Margaret Thatcher was the first female British Prime Minister and a leader of the Conservative Party. Thatcher’s administration lasted between 1979 and 1990. She remains the longest-serving British Prime Minister of the twentieth century. She established herself as a formidable statesman who was variously feared, respected, hated, and admired (Daddow et al., 2019). Margaret Thatcher is the only British Prime Minister who won three consecutive terms in the twentieth century. Her achievements made her the most renowned British leader after Sir Winston Churchill. Margaret Thatcher led the Conservative Party to a landslide victory in 1979 following a series of strikes in the Winter of Discontent. As the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, representing the Conservative Party’s new vibrant right-wing, Thatcher advocated for removing excessive government interference in economic matters and the privatization of state-owned corporations. She equally advocated for the greater independence of citizens from the government. Margaret Thatcher inherited a weak economy from the previous regime but built it by eliminating excessive government regulations and subsidies. This paper provides Margaret Thatcher’s biographical story, how she became the first female British Prime Minister, whether her leadership style was good or bad, and lessons learned from her leadership.
Margaret Thatcher’s Biographical Story
Margaret Thatcher remains one of the most polarizing politicians in the history of the United Kingdom (Kelly, 2021). She was the daughter of Alfred Roberts, a grocer and Grantham mayor, and Beatrice Ethen Stephenson. She developed the desire to be a political leader early and honed it at Oxford University after being elected the first woman president of the Conservative Association of Oxford University. After graduating from the university in 1947, Thatcher worked as a researcher while studying law in her spare time. She practiced law from 1964, specializing in tax law. She got married to Denis Thatcher, a wealthy industrialist, in 1951. The couple was blessed with twins in 1953. Thatcher is remembered as a conviction politician with an insatiable appetite for hard work (Kelly, 2021). In her attempts to win an elective position on the Conservative Party ticket, the perception that a woman’s place is in the home caused Thatcher to lose to her opponent. However, politics held an overwhelming position in her heart. This enabled her to enter parliament in the 1959 general election under the Conservative Party.
Margaret Thatcher made her way rapidly after being elected to the House of Commons. In her first session, she won the right to introduce a private member’s bill and pursued it to become a law. In 1961, Thatcher began her career in government as a junior minister at the pensions and national insurance ministry. Before joining parliament, she was a skillful defender of policies, marshaling arguments with statistics. In some respects, Thatcher found her gender a political advantage. Initially, politics remained overwhelmingly a preserve of men. However, major political parties started to require at least one prominent woman to lead. This caused her to be the first female prime minister and the first woman to lead a major political party in the United Kingdom (Kelly, 2021). Thatcher was understood as the most talented Conservative woman in the commons who skillfully used her opportunities for the benefit of the majority as well as her political career development.
Margaret Thatcher served for three consecutive terms as the British Prime Minister, a unique achievement of the twentieth century. She was the longest-standing party leader and British prime minister in the twentieth century. She led the Conservative Party for nearly fifteen years and served as Prime Minister for eleven years between 1979 and 1990 (Kelly, 2021). As the British Prime Minister, she overturned several policies that had dominated the public life of the United Kingdom since the end of the Second World War. Equally, Thatcher moved economic policies to the right, helping the British government set in motion international trends of the 1980s. She also progressively slimmed the large state sector through privatization. The primary consideration in Thatcher’s economic policies was to reduce inflation that was threatening to move the British economy to the south.
Margaret Thatcher also influenced a culture shift that enabled businesses and entrepreneurs to receive high recognition and value. She reduced the power of trade unions through a protracted series of legislation, opening them up to civil actions. Over the eleven years of Thatcher’s administration, there were remarkable improvements in key economic sectors, influenced by the improved business environment. Consequently, Britain became a favored investment destination in Europe. However, not everything went as Thatcher had wished. Unemployment peaked, reaching more than three million in 1981, threatening her 1983 re-election bid. Her re-election was influenced by the development in foreign affairs. The Falklands War and the Argentine invasion dramatically altered the national mood, and Thatcher, as the war leader, impressed the electorate.
