Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher Dies
Published: April 8, 2013 (Issue # 1753)
Kirsty Wigglesworth / The Associated Press
Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 2007.
LONDON (AP) — Margaret Thatcher, the combative “Iron Lady” who infuriated European allies, found a fellow believer in Ronald Reagan and transformed her country by a ruthless dedication to free markets in 11 bruising years as prime minister, has died. She was 87 years old.
Her former spokesman, Tim Bell, said that the former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher had died Monday morning of a stroke.
To her fervent admirers, battling Maggie was an icon, a national savior who ended Britain’s post-World War II cycle of confrontation and decline — eclipsed as a 20th-century British leader only by Winston Churchill.
Her vehement critics, however, saw her as a bellicose figure at home and abroad, a destroyer of industries and, with it, a way of life.
She was a sharply divisive figure even within her Conservative Party, especially on the issue of European integration; the party declined into a bickering shambles after she fell from power.
Between 1979 and 1990, her governments sold a string of nationalized industries into private ownership, crushed the once-mighty labor unions, defeated Argentina in the Falkland Islands war and preached military readiness to the Western alliance.
The late Peter Jenkins, a leading liberal political commentator throughout the Thatcher years, once wrote that she had “changed the political map and put her country on its feet again.”
“She did all this with ruthlessness and much injustice and at a high cost in human misery, but she did it,” he said.
She never faltered, in word or deed, in her support of the United States. In 1986, she allowed U.S. warplanes to fly from British bases to bomb Libya. She sent ships, tanks and troops to fight against Iraq in the first Gulf War, but had resigned before the battle was joined in 1991.
Thatcher was one of the first to spot Mikhail Gorbachev as a promising leader of the Soviet Union. “I like Mr. Gorbachev, we can do business together,” she said after their first meeting in Britain in 1984.
Three months later, Gorbachev became the Soviet leader.
In her memoirs, Thatcher said of Gorbachev: “I spotted him because I was searching for someone like him. And I was confident that such a person could exist, even within that totalitarian structure, because I believed that the spirit of the individual could never ultimately be crushed in the Kremlin any more than in the Gulag.”
Thatcher sat next to Gorbachev at Reagan’s funeral, and in a taped eulogy spoke of the personal dynamics of the era of “perestroika.”
“I cannot imagine how any diplomat, or any dramatist, could improve on (Reagan’s) words to Mikhail Gorbachev at the Geneva summit: ‘Let me tell you why it is we distrust you.’ Those words are candid and tough and they cannot have been easy to hear. But they are also a clear invitation to a new beginning and a new relationship that would be rooted in trust,” she said.
Though Thatcher’s Conservatives won re-election in 1987, the fall of the Iron Curtain deprived her of a key role as the scourge of communism, and she could appear out of touch with the times. She opposed the unification of Germany in tones that suggested the Nazi era was not forgiven, and her opposition to the growing influence of the European Union became more strident and nationalistic.
Out of power, Lady Thatcher, named a baroness in 1992, made regular and lucrative U.S. lecture tours, and founded the Thatcher Foundation to spread her free-market philosophy.
Europe remained an obsession. In her book, “Statecraft,” published in 2002, she described the European Union as “perhaps the greatest folly of the modern era” and wrote that most of the 20th century’s greatest problems — including Nazism and Marxism — originated on the continent.
Her speechmaking ended that year, when she heeded doctors’ advice to slow down after a series of small strokes.
Thatcher hardly ever admitted any regrets, but in a 1998 interview with the British magazine Saga she said she rarely saw her children or grandchildren.
“It’s very sad,” she said. “It’s something that I thought would never happen.”
Asked if that was the price of power, she replied:
“Look, you can’t have everything.”