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Maggie melts
The Baroness. The Iron Lady. The Milk-Snatcher. The “only male” in her cabinet.
CALL HER BY whatever name, there is no denying that Margaret Hilda Thatcher nee Roberts (1925-2013) was one of the most powerful personalities of the 20th century. A research chemist turned barrister turned politician turned Prime Minister, the “biggest bastard we have ever known,” turned the fortunes of England like no one else had. When Maggie moved into 10 Downing Street, England looked like coming apart. She pushed through de-regulation, opened the economy and privatised the public sector; something unheard of in the Empire where the sun once never set.  When she left, albeit in tears, she had engineered a remarkable turnaround. 

A woman of substance...

The daughter of a grocery shop owner, she didn’t want special favours merely because she was born a woman. On a visit to Japan she refused to have 20 female karate experts escort her because the other prime ministers weren’t offered similar protection! As Cabinet Secretary for Education (1970-74), she abolished free milk for schoolchildren, promptly earning the sobriquet “Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher.” She was no great orator. A television critic compared her voice of 1973 to a cat sliding down a blackboard.

In 1979, Thatcher became UK’s first female Prime Minister. And she got into business from day one. She slashed income tax and increased indirect taxes. She raised interest rates to curb inflation, introduced cash limits on public spending and reduced expenditure on education and housing. She privatised with a vengeance. In most cases it benefitted consumers, courtesy lower prices and improved efficiency. By 1987 the fruits of her efforts were visible. Unemployment fell, the economy was stable and strong, and inflation was low. Little wonder she won a third term.

She was an Iron Lady. She was committed to reducing the power of the trade unions, because she believed that their leaders undermined parliamentary democracy and economic performance through strikes. She won the Falklands War against Argentina. While she fought against apartheid, she stood against the sanctions imposed on South Africa. She permitted the USA to use Royal Air Force bases for bombing Libya in retaliation for Libyan bombing of a Berlin discothèque, citing self-defence.

Your job also...

She once famously remarked: “I think we have gone through a period when too many people have been given to understand, “I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” Or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” Or “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” And so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? No government can do anything except through people and people should look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help our neighbour. Life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations.”

Margaret Thatcher was not just the hot-headed lady that the outside world knew her to be. She had brains. While in her 20s she worked for J. Lyons and Co. as a food scientist and was in a team that “discovered a method of doubling the amount of air,” in ice cream, which eventually found its way into soft serve products.

As prime minister, the incredible lady cooked dinner each night for herself and her husband. And at times for her cabinet as well. During her time in office, Thatcher practised great frugality in her official residence, including insisting on paying for her own ironing board.

There will never be another like her. Bon voyage mam.

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