Margaret Thatcher Leadership
British prime minister 1979-92 (pictured right) who revolutionized British politics with
policies that became known as “Thatcherism”.
On becoming prime minister, she famously quoted the prayer of St Francis of Assisi: “where there is
discord, may we bring harmony”.
But things didn’t quite work out like that…
For more detail see...
The British Miners' Strike
1984-5 in the History Highlights section.
Why was she a great
She was a radical who changed Britain from a more relaxed, community minded society to a more aggressive one
- personal responsibility.
Her philosophy was based upon the ideas of people like Adam Smith (pictured right) Milton Friedman (pictured right below) and Friedrich
She once said “there is no such thing” as society, only individuals and families with responsibility for first
themselves and then other people.
- attacked government interference in people’s lives.
- fought communism in Eastern Europe (nicknamed the “Iron Lady” in the Russian
- cut the top rate of income tax to 40% (from over 90%).
- introduced “popular capitalism” - see below
- privatized government owned businesses like British Airways and BT (turning them into
companies by selling shares).
- gave people the right to buy their (government owned) council houses.
2. Tough (and sometimes tender)
She was totally single-minded, iron willed and
ruthless in achieving her aims (see point 3). She also planned ahead.
Her toughness was seen in her:
- victimization of opponents (sometimes shouting at her colleagues in Cabinet including her Chancellor of the
Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, pictured right, father of the TV cook, Nigella Lawson)
Her hatred of unions was shown by controversially calling them the “the enemy within”.
But she was also capable of great kindness to her staff, and her feminine charm often won people over.
François Mitterrand, the French president (pictured right, described her as having the mouth of
the movie star, Marilyn
Monroe (pictured right below) and the eyes of the cruel Roman Emperor, Caligula!
She always fought for her principles,
Her courage was particularly evident after the bombing of her Brighton hotel by the IRA
during the Conservative Party Conference in 1984, which nearly killed her.
The next day she made a defiant speech against terrorism.
Thatcher (pictured right in 1979) was not as dogmatic as her opponents thought, being
prepared to adapt her beliefs to the realities of politics and public opinion
She didn’t dismantle:
- the NHS (the government owned free health service), or
- large parts of the welfare state.
She knew these policies would be hugely unpopular.
She also delayed a confrontation with the miners (pictured right during the 1984-5 strike) until she was strong
enough to fight them.
Despite her hatred of the IRA (the Irish terrorist group), she was in 1985 the first
person to give the Irish government a say in the government of Northern Ireland.
Her downfall was caused by losing touch with the common people and dogmatically sticking to her hated policy of
a poll tax (with rich and poor paying the same).
The turning point was her victory in the Falklands War that persuaded her she could make better decisions on her
To become the first woman prime minister was a tremendous achievement particularly in a
male dominated Conservative Party.
She nearly gave up politics after her rejection as Conservative candidate for Orpington in Kent, but she
persevered with great determination and self-confidence.
When faced with rising unemployment in 1980, she stuck to her economic policy of high interest rates and cuts in
government spending to reduce inflation.
“There is no alternative”, she said.
This is why her biographer, Hugo Young, said that her greatest strength was that unpopularity
didn't bother her.
She constantly learned from her experience, particularly:
- her unpopular removal of free milk for schoolchildren in 1971 (which taught her that
unpopular policies must give big political benefits).
- the defeats of her old boss, prime minister Edward Heath, pictured right, by the miners’
union in 1972 and 1974.
She realized that, to prevent his failure to keep electricity supplies going, she would have to build up coal
stocks (as she did for the 1984-5
She also hired consultants to lower her voice and make her image more appealing.
7. Energy, planning and intellect
She absorbed facts very quickly and had incredible stamina, being able to survive on only three
or four hours sleep.
Her normal day started at 6 am and finished at 2 or 3 am the next morning.
She was never complacent and left nothing to chance (as shown by her planning and
preparation for the miners' strike in 1984-5, see point 6).
Her election as prime minister was helped by the unpopularity of the prime minister, Jim Callaghan, and his
Labour government, during the 1978-9 winter of strikes
These strikes were called the “Winter of Discontent” (Callaghan is pictured right during
The victorious Falklands War in 1982 turned her overnight from villain (unemployment then
was over 3 million) to heroine.
She was also saved by:
- North Sea oil (which provided 10% of tax revenues in 1982 alone).
- the mistakes of her opponents (like the miners’ leader, Arthur Scargill, pictured right,
and the Labour Party leader, Michael Foot, pictured below together in 1981).
9. Hope (with hatred)
Thatcher destroyed many people’s lives, and she was hated as much as she was loved, particularly by the
One ex-miner suggested a t-shirt slogan to celebrate her death:
“Thatcher's in hell – she's only been there a few hours and she's already closed down the
But she also got British people believing in themselves again after the UK had become known as the “sick man of
Europe” in the 1970’s.
Her economic policies (particularly the anti- trade union laws) laid the foundation of Britain’s economic
success under Tony Blair, pictured right, who admired her
She was greatly supported and influenced by her husband, Denis, and father, a grocer and devout
Christian, who taught her the importance of moral principles. “I just owe almost everything to my
father”, she said
But her obsession with work damaged her relationship with her children, Carol and
Mark, who were sent to boarding school and had a full-time nanny.
Shown right (courtesy of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation) are pictures with her father (above) and family
Key quotes on
The lady’s not for turning.
Every prime minister needs a Willie (referring to her deputy, Willie
I favour an approach to statecraft that embraces principles as long as it is not
stifled by them.
Power is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you
I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.
Key quotes on society
There is no such thing [as society]. There are individual men and women and there are families, and no
government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.
It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal
business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations
Key quotes on money
Pennies do not come from heaven. They have to be earned here on earth.
No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well.
Key quote on influencing people
Don't follow the crowd, let the crowd follow you.
Key quote on success
Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important, although difficult, is the high road to pride,
self-esteem and personal satisfaction.