The first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Margaret Hilda Thatcher, led a political career steeped in controversy.
Some view her positively as the ‘Iron Lady’ because of her uncompromising politics and leadership through 11 years in power, while others despise her. Her famous statement ‘The lady’s not for turning’ marked her as a stout political figure, providing an impression of integrity that can be easily equated with a view to women being powerful and independent to subvert male hierarchy. But can she really be a suitable role model for women?
Firstly, I must point out that it’s not only regressive, but sexist, to presume that Mrs. Thatcher is a positive role model for women simply because she herself was a woman. If this was the case it would be safe to assume that Adolf Hitler was a role model for all men because he too was a man. The sex of Mrs. Thatcher is not enough to make her a suitable role model, it is what she did that makes the difference. From here I will attempt to put my own politics aside, allowing events and statistics to speak for me where we determine what actions Mrs. Thatcher took, what these show about her personality, and if they warrant her status as a role model for women.
Although I cannot include all events from an 11-year period, here are some epitomising Thatcherism:
- A focus on Monetarist policies, believing it was the expansion of the money supply that caused inflation and so sought to control it. In practice, between the last quarter of 1978 and 1980 the M3 measure of the money supply grew by 32.8%. She later denied her emphasis on Monetarism – ‘It is not a doctrine to which I’ve ever prescribed’ (1985).
- Politics marked by deregulation, flexible labour markets, privatisation of state-owned companies (e.g. North Sea Oil), and reducing trade union power. Oversaw two recessions.
- Unemployment rose from 1.4 million in 1979 to 3.2 million in 1984 amid recession, figures exceeding the Great Depression. Figure remained high – over 2 million by 1990.
- Deregulation – exchange controls abolished in 1979. 1986 Big Bang reforms removed restrictions on Stock Exchange, enabling capital to flow more freely and allowing foreign ownership of UK firms.
- Corporation Tax reduced from 83% to 40%. 1989 Community Charge or “Poll tax” was widely unpopular. Council houses privatized – 1979 average house price over £21,000 compared to £60,000 by 1989 and trend continued.
- Reflected growing consensus against Trade Union’s high wage demands – 1980 budget announced £12 a week benefits cut to families of those on strike. In the 70’s 13.2 million people – 1 in 4 – were members of a union, this reduced by 1990 to 9.8 million.
- 1988 Section 28 – prevented local authorities or schools promoting homosexuality.
- Ireland and Foreign Policy – Survived IRA assassination attempt and claimed she would not negotiate with terrorists. Declassified documents reveal she secretly negotiated to end hunger strikes. Trident nuclear missile submarine system bought, Falklands War won, sought continued British presence in Hong Kong – conceded in 1997 issuing sovereignty.
- Valued hard work and self-improvement. Christian with emphasis on traditional nuclear family.
In conclusion, it is clear many of Mrs. Thatcher’s actions are steeped in hypocrisy or irony when comparing personality and policy. She valued hard work yet took from many their source of income, her tenure reached record levels of unemployment and oversaw two recessions, and she conceded over issues like the IRA and denied her monetarism. She failed to admit fault over any of this.
The message is clear: integrity is a valuable quality in a leader, but only if the causes the integrity promotes achieve positive outcomes, and where otherwise the individual can admit and learn from their errors. If not, this trait is worthless, reduced to mere arrogance, and such a person with so much pride can never be a suitable role model for any group.