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The Early Political Career of Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher was born in Grantham, Lincolnshire on 13 October 1925, to Alfred Roberts and Beatrice Ethel. Her father use to own two grocery shops and young Thatcher spent her childhood in Grantham, residing in a flat above the largest of those two shops. Thatcher grew up as a Methodist, being exposed to local politics from a young age due to her father actively taking part in politics and also serving as an alderman and local Methodist preacher. Roberts also stood as an independent candidate, serving as Mayor of Grantham from 1945-1946.

Thatcher’s time in school was spent working hard to sustain an increasingly good performance, playing the piano and participating in poetry recitals, swimming and walking. She graduated in a Chemistry Bachelor of Science degree from Oxford University in 1947, spending much of her early life being inspired by the political works of Friedrich von Hayek (famous for his defence of classical liberalism). After graduation she spent some time working as a research chemist for several companies from BX Plastics to J. Lyons and Co., and also joined the local Conservative Association, which eventually led her to standing as a candidate for Dartford in January 1951.

During the 1950 and 1951 general elections she acted as the Conservative candidate for the safe Labour seat of Dartford, losing both times to the Labour candidate, Norman Dodds. She married a fellow Conservative supporter and wealthy businessman, Denis Thatcher in December 1951 and two years later the young couple were blessed with two children. The birth of her children saw her spending some time away from politics, eventually returning to stand as the Conservative candidate for the Orpington constituency’s by-elections.

After being narrowly defeated in the by-elections, Thatcher choose to be politically smart, opting for the Conservative-safe seat of Finchley instead in April 1958, campaigning intensively to win the elections. She was elected as MP for the seat and her maiden speech demonstrated her long held-out desire to disagree with political secrecy and being supportive of bridging the inequality divide, when she voiced support for her private member’s bill, Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960, which made it mandatory for local authorities to hold public rather than private council meetings. Holding public meetings meant that both members of the public and the press could now attend meetings held by public bodies.

Thatcher first displayed a keen interest in foreign policy by being one of the founding members of the Anglo-Israel Friendship League of Finchley; as with all other Britons, she was however, still strictly pro-Palestine. She was promoted to the front bench as Parliamentary Undersecretary at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance in Harold Macmillan’s administration, in October 1961. She went on to become the party spokeswoman in Housing and Land from the role, pioneering the Conservative party’s policy of permitting tenants to purchase their own council houses. In 1966, acting as the Treasury spokeswoman as part of the Shadow Treasury team, she opposed plenty of Labour policies, including its high-tax initiatives, which she termed as a move towards Communism rather than Socialism; she perceived lower taxes for the British public as being incentives for hard work.

Thatcher voted against the relaxation of divorce laws, but for the legalisation of abortion, and her controversial stance on several policies saw her joining the Shadow Cabinet in 1967 as Fuel spokeswoman, followed by a promotion to the role of Shadow Transport spokeswoman. After the Conservative Party won the 1970 general elections, Margaret Thatcher was appointed Secretary of State for Education and Science. In her new role, she slashed public spending for the state education system, which saw the eradication of free milk for schoolchildren from the age of seven to eleven, but retaining it for younger children owing to their nutritional needs. During her time in office, she pushed for more local education authorities to close grammar schools and adopt comprehensive secondary education instead.

The Conservative Party lost the February 1974 general elections, and Margaret Thatcher was supported in her bid for the leadership role by the 1922 Committee. On 11 February 1975, she became the party leader, soon going on to vehemently oppose the welfare state. Despite undergoing better presentation training with the National Theatre’s coach, her distinct Lincolnshire dialect often continued to be visible . On 19 January 1976 Thatcher attacked the Soviet Union in a speech in Kensington Town Hall.

A huge, largely land-locked country like Russia does not need to build the most powerful navy in the world just to guard its own frontiers.

No. The Russians are bent on world dominance, and they are rapidly acquiring the means to become the most powerful imperial nation the world has seen.

The men in the Soviet politburo don’t have to worry about the ebb and flow of public opinion. They put guns before butter, while we put just about everything before guns.

The Soviet navy is not designed for self-defence. We do not have to imagine an all-out nuclear war or even a conventional war in order to see how it could be used for political purposes.

We are devoted, as we always have been, to the maintenance of peace.

On defence, we are now spending less per head of the population than any of our major allies. Britain spends only £90 per head on defence. West Germany spends £130, France spends £115. The United States spends £215. Even neutral Sweden spends £60 more per head than we do.

Of course, we are poorer than most of our NATO allies. This is part of the disastrous economic legacy of Socialism.

Apparently, we can even afford to lend money to the Russians, at a lower rate of interest that we have to pay on our own borrowings.

But we cannot afford, in Labour’s view, to maintain our defences at the necessary level—not even at a time when on top of our NATO commitments, we are fighting a major internal war against terrorism in Northern Ireland, and need more troops in order to win it.

Our Anglo-Saxon heritage embraces the countries of the Old Commonwealth that have too often been neglected by politicians in this country, but are always close to the hearts of British people.

We believe that we should build on our traditional bonds with Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as well as on our new ties with Europe

But our role reaches beyond this. We have abundant experience and expertise in this country in the art of diplomacy in its broadest sense.

It should be used, within Europe, in the efforts to achieve effective foreign policy initiatives.

Within the EEC, the interests of individual nations are not identical and our separate identities must be seen as a strength rather than a weakness.

Any steps towards closer European union must be carefully considered.

The Soviet Defence Ministry newspaper, Red Star, named her the Iron Lady in response, which Thatcher deemed to be a correct title to describe herself in politics.

Labour was initially riding on a wave of high popularity ratings, but the Winter of Discontent (widespread strikes by trade unions demanding pay rises during the winter of 1978-1979) and the Conservatives’ tactically placed campaign attacks on the government’s unemployment record, led to a defeat for the party during the general elections of May 1979. The Conservatives won a 44-seat majority in the House of Commons and Margaret Thatcher was elected as the country’s Prime Minister.

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