Margaret Thatcher was not universally loved, but in history few transformational figures are. And there is no doubt that during the decade of the 1980s she transformed Great Britain, just as surely as two men with whom she shared the international stage during that decade, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, brought radical change to the United States and the Soviet Union.
Thatcher, who died Monday at the age of 87, dismantled much of the socialist infrastructure of Great Britain, privatizing names that were almost synonymous with the nation: Rolls-Royce, Jaguar and BP among them. She privatized the nation’s coal mines, crushing the miners union with an iron fist. Beside her, Reagan appeared to be wearing a velvet glove when he defeated the U.S. air traffic controller’s union.
She was confident that the time was right for Britain to change, just as surely as she knew it was time for another new leader, Gorbachev, to undertake an equally radical attack on the status quo in his country.
Soviet-era nickname stuck
It had been the Soviet Army newspaper Red Star that coined her most enduring nickname, the “Iron Lady,” three years before she became prime minister. It is a far more memorable epithet than that of “milk snatcher,” which she earned as education minister in the 1970s when she took free milk from schoolchildren.
It was that line between being hard as nails and hard-hearted that made her admired at home and abroad while reviled by some at home. Americans are doubtless shocked to hear that police were called out in Bristol to control a crowd of 200 celebrating her death and that during a similar celebration in South London, someone rearranged the letters on a theater marquee to read, “Margaret Thatchers dead LOL.”
She was passionate about the role Great Britain should play in a free world, about the intrinsic value of the free market over socialism and about projecting an aura of confidence and power.
One suspects that if the price for that was vilification by a few, she was content with that, possibly even oblivious to it.
As Great Britain’s first woman prime minister and its longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century, Lady Thatcher had made an indelible mark — one that will outlive some scrambled letters on a theater marquee by centuries.
She gave a powerful voice to her political principals, one that was heard not only in Great Britain but throughout the rest of the world (especially in the United States where she is an icon of conservatism).
She may not always be remember warmly, but she will be remembered for her earth-changing accomplishments for a very long time.