In the years that followed, Margaret Thatcher developed a close relationship with Ronald Reagan, the United States President 1980-1989. This placed her at the center of resolving the Cold War. As an experienced political leader, Margaret Thatcher played a critical role in creating a new era with the Soviet Union based on how she dealt with Mikhail Gorbachev. This was another potent opportunity that propelled her higher as a British political leader with impeccable anti-Soviet credentials. Thatcher played a critical role in the European-Soviet dialogue and pushed for a dialogue between Reagan and Gorbachev (Marsili, 2021). As a leader whose determination was to integrate the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher launched an open assault to the threats to her nation’s interest through her Bruges speech of 1988. In many ways, Thatcher’s achievements as the Conservative Party’s leader and the country’s longest-serving prime minister were exceptional. For instance, she introduced a dynamic leadership and governance style unfamiliar to many. She also achieved significant international standing and remains one of the most talked-about leaders on the planet.
How Margaret Thatcher Became Prime Minister
Margaret Thatcher developed an interest in political leadership while still young. She was elected as the leader of the Conservative Association while at the University of Oxford. She pursued her post-graduate studies in law and became a barrister specializing in tax law. She attempted to win an elective position in the politics of the United Kingdom but lost because of the perception that a woman’s place is at home. However, politics was deeply engraved in her DNA, and she never lost hope. She joined parliament through the Conservative Party in 1959 and went ahead to be a junior minister. Her luck came calling when major political parties sought influential women to take up leadership positions. As a result, Thatcher climbed the ladder rapidly to become the leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Commons.
In 1979, Thatcher led the Conservatives to a decisive electoral victory following a protracted series of strikes under James Callaghan’s administration. As the first female prime minister, Thatcher represented a new energetic right-wing of Conservative leaders opposed to the old ways of leadership. Thatcher led the Conservative Party for fifteen years and served as British Prime Minister for eleven years (Kelly, 2021). Thatcher’s position was rarely strong as the leader of opposition between 1975 and 1979. Consequently, she had no choice except to keep several of Heath’s closest allies in her cabinet. During her stint as the opposition’s leader, Thatcherism was defined provocatively as an antidote to the failure of the Labor government. However, following the many years’ stalemate on essential policies, fortune favored Thatcher between 1978 and 1979. Strikes damaged the credibility of the Labor government. This paved the way for Margaret Thatcher to win the elections and become the first female prime minister in the history of the United Kingdom.
Margaret Thatcher’s Leadership Style and Whether It Is Good or Bad
Margaret Thatcher was the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the first female leader of the Conservative Party. She is also one of the most controversial political figures in twentieth-century British political history (Kelly, 2021). Her leadership style made her acquire saint-like qualities and attracted the label of an egotistical narcissist political leader devoid of social conscience. Thatcher introduced a dynamic leadership and governance style that was unfamiliar to many. Thatcher was a political icon, whether loved or loathed (Kelly, 2021). She was a great leader kin on elevating the British image in international history while ensuring that the welfare of her nation remained at the forefront. As a result, she publicly attacked her distracters through the Bruges speech.
Thatcher’s dynamic leadership and governance style enabled her to be recognized as a formidable statesman who influenced the future direction of British-European economic policies. Her Bruges speech dramatically impacted the United Kingdom and European politics in several ways (Daddow et al., 2019). As the prime minister, Thatcher made significant changes that put the United Kingdom on an upward trajectory. For example, through her leadership style, she removed many government policies that were ineffective or outdated. No other British prime minister had focused on privatizing state-owned enterprises and limited government interference in business activities. Aware that she inherited a weak economy, Thatcher reduced governmental regulations to revive the ailing economy. More importantly, she worked with other world leaders such as Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev to end the Cold War between the United States and USSR.
