Margaret Thatcher: Forty years on, what did she mean to you?

Margaret Thatcher

Thatcher served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. (Image: GETTY)

Forty years ago tomorrow, a grocer’s daughter and mother of two from Grantham in Lincolnshire entered No 10 Downing Street the day after she was elected Britain’s first female prime minister. 

Margaret Hilda Thatcher was 53 and was best known to her enemies as “Thatcher the Milk Snatcher” after taking the rap for a Cabinet decision to abolish free school milk for junior school children as education secretary in Edward Heath’s government - a policy she argued against. 

When Heath’s leadership ran into trouble after losing a general election, she gradually emerged as the strongest challenger, taking over as leader of the opposition in 1975. 

She went on to become the longest serving prime minister of the 20th century.

Dubbed the Iron Lady by a Soviet journalist, she enthusiastically embraced the nickname, winning the Falklands War, a battle with the trade unions and three general elections. 

Then came the poll tax riots and a Cabinet revolt over her tough line on Europe before she was eventually topped from office in 1990. 

Baroness Thatcher died of a stroke in 2013.

Even today, nearly 30 years after she left office, she divides opinion. 

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher died on the 8th April 2013. (Image: GETTY)

But love her or hate her, she was a force of nature. 

Here our columnists look back on the Iron Lady’s gold years and reveal what she meant to them. 


I was still only 22 when she first swept to power.

Since I was old enough to know roughly what time of day it was, I’d only had one experience of Conservative government, Ted Heath’s less than impressive interregnum sandwiched between Harold Wilson’s tedious two terms, followed by James “Crisis, what crisis?” Callaghan’s.

I thought politics was pretty boring.

Probably because it was.

And then this fizzing ball of energy exploded on to the scene.

Not quite all at once: Margaret Thatcher needed a few months to come to terms with her own astonishing rise.

But it soon became obvious to anyone who didn’t carry a re ex torch of hostility towards Toryism that we were witnessing something new.

I was never a fan – as a working journalist I could see Thatcher’s faults, political weaknesses and strange personality quirks – but my God, she was an achiever.

Lay a challenge before her and she’d seize it, lioness-like, between her jaws before carrying it off.

Imagine if she’d been running the Brexit talks today.

Barnier and Juncker would be in therapy.

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher was Britain's first woman Prime Minister. (Image: GETTY)

For me, her nest hour was the Falklands War; a swift, uncomplicated recognition of the basic realities in play – a fascist dictator imposing his will on a defenceless community in order to suck up to the folks at home.

Galtieri messed with the wrong woman there, all right.

I was proud of her.

Then, like most political careers, hers dwindled and imploded.

The poll tax was an absurd policy and a self-delivered Achilles heel to her opponents, inside Parliament and out.

Thatcherism was over.

But, decades on, not forgotten.


I was in my early 20s when she came to power.

She was a Tory and I very definitely wasn’t, so I vehemently disagreed with her politics.

But she WAS Britain’s first woman prime minister and, as a working-class girl living in a two-up, two-down in a poor mining community, the grocer’s girl from Grantham infused me with hope, aspiration and ambition.

People where I grew up loved to hate her because of a determination to crush the unions and for the miners’ strike which devastated whole communities in my area.

But I knew people (they’d never admit it) who voted for her because she was a leader who was determined to get things done.

And she did.

Margaret Thatcher

Thatcher defeated Edward Heath in the Conservative Party. (Image: GETTY)

She DID end militant trade unionism which drastically reduced the loss of working days.

She implemented a free economy and reduced inflation in the ’80s.

She introduced the Right to Buy scheme that allowed people living in council houses the chance to be homeowners at hugely discounted prices.

She led us successfully through the Falklands War. She was instrumental in ending the Cold War.

She had what leaders are made of. She was fearsome, fearless, courageous and driven – qualities that are woefully lacking in our leaders today especially the current one.

As John C Maxwell, who writes books on leadership, says: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.”

Love her or loathe her – Thatcher did all that.

And more!


In 1979 Britain was in despair.

