By Guy Bentley
Margaret Thatcher has been voted the most influential woman of the last 200 years in a recent opinion poll, beating several world renowned women such as Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie and civil rights campaigner Rosa Parks.
Nicknamed the “Iron Lady” by the Russians, Thatcher transformed the fortunes of the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party and the British economy.
She was widely credited, along with President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, for playing a critical role in defeating the Soviet Union and bringing the Cold War to an end.
More than 2,000 people participated in the opinion poll, with more than a quarter — 28 percent — listing Thatcher as the most influential woman of the past two centuries. Thatcher beat fellow Brits Queen Elizabeth II and suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst.
Thatcher was the first woman to lead a major U.K. political party and was subsequently the woman to achieve the office of prime minister in 1979. Her rise to the top was all the more remarkable given her history as a grocer’s daughter at a time when her party was riddled with aristocrats and social snobbery.
After rising through the ranks she took over the Conservative Party leadership in 1975 ousting the former Prime Minister Ted Heath, whose government had been brought down by trade union strikes.
Thatcher set about changing the ideological direction of her party from paternalist centrism to free market individualism. During the latter part of her first term in office the British economy began to recover from a long period of stagnation and relative decline.
Faced with a divided opposition that had moved to the extreme left advocating nationalization of industries and unilateral nuclear disarmament and victory over Argentina in Falklands in 1982, Thatcher won a second term.
After the 1983 election Thatcher turned her attention to more radical reforms of the British economy with a program of tax cuts, privatizations and deregulation. Her economic reforms proved wildly succesful with inflation tamed and wages rising.
In 1984 Thatcher faced down the country’s most powerful union – The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). The Conservative government began to close loss making coal pits which put the government on a collision course the NUM’s leader Arthur Scargill, who was determined to preserve jobs and bring down the government.
The ensuing strike lasted close to year and was one of the most bitter industrial disputes in British history. But the government was eventually triumphant and the miners went back to work.
A host of trade union reforms meant the number of working days lost to strikes fell from 900,000 a month when Thatcher came to power to 183,000 when she left office in November 1990. A liberalization of financial regulations in 1986 labelled “The Big Bang” helped to revive the City of London as a center of world finance.
Despite being the longest serving and most successful peacetime prime minister of the 20th century Thatcher was deposed in a plot by Conservative members of parliament fearful they would lose the next election if she stayed on as leader.
Margaret Thatcher left office on 28 November 1990 but continued to be a central figure in Conservative and national politics. Thatcher passed away on April 8 2013.
Her ceremonial funeral held in St Paul’s Cathedral in London drew leaders and statesmen from all over the world. British Prime Minister David Cameron paying tribute to his party’s former leader said “she didn’t just lead our country, she saved our country.”
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