Term Paper: Margaret Thatcher Has the Distinction

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[. . .] (Geelhoed and Hobbs xi)

One of the issues that propelled her to power was the problem of trade unions. The fight against the unions had become a central issue in British government and Thatcher used this issue to maintain her position of control.

Thatcher turned the nation's anti-union feeling into a handsome parliamentary majority and a mandate to restrict union privileges by a series of laws that effectively ended Britain's trade-union problem once and for all. "Who governs Britain?" she famously asked as unions struggled for power. By 1980, everyone knew the answer: Thatcher governs." (The TIME 100)

Margaret Thatcher faced a myriad of problems at the outset of her tenure as Prime Minister. Collectively the ills of the British economy and internal industrial strife were known as the 'British disease' and represented the challenges she had to face.

In the late 1970s, high inflation, trade union arrogance and violence, and a social malaise infected the British body politic. Britain was rightfully viewed as the pathetic "sick man" of Europe and political commentators in both Europe and the United States referred contemptuously to the "British Disease," that combination of lagging economic productivity, inefficient burgeoning state bureaucracy, social decadence, and political gridlock.

(Geelhoed and Hobbs xii)

However, many of her early policies aimed at rectifying this situation were neither popular nor successful and in her first few years as Prime Minister she encountered numerous difficulties. Some of these included the harsh monetary policy of high interest rates, which had been implemented to reduce the rampant inflation level. The high interest rates were damaging to business in the country, particularly the manufacturing sector, and worsened the recession by the international oil crisis in 1970. As a result of this decision there was a concomitant rise in unemployment. Her government was also blamed for the recession in the 1980's. Albeit, initially her policies to remedy the economic plight of the country were seen to have some marginal success but were widely judged as having generally failed.

The conservative economic policies that Thatcher and the Tory government pursued in the early 1980s were phenomenally unsuccessful. Inflation in Britain reached almost 22% in 1980 and by the beginning of 1982 unemployment stood at three million. In fact, Thatcherism became a pejorative political term during the early 1980s, a code word for an economic policy that produced only marginal success in controlling inflation while at the same time bringing higher unemployment and low economic growth. (ibid)

Another issue that was an obstacle to Thatcher's attempts to rectify the economic and social plights of the country was the high unemployment rate.

This was at an unprecedented high of more than three million and her policies in this regard resulted in cabinet dissention and some resignations. However, her determination and resolution in the face of all these problems added to her esteem in the public eye.

The image of Thatcher as the "Iron lady" was further established in the popular view by the decisive actions during the Falkland War. In 1982 Argentina invaded the neighboring Falkland Islands, which had been considered British territory for 150 years. When diplomatic attempts to resolve the crisis failed to stop the invasion of the Islands, Thatcher resorted to military force and dispatched a task force of the Royal British Navy.

It should be realized that this was politically a risky decision as failure would almost certainly have resulted in the fall of her government.

After ten weeks the Argentinean government surrendered and the Islands were reclaimed by Britain. However, there were many controversial decisions made by Thatcher during the war that showed her determined character, even in the face of censure. One of these was the order she gave to sink the submarine, the General Belgrano, in which 368 sailors drowned. However, the press and the public supported her decisions and this served to raise her public popularity ratings. With her high ratings and a divided labor at the time, the conservatives won a landslide election victory in 1945.

Caspar Weinberger, defense secretary for U.S. President Reagan, stated that Thatcher's decision on the Falkland Islands was a test of her resolve and determination.

Thatcher defied all of the military advice and expert opinion that said Britain couldn't possibly send a military expedition some 7,000 miles away, says Weinberger. "But she was determined to go ahead and do it because she thought it was the right thing to do," he tells Insight. And she acted as if the possibility of military defeat did not exist."

(Crabtree and Danitz)

Central to the aims of her first term in office was the deep need that she felt to re-establish Britain as a viable economic and political force in the world. To this end she was very opposed to previous policies, which in effect undermined the potential strength and influence of the United Kingdom. "Thatcher was incensed by one contemporary view within the Civil Service that its job was to manage Britain's decline from the days of Empire, and wanted the country to punch above its weight in international affairs. (Wkipedia: Margaret Thatcher)

One of the most important and far-reaching policies during her term in office was her conviction of the necessity to reduce governmental involvement and interference in the economic process. She was an ardent believer in lessening government control over Britain's economy. This led her to implement strategies that would lead to a privatization of industry and local government. This was one of the issues that possibly led to ambivalent views about her domestic policies. However, this policy in particular went a long way towards reinstating Britain as an economic force in the world.

Even as the rest of Europe toyed with socialism and state ownership, she set about privatizing the nationalized industries, which had been hitherto sacrosanct, no matter how inefficient. It worked. British Airways, an embarrassingly slovenly national carrier that very seldom showed a profit, was privatized and transformed into one of the world's best and most profitable airlines. British Steel, which lost more than a billion pounds in its final years as a state concern, became the largest steel company in Europe.

Her privatization policies were, from an economic point-of-view, enormously successful and were imitated by many other counties

By the mid-1980s, privatization was a new term in world government, and by the end of the decade more than 50 countries, on almost every continent, had set in motion privatization programs, floating loss-making public companies on the stock markets and in most cases transforming them into successful private-enterprise firms.

Her resolve and steadfastness on important home issues was to show itself in her unbending policies on Irish terrorism. This was to be tested when, in 1984, a bomb, intended for Mrs. Thatcher, killed five of her colleagues. This act was in apparent retaliation for Thatcher's stance on the IRA Hunger Strikes during 1980/81.

After two terms in office Thatcher's policies had proven to provide a wide range of positive effects and "To some extent, Thatcher and the Conservatives could claim credit for much of the good news about the economy. www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=15091370" (Geelhoed and Hobbs xiv) During her two terms in office Thatcher had succeeded in reducing personal taxes as well as privatized a portion of the government's ownership in nationalized companies. Importantly, she had also passed laws that curtailed the power of trade unions and made some headway in reducing the budget deficit and also reduced public spending. "Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Thatcher appeared to have whipped inflation. In 1986, inflation held steady at a rate of 3.4%"

The Fall from Power

In her third term of office Margaret Thatcher was determined to make effective changes in the country. Her introduction of the infamous "poll tax" was one of the central issues of this term that would lead to her fall from power.

Determined that her third term in office should have a more purposeful drive than the second, Mrs. Thatcher pressed on with an increasingly radical agenda. The Community Charge - better known as 'Poll Tax' - was an attempt to replace the old rates system. Its introduction in Scotland in 1989 was highly unpopular, yet it became the government's flagship policy. Riots broke out in London in 1990 following its introduction in England and Wales. Unease amongst many Conservative MPs, fearful of loosing their seats in the 1991 general election, sparked deep divisions within the party.

Margaret Thatcher: A short Biography)

Another factor that was to create tensions within her government and eventually lead to dissolution of her power base was the question of economic and political relations with Europe. This was, and still is to a large degree, a very divisive issue in British politics and in Thatcher's time it created serious divisions in government. Thatcher was determined in her rejection of political or economic integration with the rest of Europe. She believed that this integration would "pose a threat to the economic success her government had achieved in the previous decade." (ibid)

Her attitude and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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