending the Soviet era and helping to bring democracy to countries in the Eastern Bloc. Taking a hardline on Europe, she proved that she could not be beaten, using her courage to gain a massive rebate in budget discussions. Recognising that there was an almost irresistible movement towards a political union and a common currency, she was ahead of her time. Perhaps only Winston Churchill, out of all modern British prime ministers, acquired a higher international reputation.

Whether it’s the self-belief that she installed in people to start their own businesses; her championing of the values that had made Britain great or her efforts to end the Cold War, the World was transformed and all of us should be grateful.

Since her death the world has reacted, with these quotes possibly providing the best remembrance of her life and future legacy.

We have lost a great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton. She didn’t just lead our country, she saved our country, and I believe she’ll go down as the greatest British peacetime prime minister. And people will be learning about what she did and her achievements in decades, probably for centuries to come

David Cameron.

Even if you disagreed with her as I did on certain issues and occasionally strongly, you could not disrespect her character or her contribution to Britain’s national life. She will be sadly missed.

Tony Blair.

Margaret Thatcher freed millions of people to buy their own homes and buy shares in British companies. She ended the defeatism and pessimism of the post-war period and unleashed a spirit of enterprise. She fought against the clubby, cosy, male-dominated consensus of both main parties – and she won. Her beliefs – in thrift, hard work, and proper reward for merit – were not always popular. But her legacy is colossal.

Boris Johnson.

She changed us all. We went from being a people who saw ourselves as eternally on the downward slide to a nation that was proud to be British again. On the world stage too, she made Britain count once more.

Charles Powell, former advisor.

With the passing of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend. As a grocer’s daughter who rose to become Britain’s first female prime minister, she stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered. As prime minister, she helped restore the confidence and pride that has always been the hallmark of Britain at its best.

Barack Obama.

Without a doubt Britain would be vastly different place today without Margaret Thatcher. Making bold decisions that many politicians would have shied away from, her free market reforms and curbs on union power – that caused so much controversy in the 1980s – are now accepted by all mainstream British political parties. Inheriting one of the weakest economies in Europe, by the time she left power it was the strongest. Never losing an election, many who had never voted Conservative before did, in part due to her home ownership programme. She created a platform on which today’s politics are based, with Tony Blair building upon her ideas. Commercially, financially and if necessary, militarily, she enhanced Britain’s position in the world. It’s important to remember that she did make mistakes, with some communities losing out drastically due to her changes, but I think the good outweighs the bad.

For whatever you personal political view, Thatcher did more than most to look towards the future, rather than just to the next election. As a result, she will go down as the greatest British peacetime prime minister and will forever be remembered, leaving a lasting legacy. Whether it is ambition, belief, conviction, courage, honesty, leadership, loyalty, openness, strength, tenacity and perhaps most of all, her determination – she was extraordinary. With Britain at a crossroads, we could do with another like her, but possibly that’s what made her great: one of a kind.

May she rest in peace.

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