Margaret Thatcher, 86, the first woman to lead a political party in Britain is suddenly “hot” again. A strict conservative who espoused a free-market ideology, took a hard line against trade unions, and warned against the Soviet Union, Thatcher was a tough, competent leader who held the top spot for 11 years. Now, her story is on the big screen.
The new biopic starring Meryl Streep as The Iron Lady, which opened this weekend in New York and Los Angeles, promises to be another Oscar winning role for Streep. But reviews have been mixed, with some critics saying there is too much emphasis on Thatcher’s dementia. Others have been disappointed by the “only-the-highlights” treatment. Still others note the compelling story the film tells. Charles Moore, who is writing Thatcher’s authorized biography, told the Associated Press, “It is an extraordinary story of somebody who comes from outside the establishment by sex and by class.”
Thatcher’s election was a break-through for women in politics. Michele Bachmann, working hard to pull ahead in Iowa before the caucuses vote, is referencing Mrs. Thatcher in some campaign appearances. The only woman competing for the nomination, Bachmann is urging voters to embrace the idea of a “strong woman in the White House” and molding herself as “America’s Iron Lady” in the Thatcher vein. Bachmann advisers say her new Thatcher comparisons as an ally of Ronald Reagan are meant in part to remind voters of a prominent woman on the world stage.
Newt Gingrich, in a review in The Washington Times of the Thatcher biography, There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters, wrote, “Mrs. Thatcher clearly understood that the great threat of socialism was moral and not economic. Socialism is bad because it destroys freedom. It destroys self-reliance, destroys individual initiative, and transfers power from the citizen to the politician and the bureaucrat….The evils of socialism and the virtues of freedom will be the central choice for Americans in…2012, and Mrs. Thatcher will be our tutor in that argument.”
With Thatcher’s political and economic policies in the spotlight, The Fiscal Times looks at some of the standout dates, facts and statements by and about Margaret Thatcher:
• 1925: Born on October 13, in Grantham, Lincolnshire. Her father was a grocer who was also active in politics and religion.
• 1947: Graduated from Oxford with a bachelor of science in chemistry. Conservative politics had always been a feature of her home life. Her father was a local councilor in Grantham and talked through with her the issues of the day. She was elected president of the student Conservative Association at Oxford and met many prominent politicians, making herself known to the leadership of her party at the time of its devastating defeat by Labor at the General Election of 1945.
• 1950-1951: in her mid-twenties, she ran as the Conservative candidate for the Labor seat of Dartford at the General Elections, winning national publicity as the youngest woman candidate in the country. Her mature political style was formed in Dartford, a largely working class constituency that suffered as much as any from post-war rationing and shortages, as well as the rising level of taxation and state regulation.
• 1951: Marries Denis Thatcher:
• 1953: Qualifies for the bar, specializing in taxation (a connection exploited by Bachmann)
• 1959: Becomes a Member of Parliament:
• 1961: Promoted to the Front Bench as Parliamentary Undersecretary at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, under Harold Macmillan
• 1966: Moves to the Shadow Treasury Team
• 1970: Appointed Secretary of State for Education and Science, under Edward Heath. She had a rough ride as Education Minister. The early 1970s saw student radicalism at its height and British politics at its least civil. Protesters disrupted her speeches, the opposition press vilified her, and education policy itself seemed set immovably in a leftwards course, which she and many Conservatives found uncomfortable.
• 1975: Meets Ronald Reagan at the House of Commons. Ronald Reagan’s letter of thanks afterwards “appears to be the earliest in their long correspondence, written as news of the fall of Saigon was reaching the U.S. (‘a dark day ... somehow the shadows seem to have lengthened’).
“The two met again in November 1978 (again at the House of Commons) by which time Reagan had run unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination against the sitting President, Gerald Ford, and established himself a leading candidate for the 1980 election. These early meetings – before either of them won office – established warm regard on both sides and a sense of shared purpose.”
• 1975: Becomes Leader of the Conservative Party and of the Opposition:
• 1976: Dubbed “The Iron Lady.” On January 19, after making a speech in Kensington Town Hall in which she said this about the Soviet Union: “The Russians are bent on world dominance, and they are rapidly acquiring the means to become the most powerful imperial nation the world has seen. The men in the Soviet Politburo do not have to worry about the ebb and flow of public opinion. They put guns before butter, while we put just about everything before guns.” The Soviet Defense Ministry newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star), in response, gave her the Iron Lady nickname.
• 1979: Elected British Prime Minister:
During her time as P.M., she lowered direct taxes on income and increased indirect taxes; increased interest rates to slow the growth of the money supply and lower inflation; introduced cash limits on public spending; and reduced expenditures on social services such as education and housing.
• Standout Lines from her October 10, 1980 Speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton (Also Known as “The Lady’s Not for Turning” Speech):
o “Independence does not mean contracting out of all relationships with others. A nation can be free but it will not stay free for long if it has no friends and no alliances. Above all, it will not stay free if it cannot pay its own way in the world.”
– and –
o “If spending money like water was the answer to our country’s problems, we would have no problems now. If ever a nation has spent, spent, spent and spent again, ours has. Today that dream is over. All of that money has got us nowhere, but it still has to come from somewhere.”
– and –
o “Without a healthy economy we cannot have a healthy society. Without a healthy society, the economy will not stay healthy for long. But it is not the state that creates a healthy society. When the state grows too powerful, people feel that they count for less and less. The state drains society, not only of its wealth but of initiative, of energy, the will to improve and innovate as well as to preserve what is best. Our aim is to let people feel that they count for more and more.”
• 1983: Re-Elected for a Second Term.
• 1987: Re-Elected for a Third Term.
• 1990: Resigns Her P.M. Post.
• 1992: Becomes a Member of the House of Lords:
• 1993 and 1995: Best-Selling Memoirs are published--
The Downing Street Years (1993) and The Path to Power (1995)
Note: Some dates and details are from the Margaret Thatcher Foundation .