In the 1960s, while the British feminist movement was burning its bras, Margaret Thatcher was challenging the gender barrier within the Conservative Party.
She led the party in opposition and in 1979 became Britain’s first female prime minister.
She inherited an economy in chaos that made the country the ‘Sick Man of Europe.’ Her first job was to turn that around.What followed is known as Thatcherism.
This meant privatisation, budget cuts and limiting trade union influence.
She stood eyeball to eyeball with union leaders and despite the long strikes, it was they who blinked first. She had beaten what she called “the enemy within.”
Thatcher was just as merciless with her enemies abroad.
The Argentine invasion of the Falklands met with a crushing response and the patriotic fervour it inspired at home swept Thatcher into a second term.
President Ronald Reagan proved an ideal partner on the international scene. They shared an ultra-liberal economic ideology and were even able to bring on board Mikhail Gorbachev.
After her first meeting with the reformist Soviet leader, she reported back to Reagan, telling him “we can do business together”.
Relations with leaders in Europe though were nowhere near as friendly.
Thatcher believed the European Community as it was then should be about free trade and competition and nothing more. She saw Brussels bureaucracy as a threat to smaller London government.
Disputes over Europe within the Conservative Party were a major factor in her eventual fall from power.
She narrowly won a first-round party leadership vote in 1990 but it became clear to her that it was time to go. On November 28, she stood down.
Thatcher moved into the House of Lords but maintained a quiet but reverential influence over the party she had led and changed.
She withdrew from political life in 2002. A year later came the death of her husband Denis. The Iron Lady’s public appearances became fewer and further between.
In 2004 she lost another close friend, Ronald Reagan. Despite having suffered several small strokes she attended the state funeral in Washington.
In 2006 Thatcher said she was “greatly saddened” by the death of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. He had helped her in the Falklands invasion and the two had remained friends despite his alleged human rights abuses.
One of her last public outings saw her back in Downing Street, with Prime minister Gordon Brown, where her choice of Labour Red dress got the press excited even after all those years.
Thatcher changed not only her own Conservative Party but also its bitter rival. Labour had to become New Labour in order to become palatable to the British electorate.
Like any political colossus, she was present even after leaving the room.