Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, considered one of the giants of the late 20th century, has died of a stroke at age 87 — and the news stories and tributes are flowing as strong and steady as the kind of leadership she provided that made her a legend, even among those who disagreed with her:
Former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher has died “peacefully” at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke, her family has announced.
Successor David Cameron called her a “great Briton” and the Queen spoke of her sadness at the death.
Lady Thatcher was Conservative prime minister from 1979 to 1990. She was the first woman to hold the role.
She will not have a state funeral but will be accorded the same status as Princess Diana and the Queen Mother.
The ceremony, with full military honours, will take place at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral.
The union jack above Number 10 Downing Street has been lowered to half-mast.
Known as the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher governed Britain from 1979 to 1990.
She will go down in history not only as Britain’s first female prime minister, but as the woman who transformed Britain’s economy in addition to being a formidable rival on the international stage.
Lady Thatcher was the only British prime minister to leave behind a set of ideas about the role of the state which other leaders and nations strove to copy and apply.
Many features of the modern globalised economy – monetarism, privatisation, deregulation, small government, lower taxes and free trade – were all promoted as a result of policies she employed to reverse Britain’s economic decline.
Above all, in America and in Eastern Europe she was regarded, alongside her friend Ronald Reagan, as one of the two great architects of the West’s victory in the Cold War.
Of modern British prime ministers, only Lady Thatcher’s girlhood hero, Winston Churchill, acquired a higher international reputation.
Thatcher won the nation’s top job only six years after declaring in a television interview, “I don’t think there will be a woman prime minister in my lifetime.”
During her time at the helm of the British government, she emphasized moral absolutism, nationalism, and the rights of the individual versus those of the state — famously declaring “There is no such thing as society” in 1987.
Nicknamed the “Iron Lady” by the Soviet press after a 1976 speech declaring that “the Russians are bent on world dominance,” Thatcher later enjoyed a close working relationship with U.S. President Reagan, with whom she shared similar conservative views.
But the British cold warrior played a key role in ending the conflict by giving her stamp of approval to Soviet Communist reformer Mikhail Gorbachev shortly before he came to power.
“I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together,” she declared in December 1984, three months before he became Soviet leader.
Having been right about Gorbachev, Thatcher came down on the wrong side of history after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, arguing against the reunification of East and West Germany.
Allowing the countries created in the aftermath of World War II to merge would be destabilizing to the European status quo, and East Germany was not ready to become part of Western Europe, she insisted in January 1990.
“East Germany has been under Nazism or Communism since 1930. You are not going to go overnight to democratic structures and a freer market economy,” Thatcher insisted in a key interview, arguing that peace, security and stability “can only be achieved through our existing alliances negotiating with others internationally.”
West German leader Helmut Kohl was furious about the interview, seeing Thatcher as a “protector of Gobachev,” according to notes made that day by his close aide Horst Teltschik.
The two Germanies reunited by the end of that year.
We give our elected leaders iconic stature almost to have things to tear down, to work out all sorts of our own psychological problems and needs and venomous feelings. So I wondered about all the times that Margaret Thatcher was spoken about being unfeeling. And I thought, well, why was that? Was she really completely unfeeling? And as a public figure in a much smaller way myself, I understand that feeling of being stripped of your humanity. Was she a monster? While we were making the film, people had such strong and particular and specific venom for her. It was sort of stunning. It made me all the more interested in where her humanity lay.
There were many surprises, like how much she thrived on work. Every year the prime minister goes to Balmoral Castle for three or four days. She was profoundly uncomfortable when she went there. She couldn’t work, which drove her insane….
Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey has a great video roundup and adds:
Thatcher was the last living member of the triumvirate, along with Reagan and Pope John Paul II, that forced the Soviet Union into collapse.
Some quotes on Thatcher.
Her passing marks the end of an era, as her fellow victorious cold warriors preceded her in finding their ultimate rewards. She was known as the “Iron Lady” with good reason: her famous advice to not “go wobbly” provided the iron backbone necessary to stare down communist tyrants and Argentine generals alike.
In an era of economic stagnation and malaise, it is worthwhile recalling how as Britain’s first (and so far only) female prime minister, Mrs. Thatcher confronted the entrenched interests of the Labour Party, and liberalized the hidebound British economy, jettisoning uneconomic coal, steel, and other unionized industries that were bleeding the national wealth, and freeing up investment in productive areas, that helped London become the world’s preeminent financial center, among other benefits.
We will not see another Margaret Thatcher. May she rest in peace and be rewarded for her great contributions to human freedom.
Americans often think of her as Britain’s Ronald Reagan, and there’s some truth to that: she led the ideological takeover of a major political party and a country, and was a symbolic leader of the conservative cause long after she faded from the real political scene. She was also, of course, the first woman to serve as prime minister of the UK (after becoming the first woman to lead one of the UK’s major parties), though hardly an object of affection for most feminists.
Famously dubbed “La Pasionaria of middle-class privilege” by Labour politician Denis Healey, Thatcher died a peer.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.