Margaret Thatcher

Thatcher, Margaret Hilda Roberts Thatcher, Baroness

Margaret Hilda Roberts Thatcher Thatcher, Baroness, 1925–2013, British political leader. Great Britain's first woman prime minister, nicknamed the "Iron Lady" for her uncompromising political stance, Thatcher served longer than any other British prime minister in the 20th cent. and was one of the most influential political figures of her era. In office she initiated what became known as the "Thatcher Revolution," a series of social and economic changes that dismantled many aspects of Britain's postwar welfare state, establishing in their place free-market economic policies and deregulated markets and industries.

The daughter of a grocer, Thatcher studied chemistry at Oxford (grad. 1947) and later (1953) became a lawyer, specializing in tax law. Elected to Parliament as a Conservative in 1959, she held junior ministerial posts (1961–64) before serving (1970–74) as secretary of state for education and science in Edward Heath's cabinet. After two defeats in general elections, the Conservative party elected her its first woman leader in 1975.

After a season of crippling public-sector strikes, Thatcher led the Conservatives to an electoral victory in 1979 and became prime minister. She had pledged to reduce the influence of the trade unions and combat inflation, and her economic policy rested on the introduction of broad changes along free-market lines. She attacked inflation by controlling the money supply and sharply reduced government spending and taxes for higher-income individuals. Although unemployment continued to rise to postwar highs, the decline in economic output was reversed. In 1982, when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a British dependency in the South Atlantic, Britain's successful prosecution of the subsequent war contributed to Thatcher's soaring popularity and to the Conservative win at the polls in 1983.

Thatcher's second government privatized national industries and utilities. She also forced coal miners to return to work after a year on strike, then initiated policies that greatly curbed union power. In foreign affairs, Thatcher was a close ally of President Ronald Reagan and shared his antipathy to Communism. She allowed the United States to station (1980) nuclear cruise missiles in Britain and to use its air bases to bomb Libya in 1986. In 1985 she forged a historic accord with the Republic of Ireland, giving it a consulting role in governing Northern Ireland.

Thatcher led the Conservatives to a third consecutive electoral victory in 1987, although with a reduced majority. She proposed free-market changes to the national health and education systems and introduced a controversial per capita flat-rate "poll tax" to pay for local government, which fueled criticisms that she had no compassion for the poor. Her refusal to support a common European currency and integrated economic policies led to the resignation of her treasury minister in 1989 and her deputy prime minister in 1990.

Disputes over the unpopular poll tax, which took effect in 1990, and over her opposition to integration with Europe led to a leadership challenge (1990) from within her party. She resigned as prime minister, and John Major emerged as her successor. In 1992 Thatcher retired from the House of Commons and was created Baroness Thatcher. In the mid-1990s Thatcher was publicly critical of Major's more moderate policies, and she continued to speak out against Conservative and Labour positions with which she disagreed.

See her memoirs, The Downing Street Years (1993) and The Path to Power (1995), her collected speeches in The Revival of Britain, compiled by A. Cooke (1989), and her Statecraft (2002); biographies by H. Young (1989), J. Blundell (2008), J. Campbell (2011), C. Moore (2 vol., 2013–16), and D. Cannadine (2017); studies by R. Lewis (1984), P. Jenkins (1987), and N. Wapshott (2007).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Margaret Thatcher: Selected full-text books and articles

Britain under Thatcher By Anthony Seldon; Daniel Collings Routledge, 2013
Thatcher and Thatcherism By Eric J. Evans Routledge, 2004 (2nd edition)
Margaret Thatcher: Prime Minister Indomitable By Juliet S. Thompson; Wayne C. Thompson Westview Press, 1994
Margaret Thatcher: In Victory and Downfall, 1987 and 1990 By E. Bruce Geelhoed; James F. Hobbs Praeger, 1992
Margaret Thatcher's Privatization Legacy By Edwards, Chris The Cato Journal, Vol. 37, No. 1, Winter 2017
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
At School with Margaret Thatcher By Bridgman, Joan Contemporary Review, Vol. 285, No. 1664, September 2004
Common Denominators in Successful Female Statecraft: The Political Legacies of Queen Elizabeth I, Indira Gandhi, and Margaret Thatcher By Wagner-Wright, Sandra Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Spring 2012
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Churchill to Major: The British Prime Ministership since 1945 By R. L. Borthwick; Martin Burch; Philip Giddings; Richard Hodder-Williams; J. M. Lee; Colin Seymour-Ure; Donald Shell M. E. Sharpe, 1995
Librarian's tip: Includes discussion of Margaret Thatcher in multiple chapters
How Voters Change: The 1987 British Election Campaign in Perspective By William L. Miller; Harold D. Clarke; Martin Harrop; Lawrence Leduc; Paul F. Whiteley Oxford University, 1990
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.