It is undeniable that Margaret Thatcher’s leadership style was reasonable based on the many positive effects on the people she led. Thatcher realized the necessity and urgency of reviving the economy of the United Kingdom. Hence, through the Bruges address, she launched a Europe Open for Business campaign to increase business awareness (Smedley, 2021). Thatcher launched the Europe Open for Business campaign and highlighted the several opportunities the market would create. This was a milestone in the fight against employment. Elsewhere, through her leadership style, security remained the single most important public policy with regard to conflicts in Northern Ireland (Kelly, 2021). Thatcher was fixated on security matters in Northern Ireland but showed a remarkable capacity to adapt and modify her Northern Ireland policy. More importantly, Thatcher was concerned about international relationships and forged a close relationship with Reagan to resolve the Cold War.
Margaret Thatcher’s leadership attracted love and loathe in equal measure. Her leadership style is discredited for how she handled the Northern Ireland conflicts. As such, her legacy continues to cast a shadow (Kelly, 2021). She is remembered by many as a British Prime Minister who, through her war policy, subverted human rights, caused entrenched divisions, and undermined Northern Ireland’s constitutional integrity. Her attitude towards Northern Ireland is a powerful blend of reactionary policies and personal indifferences. Thatcher’s choice of policy and attitude towards Northern Ireland had severe damage that became apparent when she chose to go to war with Argentina (Rogstad, 2019). Her Northern Ireland legacy is associated with personal experiences of loss, violence, and hopelessness. Thus, one can easily conclude that Thatcher’s leadership style was not good because it subjected innocent people to suffering.
Lessons Learned From Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher arguably remains one of the most polarizing political leaders of the twentieth century United Kingdom. Her leadership style caused her to be loved and loathed in equal measures. Margaret Thatcher divided the opinion squarely down the middle. Her ruthlessness, strong belief, and personal responsibility defined her political career. Thatcher’s rise to fame followed a series of protracted strikes of 1978-1979. She remains one of the most talked-about political figures of the twentieth century. Be that as it may, everyone can learn several significant lessons from this iconic leader.
One of the most important lessons a person can learn from Margaret Thatcher’s leadership is conviction. Thatcher is remembered as a conviction politician with an insatiable appetite for hard work (Kelly, 2021). Many commentaries and political challenges Thatcher faced and decisions she made as the first female British Prime minister prove that she was a great leader who knew what she stood for. Thatcher removed ineffective policies that had dominated Britain since the end of the Second World War and privatized state-owned enterprises. Hence, present leaders equally need to be convicted of bringing about lasting changes in their countries.
Another important lesson to draw from Margaret Thatcher is the need for a strong personal political, and moral compass. Thatcher was surrounded by a team of highly experienced political leaders she could turn to whenever she needed direction. All leaders need to have a room full of powerful men and women to share views of critical policy issues and find the best way to execute them. Also, leaders need to build teams and set clear, well-articulated, and consistent principles that their team members can adapt and perfect in case they prove problematic. Everyone needs a moral compass to point in the right direction and an objective standard.
Daddow, O., Gifford, C., & Wellings, B. (2019). The battle of Bruges: Margaret Thatcher, the foreign office and the unraveling of British European policy. Political Research Exchange, 1(1), 1-24. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/2474736X.2019.1643681?needAccess=true
Kelly, S. (2021). Margaret Thatcher the Conservative Party and the Northern Ireland conflicts. Bloomsbury Publishing PLC: NY, United States.
Marsili, M. (2021). The fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the USSR, and the end of Cold War: A chain of surprises ‘too big’ to be predicted. Political Reflection, 7(1). https://politicalreflectionmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/PR_Issue26_A5.pdf
Rogstad, M. (2019). Ten downing street and the Northern Irish problem 1968-1985: Do personalities matter? Norwegian University of Science and Technology: Faculty of Humanities Department of Historical Studies. https://ntnuopen.ntnu.no/ntnu-xmlui/bitstream/handle/11250/2613057/no.ntnu%3Ainspera%3A2263947.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
Smedley, S. (2021). A Matter of public importance? The ‘Europe Open for Business’ campaign, British public opinion, and the single market. Journal of Common Market Studies, 59(4), pp. 929-944. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/jcms.13161