Love her or hate her—and there were plenty of people to be found on either—if not both—side of the spectrum—it was impossible to deny that Margaret Thatcher was a formidable presence, an original very much in in the vein of Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle.
Both men believed in the glory of their nations, the uniqueness that came out greatness. Thatcher, who served three terms as Great Britain’s prime minister, rising to power in a somewhat unlikely fashion, was a great leader herself and believed in her own greatness. You might add President Ronald Reagan to that list—you didn’t have to agree with Reagan to know that his presidency had consequence. Thatcher’s 11-year-rule had consequence also. News of her death at the age of 87 from a stroke came today.
She came to office at 10 Downing Street in 1979, 20 months before Reagan came to the presidency. In each other, they found allies, friends and large-sized personalities. Nancy Reagan called the two “soul mates,” which did not prevent Thatcher from going her own way by going to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands crisis, a war Reagan had sent Secretary of State Alexander Haig to prevent. No such thing: Thatcher had an almost messianic belief in herself, and more often than not she was proved right.
She was a grocer’s daughter but rose to power among Great Britain’s Tory or conservative party and then marched literally into office over the dying body of the Laborites, under whom Great Britain had stagnated into an almost second-rate country.
Although educated in Oxford, Thatcher presented herself as a solidly middle class woman in style and manner, disguised as a great leader, who had little truck with feminism, even though she became the first (and so far ever) female Prime Minister of Great Britain. She fought what she saw as a socialist state tooth and nail, and every bit as stubbornly as Argentina’s junta. She took on labor unions, privatized state institutions and cut programs for the poor.
She called Reagan “Ronny,” and during the turbulent 1980s they were a matched set on the world stage. Astutely, she saw the coming of Mikhail Gorbachev as a potential for rapprochement, seeing him a Soviet leader more amenable and hungry for changes, although perhaps not as much change that resulted from his policies.
The Irish Republican Army tried to assassinate her, but she survived the attempt. She did not survive what may have been her own overconfidence. After winning a third term, she instituted a flat tax that affected not only those who could pay it, but those, like the unemployed, who could not. The backlash was huge—thousands went into the streets and demonstrated against her and the tax. The riots and the tax did her in—ousted as party leader by the Tories, a shocking turn of events that stunned her, England and the world.
In her later years, she wrote her memoirs. She had been suffering from dementia. She attended Ronald Reagan’s state funeral in Washington in 2004 as did Mikhail Gorbachev. Thatcher sat behind the Reagan family. Gorbachev sat alone. Meryl Streep won an Oscar for playing Thatcher in the film, “The Iron Lady” two years ago.
A book of condolences for Margaret Thatcher will be opened at the British Embassy, 3100 Massachusetts Ave., NW, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., April 9 and 10.