Margaret Thatcher, the former U.K. prime minister who helped end the Cold War and was known as the “Iron Lady” for her uncompromising style, died today. She was 87.
Thatcher suffered a stroke this morning and died peacefully, her spokesman, Tim Bell, said on Sky News television.
When Thatcher’s Conservative Party took office in 1979, Britain’s trade unions were strong enough to knock out party leaders they opposed, and key industries, including utilities, were state-owned. By the time she stepped down 11 years later, her arguments for free-market economics, lower taxes and deregulated financial markets had been adopted across the nation’s political spectrum.
The transition was painful. Unemployment (UKUEILOR)peaked at more than 3 million in the mid-1980s, and many places in the north of the country that had been world centers of manufacturing struggled to adapt to the new service economy.
“Very few leaders get to change not only the political landscape of their country but of the world,” Tony Blair, whose Labour Party ousted the Tories from power in 1997, said in a statement on his website. “Margaret was such a leader. Her global impact was vast. And some of the changes she made in Britain were, in certain respects at least, retained by the 1997 Labour government, and came to be implemented by governments around the world.”
Thatcher will be given a ceremonial funeral with military honors, to be held at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said in a statement. A similar funeral was held for the Queen Mother in 2002. No date was announced.
“She did not just lead our country, she saved our country,” Cameron said in televised comments from Madrid. “I believe she’ll go down as the greatest British peacetime prime minister.”
Thatcher was defined by the battles she took on: she waged war against Argentina, clashed with striking miners and forced fellow leaders to cut Britain’s financial contributions to the forerunner of the European Union.
She survived an assassination attempt in 1984 when the Irish Republican Army bombed her hotel in Brighton during the Conservatives’ annual conference, killing five people. She stuck to her schedule and addressed party members the following morning.
“Margaret Thatcher did great hurt to the Irish and British people during her time as British prime minister,” Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, the IRA’s former political wing, said in a statement. “In Ireland, her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering.”
After winning three elections, Thatcher was forced out of office by her own party after she refused to compromise either on her policies toward Europe or on a property tax that had led to mass non-payment and violent riots.
“Always a warrior rather than a healer, her deeply ideological determination alienated those who believed in consensus rather than in confrontation,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London and author of “The Conservative Party From Thatcher To Cameron” (2010). “But her policies and her personality ushered in changes -- social, economic, political, diplomatic and even military -- so profound that the consequences will continue to play out for decades, even centuries, to come.”
She formed a close bond with President Ronald Reagan, whose time in office and political ideology coincided with her own.
“Margaret was always frank and forthright in her dealings with us,” Reagan wrote in the National Review in 1989. “Generally, she and I agreed with each other. Whet