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Margaret Thatcher


Margaret Thatcher (Conservative, 1979-1990)
The first woman PM and possibly the most divisive PM in history, Thatcher and her twelve years in power profoundly changed the nature of British society, and her influence is still powerful even now. In the political arena, she challenged and defeated the powerful trade unions, changing labour relations forever, and also moved British politics in general to the right, which in turn led to a radical transformation in the Labour Party and the subsequent electoral victories of the ‘New Labour’ party of Blair and Brown. Equally important were the consequences of her economic and financial reforms, carried out in tandem with President Reagan in the US.
Thatcher liberalized the British economy, privatizing state-owned industries and introducing more flexibility into the labour market — moves copied around the world. Her general policy could be summarized as meaning less welfare state, less government, lower taxes and more freedom for business and consumers. Equally radical was her financial policy. Thatcher introduced financial deregulation in an attempt to strengthen the British economy. The so-called ‘Big Bang’ reforms of 1986 removed many restrictions on the London Stock Exchange, and some experts attribute the 2008 financial crisis and banking scandals to these changes.  
Thatcher’s time in power was marked by shockingly high unemployment levels and violent moments of social unrest. Drug abuse and family breakdown became more common, and critics said her policies were leading to a culture of greed and selfishness in society. Indeed, in an interview in 1987 she famously said: “There is no such thing as society” - but she did believe in the European Union. The IRA tried to assassinate her in 1984.