Margaret Thatcher: Prime Minister Indomitable

By Juliet S. Thompson; Wayne C. Thompson | Go to book overview

1
Thatcher's Leadership

Juliet S. Thompson and Wayne C. Thompson

In the literature on Margaret Thatcher's rule, no word appears with greater frequency than "revolution." Her leadership dealt with change, not with mere stewardship. Many viewed that change as "radical." Her message of "radical conservatism" bore her name: "Thatcherism." No other British prime minister has had the suffix "ism" attached to his name. Oxford historian, John Roberts, described her as "above all a disturbing, much- needed questioner and mould-breaker."1.

The first woman to lead a British political party or a major Western nation, Thatcher had the determination of a visionary and the ruthlessness of an outsider. She did not come from the establishment and never owed her success to it. She was ready to admit that modern Britain was a failure, and she could not understand why its leaders were so content with themselves while the country performed so poorly. To her, they seemed interested only in managing Britain's decline. Part of her appeal was that she represented a new kind of Conservative Party. The image of the party as the preserve of the landed gentry, bankers, or high-level civil servants, who could display charity toward the lower classes when needed, and who assembled in prayer in the Church of England, had changed.

Thatcher was an example of the "new" kind of Tory, who worked her way up in the world. The daughter of a dressmaker and grocer from Grantham, Lincolnshire, she had lived with her family in an apartment above the shop and worked all her childhood in her father's store. The only scientifically trained prime minister in British history, she studied chemistry

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1.
Roberts quote in "Mrs Thatcher's Place in History," The Economist, April 29, 1989, 59. For "Thatcherism," see Harris, Kenneth, Thatcher ( London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988), I, and the Rasmussen chapter in this book.

-3-

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