Margaret Hilda Thatcher's overwhelming sense of self-confidence and ambition ruled her life from the time she was a small child in Grantham, though her Oxford years and during her early years in politics. It led her to become the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain, and also helped through her difficult political years as "Attila the Hun".
Britain's first female Prime Minister was born on October 13, 1925 in a small room over a grocer's shop in Grandham, England. Margaret Hilda was the second daughter of Alfred and Beatrice Roberts. She often stated that she was brought up very strictly:
I owe everything in my life to two things: a good home, and a good education. My home was ordinary, but good in the sense that my parents were passionately interested in the future of my sister and myself. At the same time, they gave us a good education - not only in school, but at home as well (Gardiner, 1975, p.13).
As a child, thrift and practicality were instilled in Margaret's character. The Methodist church played an active part in the lives of the Roberts. She attended good schools as a child and spent her years studying with the intent of attending Oxford. Margaret arrived at Oxford in the autumn of 1943. During her years here, Margaret worked in a canteen for the war effort, continued her interest in music by joining various choirs and joined the Oxford University Conservative Association where she became very active in it's political activities.
After Oxford, Margaret became the youngest female candidate of the Dartford Association. She was unofficially engaged to Denis Thatcher at this time, and they married in December 1951. Twins were born the following year. During this period, she studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1954. In the same year she was a candidate for the Oysington Conservative Association.
Margaret won in a Tory landslide at Finchley, a suburb of London in 1959. Her parliamentary career had begun. A stroke of good luck gave her the opportunity of presenting her first bill almost immediately. This bill was to allow the press to attend the meetings of the local councils. The bill was eventually passed and it greatly enhanced her reputation. In 1964 she was part of the opposition and saw the other side of politics. Between 1970 and 1974 Thatcher was the Secretary of State for Education and Science. She enjoyed the tough verbal conflict of parliamentary debates. She had a quick mind and an even quicker tongue, along with an enormous self-confidence. She liked to fight and liked to win.
In 1975, the Conservatives were the first party in Britain to chose a woman as leader and potential Prime Minister:
It was the backbenchers, not the Leader, or his Shadow Cabinet, who forced a ballot, and it was a backbenchers- candidate who emerged triumphant from it. When the election was announced on January 23, and in the first ballot Margaret had the support of only one member of a Shadow Cabinet of 23 she was regarded with suspicion by most of those managing the party machine at Central Office, and opposed by many in the National Union. In short, she was an anti- establishment candidate. Her campaign manager was a backbencher, backbenchers of varying shades of opinion made up her campaign committee who voted decisively for change(Gardiner, 1975, p.204).
In May 1979, Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain. Her party won again in 1983 and 1987. Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party in November 1990, after loosing the support of the party. She remained in the House of Commons until 1992. In the same year, Thatcher was made a Baroness by the queen and became a member of the House of Lords.
Abse, author of "Margaret daughter of Beatrice" paints an entirely different picture of Thatcher's family background. In his psycho-biography, he describes Margaret's mother as strict, cold and unloving. He states that this resulted in her being narcissistic, aggressive, and a workaholic, as well as being attracted to money. Thatcher has claimed to owe everything to her father, and at no point does she acknowledge her mother's contribution. Abse also claims that Thatcher is chronically and traumatically frustrated, and that she went into politics for recognition and gratification. Fellow politicians were not enamored of Thatcher, especially after she ended a £8 million a year free milk program for primary school children while Secretary of State for Education. He says: the public subliminally sensed she was acting out the role of a depriving mother, as indeed she was, and reacted with fury. Thatcher, milk snatcher' rang out at almost everyone of her public meetings and, in the Commons, my less decorous colleagues cat-called every time she rose with ditch the bitch'. She was never to recover personal popularity until she became the warrior queen of the Falklands war (Abse, 1989, p.2-----9).
During the food shortage in the 1970's, Thatcher was found to be hoarding food. Her excuse was that he husband was soon to retire and that she needed to stock up for the future. Besides being a millionaire, Mr. Thatcher was still working ten years later. She attempted to bring back capital punishment. She thrived on confrontation and crisis, and was been involved in political indiscretions. With regards to her children, Abse claims that Margaret appeared to be cold, unfeeling and unloving. She was a permissive mother and was incapable of acknowledging her own domestic failures.
When she took office, Thatcher promised to put the British economy back on it's feet. She wanted an economic program that would reduce inflation, break the power of unions to disrupt the economy, to create new industry and trade, and to bring the country to a new level of prosperity. She promised to bring about a complete and radical change in the British society by dissolving the welfare state. Thatcher believed in free economy, not a government controlled one. Unfortunately, none of the things she promised actually happened as she planned..
Thatcher wanted to return to the Victorian values of hard work, thrift, self reliance and a strong sense of duty. She did not believe in compromise. She campaigned to cut government spending, reduce income tax and to do away with government support for small firms that could not prosper on their own. She raised the value added sales tax on all but the most essential goods to 15%. She cut government spending on foreign aid, and the services supported by towns, villages, and cities across the country. These programs were unsuccessful due to the fact that high interest rates and high sales taxes stopped businesses and individuals from spending. The economy went into a decline. The unemployment rate rose, and the government had to put out more money on unemployment insurance. The people started to call her "Attila the Hen."
The British people forgot their woes and forgave Thatcher after the Falkland War. She won the next election with the campaign slogan "Maggie is our man". She was not able to bring peace to Ireland, and at one point she was almost killed.
Some people thought she was too powerful, particularly in the area of free speech. In 1988, she stepped up efforts to sensor papers, books and magazines. In 1989, she attempted to privatize the national health service.
Thatcher's personal vision of the future was that of a "Britain where everyone has a financial stake and a commitment to Britain's success"(Harris, 1988, p.241). Part of this commitment was home-ownership, which was one of the contributing factors to the first election in 1979. In her second term of office, she created Popular Capitalism' by the selling of state assets or privatization.
Thatcher's basic goal was not the extension of the government, but the limitation of it. She believed that if the government was limited to specific roles, it would get stronger. She believed in tax reform, small firm encouragement schemes, help for new technologies, responsibilities and the family, law and order and improvement of the environment. Her "ideology is empirical and instinctive, but not the product of great study or reflection, and it amounts to a rather simple (though not unsophisticated) radical libertarianism"(Mayer, 1979, p.11). Mayer goes on to say that she is hardly a mother-figure for a nation. Though she is caring and considerate with close associates, she does not project warmth or humor. The public sees her as a strict nanny, not a loving mommy. She is tough minded and has great stamina and a tenacious spirit. Thatcher has stated that she has never doubted her fundamental convictions.
Margaret Thatcher grew up in an era when women were not normally successful as politicians or as business women. Even so, she managed to transform her sex from a liability to a major political asset. She may have been unpopular at times due to her approach to life and politics, but a "softer" female Prime Minister might not have been as effective. Recognition was earned through her overwhelming sense of ambition and dedication to the job: "Thatcher, Milk Snatcher" was bestowed the title Baroness and there-by received the recognition that she had craved all her life.