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Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister commonly known as 'Iron Lady', transformed Britain and transfixed America through the 1980s. She was the first woman to lead a major Western power. She remained in office for 11 and half uninterrupted years before stepping down on November 28, 1990, making her the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century.
In the global arena she collaborated closely with US president Ronald Reagan to modernize Europe's anti-Soviet nuclear shield by deploying cruise and Pershing II missiles in Britain, a costly and controversial enterprise that some analysts would later say contributed to the breakup of the Soviet Union. Then she joined Reagan's successor, George W. Bush, in repelling Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, counseling Bush not to go "wobbly" on her.
She fought her own war as well, dispatching an armada to retake by force a colonial outpost off South America - the Falkland Islands - after it was invaded by Argentina in 1982. At the same time, she negotiated the end of Britain's lease over another colonial relic, Hong Kong.
During her career, the Iron Lady was frequently at war with consensus, which she disdained as the abandonment of "all beliefs, principles, values and policies." At a low point in her popularity ratings, facing a clamor for change from her own party members, she gave a defiant response: "You turn if you want to," she declared. "This lady's not for turning."
Her huge political achievement was to snatch the Conservative Party from the privileged but often well meaning old upper-class gentlemen, and give it to the shopkeepers, the businessmen, the people in advertising and anyone she considered 'one of us,'. She greatly improved her party's electability but robbed it of compassion."
At 23, she won the Tory candidacy for an unwinnable seat in Dartford. It was the first of several predictable defeats before she was selected, in 1958, to run from the solidly Conservative constituency of Finchley, north of London. Finchley sent her to the House of Commons.
When Ms Thatcher arrived at the House of Commons, the Conservatives were in power but philosophically divided. The core conflict within the party, as she saw it, was between people such as Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, who had come to terms with socialism as part of a "postwar settlement," and those such as Ms Thatcher, who had not.
She relied on ferocious preparation, study and attention to detail to get noticed by party leaders. In October 1961, they plucked her from the backbenches of the House of Commons and made her parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Pensions, the lowest rung on the ladder to leadership. In 1970, after a Conservative general election victory, she ascended to the Ministry of Education.
On a second ballot Ms Thatcher became Britain's first female leader of the opposition. To many Tories, she was a placeholder, awaiting a suitable male insider as choice for party leader and possibly prime minister. On May 4, 1979, she took advantage of public dissatisfaction to lead the Conservatives to a general election victory. She took up residence in No. 10 Downing Street.
Her government's attempt to tame inflation by boosting interest rates and sales taxes produced even higher inflation and unemployment. The Irish Republican Army staged dramatic acts of terrorism, killing, among others, the war hero Lord Mountbatten and dozens of British soldiers.
In 1984, Ms Thatcher was nearly a victim of the IRA herself - a bomb that the group planted devastated a Brighton hotel where she was staying during a party conference, killing five people and injuring 34. She emerged unhurt and went on to give a rousing speech of denunciation.
Then, in the spring of 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. Ms Thatcher responded with fury, dispatching a large naval task force to South America and making statements that seemed designed to discourage compromise by effectively calling for Argentina's unconditional surrender.
She personally approved a British submarine's sinking of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano, in which more than 300 Argentine sailors died. The attack came as the vessel was sailing away from the British naval task force, and critics charged that it was done to block any compromise settlement. After British ground forces landed on the islands, the Argentines surrendered in June 1982.
Some of her colleagues found her performance distasteful, "a little too triumphant," her defense minister, John Nott, would say later. But the Falklands campaign revived Ms Thatcher's popularity and sped her toward a second general election, in June 1983.
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