World

Thatcher: Loved and loathed

Guy Faulconbridge, Kate Holton

Margaret Thatcher transformed Britain and inspired conservatives around the world by radically rolling back the state during her 11 years in power.

A grocer's daughter with a steely resolve, Thatcher was loved and loathed in equal measure. (AFP)

Britain's only woman prime minister, the unyielding, outspoken Thatcher led the Conservatives to three election victories, governing from 1979 to 1990, the longest continuous period in office by a British premier since the early 19th century.

A grocer's daughter with a steely resolve, she was loved and loathed in equal measure as she crushed the unions, privatised vast swathes of British industry, clashed with the European Union and fought a war to recover the Falkland Islands from Argentine invaders.

She struck up a close relationship with US President Ronald Reagan in the Cold War, backed the first President George Bush during the 1991 Gulf War, and declared that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was a man she could do business with.

"Very few leaders get to change not only the political landscape of their country but of the world. Margaret was such a leader. Her global impact was vast," said Tony Blair, Labour prime minister from 1997 to 2007.

"Some of the changes she made in Britain were, in certain respects at least, retained by the 1997 Labour government, and came to be implemented by governments around the world," said Blair.

Prime Minister David Cameron cut short a visit to Europe to return to Britain after the death was announced and British flags on government buildings and royal palaces across London were lowered to half mast.

US President Barack Obama said: "America has lost a true friend." Mourners began to lay roses, tulips and lilies on the doorstep of her house in Belgravia, one of London's most exclusive areas.

One note said: "The greatest British leader" while another said to "the iron lady". Thatcher died peacefully on Monday morning at the Ritz hotel after a stroke. She had been in poor health for months and had declined into dementia in her final years.

Lord Bell, a spokesperson for the family, compared her to her hero Winston Churchill, while Cameron said she would go down as Britain's greatest peacetime prime minister. "We've lost a great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton," Cameron said.

"The real thing about Margaret Thatcher is that she didn't just lead our country, she saved our country." The British government said Thatcher would have a ceremonial funeral with military honours at London's St Paul's Cathedral, which falls short of a full state funeral, in accordance with the wishes of her family.

Cold War Warrior 
The abiding domestic images of her premiership will remain those of conflict: huge police confrontations with the miners' union, her riding a tank in a white headscarf, and flames rising above Trafalgar Square in the riots over an unpopular local tax which ultimately led to her downfall.

"It's very sad to hear of her death but her legacy and death are two different things.

Politically, she did not leave a good legacy for the working class," Kevin Robertson, a 39-year-old garage manager, told Reuters in Edinburgh.

Some opponents said on social media that they would hold a party to celebrate her death while a website set up to ask if Thatcher was dead had received 170 000 likes by midday.

To those who opposed her she was blunt to a degree. "The lady's not for turning", she once informed members of her own Conservative Party who were urging her to moderate her policies.

In power she faced plotting inside her party from those who thought she was unreasonably divisive.

While often deeply unpopular at home – especially in northern England, Wales, Scotland and parts of Northern Ireland ndash; Thatcher's strength won her praise and high regard in both Washington, Berlin and Moscow.

The Soviet defence ministry newspaper Red Star dubbed Thatcher the "Iron Lady" and she revelled in the nickname though she worked closely with Gorbachev as he opened up the Soviet Union.

She formed a strong alliance against communism with Reagan and was rewarded by seeing the Berlin Wall torn down in 1989, though she warned Gorbachev that a unified Germany would come to dominate Europe.

"Thatcher was a politician whose word carried great weight," said Gorbachev, who sought to reform the Soviet Union and improved ties with the West but failed to avert the collapse of the nuclear-armed superpower.

"Our first meeting in 1984 marked the beginning of a relationship that was at times difficult, not always smooth, but was treated seriously and responsibly by both sides," Gorbachev (82) said.

Months before Gorbachev succeeded Konstantin Chernenko as Soviet leader, Thatcher said of Gorbachev: "We can do business together."

'Iron Lady'
Others who crossed her path, particularly in Europe, were subjected to withering diatribes often referred to as "handbaggings", named after the black leather bag she invariably carried.

Her personal credo, founded on competition, private enterprise, thrift and self-reliance, gave birth to a political philosophy known as "Thatcherism".

"A lot of people, my contemporaries from where I grew up, didn't like her. But I bought my first property age 22. I thank her for getting me out of that council estate," said Mark Guard, a 48-year-old filmmaker who grew up in public housing in northern England.

"She was a very patriotic leader of this country and I think she changed it for the better," he said as he dropped off a bunch of flowers at her house in London.

Thatcher's combative opposition to greater European integration antagonised allies in Europe and ultimately helped to sow the seeds of her own downfall.

"She saved the pound and if we didn't have the pound we'd be another Greece or Portugal," said Jack Hikmet, who has owned a pharmacy in Thatcher's former constituency of Finchley for 35 years.

In a few tense weeks at the end of 1990, Thatcher fell from power as some of her most senior ministers turned on her in what she said later was treachery.

"Her memory will live long after the world has forgotten the grey suits of today's politics," said London Mayor Boris Johnson. - The Guardian Media

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