Added by Erik West on April 8, 2013
Former British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher – the first woman to become British Prime Minister, has died at 87, following a stroke.
10 Downing Street announced Queen Elizabeth II authorized a Ceremonial funeral – a step short of a state funeral – to be held at St. Paul’s Cathedral. An announcement of the arrangements is expected in the coming days.
Current UK Prime Minister David Cameron cut short a trip to Spain and France upon hearing the news.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, on a five day trip in China said, “Her service as the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom was a history-making achievement. Her strength of conviction was recognised by her closest supporters and her strongest opponents. I extend my sincere condolences and those of my fellow Australians to her family and friends.”
Margret Thatcher, nicknamed the “Iron Lady” for her political toughness, served as the UK Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990.
In a reflection of her years to come at the time, in a 1965 speech to National Union of Townswomen’s Guilds Conference, Thatcher famously said, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman”.
Thatcher retired from politics in 1992, aged 66 and retired from public life in 2002 after an initial stroke, followed by many strokes in subsequent years. Thatcher was elected leader of the British Conservative Party in 1975.
Among the notable points in her political career, Thatcher played a key role in ending the Cold War by working closely with then US President Ronald Reagan and endorsing then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev who, along with Reagan, unified East and West Germany in 1990. In 1989, Thatcher argued against reunification saying, “you are not going to go overnight to democratic structures and a freer market economy.”
Margret Thatcher, born in October 1925 as Margaret Hilda Roberts in Grantham – a small eastern England town – became involved in politics at a young age – giving her first political speech at age 20. She married Denis Thatcher in 1951 and had twins, Mark and Carol, in 1953. Denis Thatcher died in 2003.
Thatcher’s role as Prime Minister ended in 1990 after she introduced a tax, which led to riots, and lost an internal leadership struggle within her own party.
Thatcher’s long friendship with former US President Ronald Reagan ended with his death in 2004. Of Reagan she said he was “a great president, a great American, and a great man. And I have lost a dear friend”.
Thatcher was awarded the U.S. Medal of Freedom by President George H. W. Bush in 1991. She was named Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven after leaving office.
In a statement from the White House, US Pressident Obama said,” With the passing of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend. As a grocer’s daughter who rose to become Britain’s first female prime minister, she stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered. As prime minister, she helped restore the confidence and pride that has always been the hallmark of Britain at its best. And as an unapologetic supporter of our transatlantic alliance, she knew that with strength and resolve we could win the Cold War and extend freedom’s promise.
“Here in America, many of us will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply carried along by the currents of history—we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will. Michelle and I send our thoughts to the Thatcher family and all the British people as we carry on the work to which she dedicated her life—free peoples standing together, determined to write our own destiny.”
In a related story WikiLeaks, known for publishing leaks of confidential documents like the famous Cablegate release of diplomatic cables, has released 1.7 million US diplomatic and intelligence documents dated between 1973 and 1976. The cables have historic significance and is, according to Julian Assange – publisher of WikiLeaks, the release “is the single most significant body of geopolitical material ever published.”
In the release, a cable dated February 1975 discusses the up-and-coming Margret Thatcher:
“She has a quick, if not profound, mind, and works hard to master the most complicated brief. She fights her corner with skill and toughness, but can be flexible when pressed.
“In dealing with the media or with subordinates, she tends to be crisp and a trifle patronizing.
“With colleagues, she is honest and straight- forward, if not excessively considerate of their vanities. Civil servants at the ministry of education found her autocratic.
“She has the courage of her convictions, and once she has reached a decision to act, is unlikely to be deflected by any but the most persuasive arguments. self-confident and self-disciplined, she gives every promise of being a strong leader.”