Margaret Thatcher was the longest serving Prime Minister for more than 150 years and was the first woman ever to take the role. Her father, a shopkeeper and Mayor of Grantham, was a major formative influence.
Thatcher was educated at the local grammar school and at Oxford where she studied chemistry. She also became president of the university Conservative association. She later read for the Bar, before being elected in 1959 as the Conservative MP for Finchley.
Britain went to war with Argentina over the Falklands IslandsShe held junior posts before becoming shadow spokesperson for Education, and entered the Cabinet as Education Secretary in 1970. In Opposition she stood against Edward Heath for the party leadership in 1975. Her victory was considered a surprise by many. In 1979, the Conservative Party won the General Election and Margaret Thatcher succeeded James Callaghan as PM.
Thatcher's first two years in office were not easy. Unemployment was very high, but the economy gradually showed improvement. She brought more of her supporters into the Cabinet, and bolstered her reputation by leading the country to war against Argentina in the Falkland Islands.
The Conservatives went on to win the 1983 election by a landslide, aided by a fragmented opposition. Margaret Thatcher's government followed a radical programme of privatisation and deregulation, reform of the Trade Unions, tax cuts and the introduction of market mechanisms into health and education. The aim was to reduce the role of government and increase individual self-reliance. Thatcher and US president Ronald Reagan enjoyed a close relationship. She also became a familiar figure internationally, striking up a famous friendship with US President Reagan and gaining the praise of Soviet leader Gorbachev. One great difficulty during her time in office was the issue of Europe. Her long-serving Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe resigned in November 1990 in protest at Thatcher's attitude to Europe.
His resignation speech set in train events which were to lead to Thatcher's downfall later that month. Michael Heseltine challenged her for the leadership, and while he failed to win, he gained 152 votes - enough to make it evident that a crucial minority favoured a change. Thatcher was eventually persuaded not to go forward to the second ballot, which was won by her Chancellor of the Exchequer, John Major.
She left the House of Commons in 1992, and now sits in the Lords as Baroness Thatcher. Margaret Thatcher's writings include two volumes of memoirs: The Downing Street Years and The Path to Power.
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Before Thatcher became an MP, she worked as a research chemist for British Xylonite and then Lyons & Company, where she helped develop methods for preserving ice cream.
Sir Denis Thather, as the first male PM spouse in history, was always likely to be the centre of media attention - and he didn't disappoint. When she met him, Baroness Thatcher remarked that "it was clear to me at once that Denis was an exceptional man - he had a certain style and dash." Described as a man of integrity, humour and common sense, he had a strong business background and fought with the Royal Artillery during the war. It was said that Denis was in 'the Thatcher party not the Tory party'. He once famously remarked, recalling the words of Mark Twain, that: "it's better to keep my mouth shut and be thought a fool rather than open it and remove all doubt."
When he died in 2003 his wife paid tribute to the man she loved by saying: "Being PM is a lonely job. In a sense, it ought to be - you cannot lead from a crowd. But with Denis there I was never alone. What a man. What a husband. What a friend."