We had come through the winter of discontent when strikes had paralysed the country, union power was at its height and everybody from the doctors to the grave diggers had taken industrial action.

Rotting rubbish was piled high in the streets, the country was broke and threatened by a vast array of Soviet weapons.

Then we got our first woman prime minister who sold off the big state monopolies, tamed the unions, enabled those who thought they could never own property to do so, created a share-owning democracy and helped end the ColdWar.

Theresa May

Theresa May. (Image: GETTY)

Other than Churchill, I cannot think of another PM who has saved the country so comprehensively and turned disaster into success. Oh, for a Thatcher now!

Margaret Thatcher will always be known for being the first female occupant of number 10 but that is no more than symbolism.

It is what she did while she was there that counts, along with the indisputable fact that she got there entirely on her own merits, without patronising, artificial equality measures and quotas.

Mrs T showed what can be done through determination and conviction and will always be a shining inspiration to both men and women.


I was still at school in Ulster when MargaretThatcher was elected.As a starry-eyed, teenage left-winger, I was profoundly disappointed at the result, especially in the defeat of my hero, the avuncular Jim Callaghan.

Those feelings of hostility towards Mrs Thatcher deepened when I moved to England and soon became a Labour activist in Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North constituency.

In those youthful days, she was the enemy to me, a formidable barrier to my naïve hopes of a Labour victory.

The problem with socialism is that you always run out of other people’s money

Margaret Thatcher

Her potency as the key political foe of my party was all the greater because of her obvious strength as a national leader and a conviction politician, determined to chart a new course for our country.

She smashed her opponents not just with her resolution, but also her gift for common sense.

“The problem with socialism is that you always run out of other people’s money,” she once said in a brilliant put-down.

I gave up politics in the early 1990s, and, having abandoned my ideological blinkers, I came to recognise the extent of her achievements, especially in rebuilding the economy, taming the trade unions and standing up to the EU.

Tragically, there has been no one near her calibre since she left Downing Street in 1990.


If there is one thing one could say about Margaret Thatcher it is that it was impossible to be neutral about the lady.

She was simply too dynamic, too forceful, for that.

For those who were against her, all she was and did, the antipathy was total. And the reverse for those who supported.

I was firmly of the second category and the more so as I came to know her better.

It is perhaps hard to recall the disastrous state this nation was in when she won the 1979 election.

Our economy was in the gutter, we were humiliated by our need for huge IMF loans, wracked by strikes on a daily basis, called by unions run by covert communists.

Margaret Thatcher

Mrs Thatcher with her husband Denis entering No10 for the first time. (Image: GETTY)

The Winter of Discontent was a very recent and grisly memory.

It took 10 years, but this utterly decisive, occasionally irascible lady turned it all around.

We recovered the unions by giving them back to the rank and le.We recovered the Falklands, the economy, the Atlantic Alliance, the international respect.

We walked tall again.

Only at the end when she appointed incompetent advisers, took their advice and declined to listen to wiser counsel was she brought down by midgets.

Thirty years later the midgets are still in charge.


When I was a young gal in the mid 1980s and Margaret Thatcher was at the absolute height of her power, a friend, now a judge and then an up-and-coming barrister, took me to a Conservative Party ball.

At 10.30 that night, Maggie turned up unannounced and unexpected, and quite frankly, you would have thought a deity had manifested itself in our midst.

The mood was verging on hysteria: my barrister friend, a stiff upper-lipped Brit if ever there was one, was nearly in tears.

“She’s so wonderful. She’s so wonderful,” was all he could say.

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher was at the absolute height of her power in the 1980s. (Image: GETTY)

The Left shrieks so loudly about how much they hate her that you sometimes forget that far, far more people absolutely adored her, which is why she never lost a general election.

She was PM when I went to university and among achievements that it would fill every page of this paper to mention, what she proved above all else was that a woman could do everything – and more – than any man.

The day after John Major gained Number 10, a broadcaster said,“Prime Minister,” followed by “he”.

He? Was my immediate reaction.

Can the prime minister really be a man?

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