By Robert Guthrie
DUMFRIES, Scotland – Margaret Thatcher is dead, but her stark legacy will live on long after Wednesday’s ceremonial funeral.
One of the most powerful women of her time, Thatcher proved among the most influential British prime ministers ever. Her policies revolutionized the United Kingdom.
It’s certainly no understatement to say, however, that the Iron Lady’s decisions were seen by Brits as controversial and divisive.
In 1959, Thatcher, who gained much attention due to her femininity, became a member of parliament representing Finchley – her parliamentary constituency for the next 33 years. In 1970, Thatcher became the Minister for Education, and within the following five years made her move to leader of the Conservative Party. Following her election victory of 1979, Thatcher moved up to the office of Prime Minister, becoming the first-ever female to hold the position.
However, whilst Thatcher is seen by some as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of British politics, many also still regard her changes to the nation as unfair, selfish and divisive. Some saw her as a ‘war criminal,’ entering Britain into an arguably unnecessary war with Argentina in 1982 over the Falkland Islands, off South America’s shore.
Thatcher leaves a lasting legacy on British society today. In office before Thatcher, the left-wing Labour government believed in controlling Britain’s resources themselves, boosting public spending and the quality of services, and the use of the welfare state – a package of social security with benefits, the internationally acclaimed National Health Service and more. However, Britain was in a state of economic disparity, with masses of national debt and poverty for many.
Thatcher’s point of view was profoundly different than that of the Labour party. Thatcher wrecked the decisions made by previous Labour governments, refusing to look behind her on the journey she made as prime minister.
Thatcher privatized national services such as coal and steel, which Labour, when they held power, had made state-run. This helped to reduce debts by cutting public spending by the government.
Thatcher also believed in low income tax rates for all – a common Conservative policy – which allowed individuals to keep more of their money and become self-sustainable. The Iron Lady also reduced spending on the welfare state – she cut benefits for the working class and cut spending on state-run services such as the National Health Service.
Thatcher created a freer market for businesses across the nation, meaning that prices of products were determined by the competition between businesses to sell.
And there is no doubt that Thatcher was influential on an international scale. She was successful in building bridges with world leaders and ministers across the globe including Mikhail Gorbachev who led the former Soviet Union and the then-United States President Ronald Reagan.
However, the changes made by Thatcher were arguably not good for all of the British population and some social classes were hit badly.
The lack of public spending – on benefits, the welfare state and on services such as coal and steel – now meant that individuals had to find ways to make ends meet. There was more pressure on citizens to provide for themselves.
Lower income tax rates came with an asterisk beside them, too. There was no getting away with not paying too little to the government.
Thatcher later introduced the highly controversial ‘poll tax’ where every resident in every household who was over 18 had to pay tax. This hit the working class who had lower incomes like a thunderbolt with a further slump in their paychecks.
The reaction to poll tax included riots taking place across Britain, most commonly in and around Central London with horrific violence.
Economically, Thatcher immensely reduced inflation across the UK, but her policies at least initially caused unemployment to spike to over three million across Britain, damaging household incomes for many.
Thatcher also shut down mines which she saw to be unprofitable, but the reality was that it harmed many in local mining communities, meaning that they no longer had jobs. Mining employed millions, and suddenly, millions turned to none.
The lack of benefits and social security – the welfare state – arguably harmed many, too.
While Thatcher believed that solely living off benefits and government spending was hurting the UK economy, the reduction of the spending on benefits and services meant that the working class people of Britain had less income.
In hindsight, the question is posed – did her changes work?
Well, on one hand they did. The implementations Thatcher made effectively reduced the deficit, boosting the economy inch-by-inch, limiting public spending – thus limiting debt – and furthering the creation of businesses across the nation.
However, on the other hand, the changes adversely affected many others. The cuts left citizens, particularly the working class, hanging on by the skin of their teeth, coping with unemployment and low income.
Cuts in public spending meant there was more individual responsibility for individuals’ financial positions.
Thatcher was eventually ousted out of government by her own party with another party member challenging her leadership.
But one thing is clear: her legacy is profound.
We still live in a country handcrafted by the former prime minister.
There is no doubt that Thatcher was an influential woman in the world of politics, but she was also controversial. The Poll Tax Riots of 1990 and the bomb by terrorists in the Irish Republican Army that hit the Tory Conference in 1984 – which nearly killed Thatcher – displayed harsh opposition from the public of her policies.
But whether we like it or not, the majority of Brits living today are the children of Margaret Thatcher.