The Reign of Margaret Thatcher

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The Reign of Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher was the first woman Prime Minister in England and commanded the post from 1979-1990 (Margaret Thatcher Foundation, 2012). Under her leadership England was transformed from a socialist based government and economy; heavily owned and run by the state, to one based on the ideals of smaller government, capitalism and privatization of industry. I chose Margaret Thatcher not only because I wanted to choose a strong female leader for this assignment, but also because her policies and leadership style changed the course of England’s government and society, and left a lasting political philosophy which continues to dictate how both major parties in England govern today.

Margaret Thatcher grew up Margaret Hilda Roberts, the daughter of Alfred and Beatrice Roberts, in the small town of Grantham in the Midlands of England (Margaret Thatcher Foundation, 2012). Her father Alfred Roberts, a conservative local councillor in Grantham, was the local grocery store owner. Margaret and her family lived a modest lifestyle in the flat above the grocery store. Alfred Roberts instilled in Margaret a love a politics and the importance of education, self-initiative, frugality, conviction, and service to others; ideals rooted in the conservative principles of their Methodist faith.

Margaret Thatcher attended Oxford University from 1943-47 and obtained a degree in chemistry (Margaret Thatcher Foundation, 2012). During this time she was elected President of the Student Conservative Association at Oxford and met many prominent political leaders of the Conservative Party. She then moved to Dartford, and in 1950 and 1951 ran as the Conservative candidate against the popular Labour Party. Although defeated, Thatcher established herself as a formidable candidate who spoke easily, and with force and confidence. Unlike many other Conservatives at that time, these skills allowed her an audience on issues that mattered to the voters of both parties.

Although Britain emerged from WWII victorious, the country was monetarily exhausted (Kavanagh, 2011). The Labour Party dominated the politics of the time and based its governing principles on Keynes socialist economic philosophies of large government providing for all; in other words a welfare state. Over the next few decades Britain’s economy declined, and by the 1970s the economy was plagued by high inflation, demanding and power-hungry labor unions, and slow economic growth.

In England the Prime Minister is not directly elected by the people (Parliament, 2011). Instead members of Parliament are elected by the people. The party with the majority in Parliament is the party in power. The members of each party vote on their leader, and the leader of the majority party is known as the Prime Minister. In the early 1970s, the Conservative Party, under the leadership of Edward Heath, overturned the pro-government, pro-union Labour party by promoting economic policies that would reduce trade unions and introduce more free market policies (Margaret Thatcher Foundation, 2012). Prime Minister Edward Heath appointed Margaret Thatcher to his cabinet as Education Secretary. However, Heath was unsuccessful in his efforts to achieve the Conservative Party goals, and in 1974 the Labour party returned to majority in Parliament (Margaret Thatcher Foundation, 2012). In response, Thatcher openly opposed Heath’s economic policy and ran against Heath, promoting the ideas of economists Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, who advocated monetarism. Monetarism ideals included a more free market economy and limited government. To everyone’s surprise, including Thatcher’s, she won and became the leader of the Conservative Party. The Labour Party was no more successful in changing England, and in fact ran the country into virtual bankruptcy. As a result, in 1979, the Conservative Party regained the majority, with Margaret Thatcher named Prime Minister of...
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