Margaret Thatcher 'Iron Lady' Dies at 87

Former prime minister Baroness Thatcher dies peacefully at the age of 87 after suffering a massive stroke

Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first and only woman Prime Minister, died this morning after suffering a stroke, it was announced today.

Baroness Thatcher, who was 87, won three general elections  for the Conservatives and shaped UK politics for a generation.  At home, she implemented  sweeping reforms to trade unions, defeated the miners in a bitter strike and forced the Labour Party to modernise itself.  Abroad,  she was dubbed “the Iron Lady”,  winning an unlikely war in the Falklands  and helping to secure the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Lord Bell, her spokesman and former adviser, said: "It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announced that their mother Baroness Thatcher died peacefully following a stroke this morning."

She will be given a special ceremonial funeral, similar to those accorded to the Queen Mother and Diana, the  Princess of Wales.  She had been in poor health for some months and was living at the Ritz Hotel in London so that she could be  cared for more easily.

The tributes were led by David Cameron, who returned early from a tour of European capitals . He said:  "It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Lady Thatcher. We have lost a great leader, a great Prime Minister and a great Briton." 

Even Lady Thatcher’s critics admitted that some of her economic reforms were needed.  She came to power after the 1978-79 Winter of Discontent, a wave of strikes which left rubbish piling up in the streets and the dead unburied in some areas.  She imposed spending cuts as well as labour market reforms, taking on critics dubbed “the wets”,  the moderate Tory ministers she sacked from her own Cabinet. In 1981, she declared  that: “The lady’s not for turning,”  a phrase that may prove her epitaph and has made the party leaders who followed her reluctant to make U-turns on policy.

Lady Thatcher, known as “Maggie,” won popular backing way beyond the Conservatives’ natural supporters.  Even doubters acknowledged she showed strong leadership. But she was also seen as a leader who divided the nation because of the harsh measures she took on the economy.  Critics blamed her for writing off huge sections of Britain’s manufacturing industry and allowing unemployment to rise to three million.

The grocer’s daughter from Grantham was the outsider who rose suddenly to become Tory leader when Sir Edward Heath, the former Prime Minister, was toppled by his own party in 1975.

Ironically, she suffered  the same fate in 1990, by when she was deeply unpopular  after introducing a highly controversial policy, a flat rate poll tax, which saw a duke and a dustman paying the same amount for their council services.  She failed to defeat Michael Heseltine in the first ballot when he challenged her for the Tory leadership. Although she vowed to fight on,  when she consulted her Cabinet, several members told her she faced defeat and advised her to stand down.

Her influence over British politics  continued long after her emotional, tearful departure from Downing Street. She clashed with Cabinet colleagues including Lord (Geoffrey) Howe and Lord (Nigel) Lawson on Europe and their resignations played a part in her downfall. But  her Eurosceptic views  shifted her party’s centre of gravity to a sceptical position on the issue. The 140 new Tory MPs who entered the Commons for the first time in 2010 were dubbed “Thatcher’s children.”

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