The woman who changed Britain: Margaret Thatcher 1925–2013

The woman who changed Britain: Margaret Thatcher 1925–2013

By Ian Dunt

Margaret Thatcher died following a stroke this morning, leaving behind a political legacy which is as divisive and emotional as it was 30 years ago.

The former prime minister, who had adopted a private life following a series of minor strokes, will be given a ceremonial funeral with military honours, but not a state funeral, in line with her personal wishes.

The flags above Downing Street, parliament and elsewhere on Whitehall were lowered to half mast when the news was confirmed.

"With great sadness Mark and Carol Thatcher announced that their mother Baroness Thatcher died peacefully following a stroke this morning," spokesman Lord Bell said.

The Queen was said to be sad to hear the news and will be sending a private message of condolence to the family.

"We have lost a great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton," David Cameron said.

Labour leader Ed Miliband called her a "unique figure" who "reshaped the politics of a whole generation".

He added: "The Labour party disagreed with much of what she did and she will always remain a controversial figure. But we can disagree and also greatly respect her political achievements and her personal strength."

The funeral service will be held at St Paul's Cathedral with a wide range of people and groups with connections to Lady Thatcher being invited. It will be followed by a private cremation.

President Barack Obama called her a "true friend" of America.

"As prime minister, she helped restore the confidence and pride that has always been the hallmark of Britain at its best," he said.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said she would "never forget her part in surmounting the division of Europe and at the end of the Cold War".

The daughter of a grocer, Thatcher entered the Commons as Conservative MP for Finchley in 1959, and retired two years after the end of her premiership in 1992.

She worked as education secretary before challenging Edward Heath for the leadership in 1975.

Thatcher became prime minister in a tight election in 1979, after being routinely underestimated by the governing Labour party.

Her leadership was initially very unpopular but the Falklands War saw her gain huge domestic support and she won further elections in 1983 and 1987 before having to step down in the face of opposition from her own party.

Thatcher was the first and only femaleprime minister of the United Kingdom, but she was averse to feminist politics and did little to raise the position of other women in politics.

She was famous the world over as the 'Iron Lady' – a nickname given to her for her stern unyielding leadership in the face of industrial action and war with Argentina.

Her government privatised several state-owned industries and became embroiled in a year-long standoff with unions during the miners' strike of 1984/5.

Many Brits have never forgotten the divisions of that period of modern history, and in particular her description of striking workers as" the enemy within".

She survived an assassination attempt in 1984 when the IRA bombed the Brighton Grand Hotel during the Tory party conference.

She quit as prime minister after it became clear she would not be able to beat off a leadership challenge from Michael Heseltine, who went into the second round in a leadership contest.

By that stage she had alienated many of her Cabinet ministers and former allies with her leadership style, which included berating opponents as 'wets'.