Baroness Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first and only female Prime Minister, will be buried after a colourful ceremony in London today. Leaders from all over the world will join the top echelons of British society to pay tributes to this outstanding politician whose social and economic policies transformed Britain and strengthened the foundation for the country’s strong and resilient economy.
Thatcher, who died on April 8 at the age of 87, ruled Britain for eleven years between 1979 and 1990, making her the country’s longest serving Prime Minister. She was a towering figure in post-war British and world politics. She earned the sobriquet, “Iron Lady”, on account of her strong economic and political views, and the indomitable will with which she fought to enforce them. In her death, Britain lost an astute leader and a committed and patriotic administrator.
Since Thatcher passed on, world leaders including Nigeria’s president, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, have paid glowing tributes to her. Jonathan described the late Prime Minister as one of the greatest world leaders of the 20th Century who would be eternally honoured for the immense passion and strong-willed determination with which she served her country. She has also been praised for her high global impact on account of some of her policies, such as the privatisation of public enterprises, which were later adopted by many governments across the world.
Some of these policies, however, also attracted severe criticisms for hurting working class communities. On the international front, she was considered to be belligerent on Ireland, and was clearly wrong on her opposition of sanctions against the then apartheid South Africa. There is no doubt, however, that the late Prime Minister was a great leader with many outstanding achievements, including her success in recovering the British Protectorate, the Falkland Islands, from Argentina which invaded the territory in 1982. Baroness Thatcher was born to parents who were grocers on October 13, 1925 as Margaret Hilda Roberts in Grantham, Eastern London.
After her grammar school education, she obtained a degree in Chemistry at Oxford University in 1943, and later studied Law. In 1950, she fought and lost her first parliamentary election to be Member of Parliament (MP) for Dartmouth, and married businessman, Denis Thatcher, on December 13, 1951. In 1959, Thatcher was elected MP for Finchley, North London. When the Conservatives regained power in 1970, she was appointed education and science secretary. She successfully challenged the former Prime Minister, Edward Heath, for the leadership of her Conservative Party and she won, becoming the party’s first female leader in 1975 when the party was in opposition.
She never really believed she could become Prime Minister as she was quoted in 1973 to have said: “ I don’t think there will be a woman Prime Minister in my lifetime.” However, following the electoral victory of her Conservative Party over the Labour government just six years later in 1979, she became Britain’s first female Prime Minister, becoming the first and only woman in British history to hold the office. During her eleven years at the helm of the British government, Thatcher emphasized morality in both public and private spaces and was very passionate about her country.
Her uncompromising stance on Britain’s interests at home and abroad stood her out as a great nationalist. Though Thatcher’s reduction of British welfare programmes was against the poor, she succeeded in making Britain an economic force to reckon with in European and world affairs. She supported the Soviet Communist Reformer, Mikhail Gorbachev, and thus helped deal a great blow to the Cold War era. She was, however, wrong on Germany as she opposed the reunification of East and West Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Her handling of apartheid in South Africa also attracted the ire of most African countries and all lovers of democracy. Thatcher’s life story is inspiring. Her rise from the humble beginning of a grocer’s daughter to the woman who changed the face of Britain and impacted the world is motivating. It is a vivid testament to what can be achieved when there is equality of the sexes.
Although poor health kept Thatcher out of the public sphere for some years before she passed on, Britain and the rest of the world will miss her for her morality and remarkable strength of character and purpose that are worthy of recommendation to leaders everywhere.