30 Years On, Thatcher Still Divides

Britain's first female PM polarized during her rule, and after
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted May 4, 2009 8:47 AM CDT
4th May 1979: Margaret Thatcher, with her husband Denis, outside 10 Downing Street after she had been elected Britain's first woman prime minister, succeeding James Callaghan, on May 4, 1979.   (Getty Images)
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(Newser) – Thirty years ago today British voters elected Margaret Thatcher in a landmark election, ushering in 18 years of Conservative rule. She remains a polarizing figure: her enemies still regard her as nearly diabolical, while her admirers speak of her as a saint. The Telegraph looks back on her tumultuous 11-year premiership, from her surprise decision to invade the Falklands to her ignominious fall.

Britain went from the "sick man of Europe" to a major economic power under Thatcher, who liberalized markets and crushed the power of trade unions. A close friend of Ronald Reagan and a pragmatist with Mikhail Gorbachev, Thatcher ruled unrivaled until 1990, when her own ministers engineered her downfall while she was away in Paris. Britain's first female PM never appointed a single woman MP to her cabinet, and feminists loathed her—only one of many contradictions of a leader who still divides Britain today.