Margaret Thatcher dead at 87; former British prime minister was once Reagan ally

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She is perhaps best remembered for her hardline position during the pivotal strike in 1984 and 1985 when she faced down coal miners in an ultimately successful bid to break the power of Britain’s unions. It was a reshaping of British economic and political landscape that endures to this day.

It is for this that she is revered by free-market conservatives, who say the restructuring of the economy led to a boom in that made London the rival of New York as a global financial center. The left demonized her as an implacably hostile union buster, with stone-cold indifference to the poor. But her economic philosophy eventually crossed party lines: Tony Blair led a revamped Labour Party to victory by adopting some of her ideas.

Margaret Hilda Roberts was born on Oct. 13, 1925. She learned the values of thrift, discipline and industry as the dutiful daughter of Alfred Roberts, a grocer and Methodist lay preacher who eventually became the mayor of Grantham, a modest-sized town in Lincolnshire 110 miles (180 kilometers) north of London.

Thatcher’s personality, like that of so many of her contemporaries, was shaped in part by the traumatic events during her childhood. When World War II broke out, her hometown was one of the early targets for Luftwaffe bombs. Her belief in the need to stand up to aggressors was rooted in the failure of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s attempt to appease Adolf Hitler rather than confront him.

Thatcher said she learned much about the world simply by studying her father’s business. She grew up in the family’s apartment just above the shop.

“Before I read a line from the great liberal economists, I knew from my father’s accounts that the free market was like a vast sensitive nervous system, responding to events and signals all over the world to meet the ever-changing needs of peoples in different countries, from different classes, of different religions, with a kind of benign indifference to their status,” she wrote in her memoirs.

“The economic history of Britain for the next 40 years confirmed and amplified almost every item of my father’s practical economics. In effect, I had been equipped at an early age with the ideal mental outlook and tools of analysis for reconstructing an economy ravaged by state socialism.”

Educated at Oxford, Thatcher began her political career in her mid-20s with an unsuccessful 1950 campaign for a parliamentary seat in the Labour Party stronghold of Dartford. She earned nationwide publicity as the youngest female candidate in the country despite her loss at the polls.

She was defeated again the next year, but on the campaign trail she met Denis Thatcher, a successful businessman whom she married in 1951. Their twins Mark and Carol were born two years later.

“She was beautiful, gay, very kind and thoughtful,” Denis Thatcher said in an interview 25 years later.
“Who could meet Margaret without being completely slain by her personality and intellectual brilliance?”

As the first male Downing Street spouse, Denis Thatcher stayed out of the limelight to a large degree while supporting his wife on her many travels and public engagements. He was said to give her important behind-the-scenes advice on Cabinet choices and other personnel matters, but this role was not publicly discussed.

Margaret Thatcher first won election to Parliament in 1959, representing Finchley in north London. She climbed the Conservative Party ladder quickly, joining the Cabinet as education secretary in 1970.

In that post, she earned the unwanted nickname “Thatcher the milk snatcher” because of her reduction of school milk programs. It was a taste of battles to come.

As prime minister, she sold off one state industry after another: British Telecom, British Gas, Rolls-Royce, British Airways, British Coal, British Steel, the water companies and the electricity distribution system among them. She was proud of her government’s role in privatizing some public housing, turning tenants into homeowners.

She ruffled feathers simply by being herself. She had faith – sometimes blind faith – in the clarity of her vision and little use for those of a more cautious mien.

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