It is a bit presumptive for me to mention my opinion of this great lady. I have been to England many times, some of those visits were during her time as Prime Minister, though I never saw her. She was brought into government in the traditional “woman’s post” as Secretary of State for Education by Ted Heath. I have always been a fan of Heath because of his great sailing achievements but he was not a very good Prime Minister.
In 1975, she went to Heath and told him she planned to stand for the leadership post against him. He told her “You’ll lose of course,” but she didn’t. He was hostile to her for the rest of his career in Parliament. In 1979, the Conservative Party won the election over a failed Labour Party which had presided over a decline in Britain unchanged for the better in 25 years. That was “The Winter of Discontent.”
Her early life included living as a child above her father’s grocery store. She attended Oxford on scholarship and graduated in 1947 with second honours in Chemistry. Her senior work was on x-ray crystallography, under the supervision of Nobel Prize winner Dorothy Hodgkin. She worked as a research chemist and became involved in Conservative politics. At one meeting, she met Denis Thatcher whom she married in 1951. Soon after, she began studies in law and she qualified in 1953, specializing in taxation.
She stood for office twice in 1950 and 51 but was defeated as the seat was a safe Labour seat. However, she attracted a lot of interest because of her sex and her losing margin was smaller than previous candidates.
In 1959, she was elected for Finchley, a safe Conservative seat with many Jewish residents. She became active in pro-Israel organizations although she condemned (as everyone did) the Israeli bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reaction in 1981. Many of the condemning politicians were secretly pleased at the action.
In 1961, Harold MacMillen’s government moved her to the front bench. She continued to rise in the party even after the loss of the 1964 election. She voted to decriminalize homosexuality and to legalize abortion, both libertarian rather than Conservative positions. In 1967, she visited the US with a delegation of government leaders from the UK and she was later added to the shadow cabinet by Ted Heath when the Conservatives were still in opposition. In 1970, Heath and the Conservatives won the election and she became Secretary of State for Education and Science.
During her first months in office she attracted public attention as a result of the administration’s attempts to cut spending. She gave priority to academic needs in schools and imposed public expenditure cuts on the state education system, resulting in the abolition of free milk for schoolchildren aged seven to eleven. She held that few children would suffer if schools were charged for milk, but she agreed to provide younger children with a third of a pint daily, for nutritional purposes. Her decision provoked a storm of protest from the Labour party and the press, leading to the moniker “Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher”. Cabinet papers of the time reveal that Thatcher actually opposed the policy but was forced into it by the Treasury. Thatcher wrote in her autobiography: “I learned a valuable lesson [from the experience]. I had incurred the maximum of political odium for the minimum of political benefit.”
She would later be forced out as PM in a similar controversy over attempts to change local taxation rules. In 1975, she defeated Heath as party leader after he lost the 1974 general election. After Labour postponed the general election to 1979, the Conservatives won a 44 seat majority in Parliament and Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister in British history.
I remember my first visit to London in 1977 and being vaguely embarrassed by the election of Jimmy Carter. I returned in 1981 and, at the time, the dollar and the pound were almost equal in value. That was the height of the Reagan-Volker squeeze of inflation in the US. Not long after, Thatcher instituted similar policies and I regretted not buying pound futures. The pound rebounded nicely and she cut taxes and began to run surpluses. Over the next few years, she paid down the British national debt until there were fears expressed that the “Gilt” bonds issued by the government might no longer be available for investment. The subsequent Labour governments solved that potential problem with wild spending.
Like Reagan, her initial economic actions led to recession and calls for a “U-turn” in 1980. She gave a memorable speech in which she said, “You turn if you want to; the lady’s not for turning.” Soon after the economy began to recover.
By 1987, unemployment was falling, the economy was stable and strong, and inflation was low. Opinion polls showed a comfortable Conservative lead, and local council election results had also been successful, prompting Thatcher to call a general election for 11 June that year, despite the deadline for an election still being 12 months away. The election saw Thatcher re-elected for a third successive term.
Her accomplishments included the Falklands War in 1982 that did a lot to reverse the British malaise and unhappiness with her reforms. The economy plus the evidence or revived British confidence was enough to determine the result of the 1983 election. Now, she began to accelerate the privatisation of nationlised industries. She sold off British Steel, and British Airways. She did not want to privatise British Rail but that was later done by John Major and was not a success.
Her downfall with Conservatives resulted from an attempt to reform local government.
Thatcher reformed local government taxes by replacing domestic rates—a tax based on the nominal rental value of a home—with the Community Charge (or poll tax) in which the same amount was charged to each adult resident. The new tax was introduced in Scotland in 1989 and in England and Wales the following year, and proved to be among the most unpopular policies of her premiership. Public disquiet culminated in a 70,000 to 200,000-strong  demonstration in London on 31 March 1990; the demonstration around Trafalgar Square deteriorated into the Poll Tax Riots, leaving 113 people injured and 340 under arrest. The Community Charge was abolished by her successor, John Major.
This was an attempt to reform the radical left wing governance of London by Mayor “Red Ken” Livingstone, a far left Labour politician. In 2000 he was expelled from the Labour Party. His Greater London Council had been funding far left causes with increased property taxes on houses owned by opponents of his policies. In 1986, she abolished the GLC but Red Ken was subsequently elected Mayor.
After her resignation, she traveled the world until ill health and the death of her husband Denis in 2003 reduced her activities. She was heavily criticized at the time for her opposition to the Euro and European monetary union. Her recommendations were prescient and are now fully confirmed.