LOVED AND LOATHED in equal measure by the public who gave her three terms in office, Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister – from 1979 to 1990 – was a period of major transformation for Britain, its economy, and its social institutions.
Here is a look at Thatcher’s period in power, in video.
1979: ‘The Queen has asked me…’
The 1979 election was relatively unusual: amid the background of rising tensions in Northern Ireland, the Labour administration – propped up by nationalists from Scotland and Wales, and Ulster Unionists – collapsed and left all three main parties fighting an election with new leaders.
Running on a platform of resisting the trade union movement – which had become increasingly powerful and called many damaging strikes – Thatcher won a 5-per-cent swing for the Conservatives and became Britain’s first female Prime Minister.
1980: ‘The lady’s not for turning…’
Thatcher set about a plan to tackle inflation as part of a more liberal economic agenda, including the privatisation of many state bodies. The plan had not started well: unemployment had begun to rise.
Journalists expected Thatcher to wilt and admit the ill-effects of her agenda. They didn’t get the admission they expected.
1982: The Falklands invasion
For some the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands was the key point of Thatcher’s tenure. With popularity waning at home, and with the public feeling sore about the slow dissolution of the British Empire after World War 2, Thatcher acted resolutely in sending military support to fight the Argentine invasion.
The decisive victory in the Falklands won Thatcher the nickname of ‘the Iron Lady’ – a moniker that she was said to enjoy and almost relish, as a reputation to aspire to.
However unpopular she may have been beforehand, the wartime victory sent Thatcher’s popularity soaring and meant the 1983 election was an easy win. Britain’s first ever female prime minister had won her second term.
1984: The Brighton speech
At 2:54am the morning before Thatcher’s speech to the Conservative Party conference, the IRA detonated a bomb at the Grand Hotel in Brighton hoping to assassinate the entire British cabinet. Cabinet ministers were injured; the wife of one was killed.
Determined not to allow the republicans disrupt the event, Thatcher delivered a defiant speech.
1985: The Anglo-Irish Agreement
A lengthy and delicate diplomatic process between Thatcher and the Taoiseach of the day, Garret FitzGerald, culminated with the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
The deal was the first to give the Republic a consultative role in the administration of the North, while also securing Irish acknowledgement of some of the North’s administrative and policing structures.
1984-1985: The miners’ strike
If the Falklands marked Thatcher’s zenith, the strikes of 1984 and 1985 marked her nadir – and is the reason she remained loathed among many in the industrial and working classes.
Britain’s trade unions declared open war on the Thatcher administration; Thatcher responded by closing many state-owned mines and led to the infamous 1984 ‘Winter of Discontent’. The miners’ campaign waned in 1985 and the tension ultimately led to union in-fighting that saw the end of the resistance.
1987: ‘Five more years’
The 1987 election was not quite as decisive as four years earlier, but having dealt a near-fatal blow to the union movement and continued economic liberalisation, Thatcher took a third term in 1987 with barely a dent in her House of Commons majority.
October 1990: ‘No, no, no’
By 1990, with another election coming into view, British minds were occupied by the continued development of the European Community. Thatcher had already overseen Britain’s entry into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (prompting the departure of her Chancellor).
Then, the European Commission president Jacques Delors – a committed federalist – made clear his desire that the European political institutions would be considered the prominent political vehicles in each member state.
In an assertion that has come to define the UK’s ongoing relationship with Britain, Thatcher made it clear that she would oppose a movement to make Westminster fully subservient to Brussels.
(YouTube: Ingrid Kampen)
Nov 1990: The end
It had become evident that, despite her assurances about the development of the European Community and Britain’s role within it, that a fourth term of office was out of the question – too many parts of British society were now too vehemently opposed to her rule.
Michael Heseltine challenged her leadership and forced the vote to a second ballot – enough for supporters to encourage her to stand down. She left Downing Street in tears, allowing John Major to become prime minister to take power (and ultimately allow the UK to ratify the Maastricht Treaty anyway).
In photos: Margaret Thatcher and Ireland