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Prime Minister of the 1980’s

Posted by Big Boo on July 1st, 2008

Margaret ThatcherMargaret Thatcher is the only Prime Minister that I personally remember from my childhood. She was Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, so when she came to power I was only six, which would explain why I don’t remember her predecessor James Callaghan. She is the only female Prime Minister (and female leader of the Conservative party) the UK has ever known, her nickname being the Iron Lady because of her no-nonsense attitude.

She was born Margaret Hilda Roberts in 1925, and went on to graduate from Oxford with a degree in Chemistry. In 1959 she became the Conservative MP for Finchley, and in 1970 became the Secretary of State for Education and Science. It was during this post that the country took an instant disliking to her when she abolished the free milk for primary school children, earning her the nickname “Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher“. I guess this particular ruling must have been something that meant the government no longer footed the bill for milk, but local councils could still provide the milk if they wanted to, as I distinctly remember break times at primary school meant dashing for the milk crate for a little half pint bottle of milk and a straw.

In 1975 she stood to become leader of the Conservative party and won, then at the next general election in 1979 she became Prime Minister, which was to become one of the longest tenures as Prime Minister in UK history. The following year Ronald Reagan became the President of the United States, and the pair became close allies, particularly when it came to the so called “Cold War” against the Russian government.  I wonder if this fact had any bearing on why Thatcher and Reagan were two of the most popular characters  from the puppet show Spitting Image?

It seems amazing how she managed to stay in charge for so long when so many of her ideas and movements caused so much outrage. She increased the level VAT to 15% which hit businesses hard and led to large scale unemployment. She was also behind the unpopular poll tax, more properly called the community charge, which taxed you on the value of your home, and came down hard on trade unions, yielding mass striking throughout the country, most notably with coal miners who began to face mine closures and loss of jobs.

Her tenure also saw the privatisation of public utility companies such as British Telecom and British Gas, which also paved the way for the mess that was and still is the privatisation of the UK railways.  Prior to this these companies had been effectively owned by the government, and so didn’t have to answer to shareholders.  Now people are outraged when they hear of the profits made by these companies and the bonus payouts paid to bosses and investors, feeling agrieved that they have to pay so much for what often seems like poor quality service, the railways being the biggest example of this.

However her leadership during The Falklands War in 1982 impressed the nation enough for her to be re-elected in 1983. Quite why the Falkland Islands are so important to both the UK or Argentina I don’t know, but her resolve to fight and reclaim the islands yielded a huge wave of pride across the UK which was still remembered the following year.

By 1990 her popularity was beginning to wane however, and she eventually stepped down and John Major became Prime Minister. She cast a long shadow though, one which Mr. Major found it particularly difficult to escape during his tenure as PM, especially at the beginning of his eight years in office.

Margaret Thatcher is still reasonably active in politics today.  She was given the life peerage of Baroness Thatcher which gave her entry to the House of Lords, and has been awarded the Order of the Garter, one of the UK’s highest titles.  Whether or not you admire her or loathe her though, it can’t be denied that she certainly left a lasting impression on the country.