Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Death and Legacy
On April 8, 2013, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died at the age of 87.
The death of the ‘Iron Lady,’ former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher might seem a little off-topic for a blog on American politics and culture. But on second look, it might not be that far-off at all.
During the 1980s, conservative politics ruled the transatlantic relationship. The Cold War was still very real, the Iron Curtain was standing firmly, and both the White House (since 1980) and Downing Street 10 (since 1979) were inhabited by anticommunist leaders bent on pursuing neoliberal economic policies while defying the Soviet Union and defeating its real or imagined proxies abroad.
Thatcher was the first female prime minister of Britain and the first woman to be head of state of a major European country (see the New York TImes obituary linked below).
In recent times, there had been some renewed interest in Thatcher in the wake of the 2011 biopic The Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep.
President Obama had but nice things to say about Thatcher in his statement, as it is customary with such public condolences. Obama called Thatcher a “true friend” of America, “an unapologetic supporter of our transatlantic alliance,” and noted her extraordinary accomplishment as a woman leader in global politics. So far, so good. But once one puts aside the expected reverence for the deceased and takes a hard look at Thatcher’s political record and the actions she was ‘unapologetic’ about, things start to get ugly.
Some Of My Best Friends Are Military Dictators
Some of Thatcher’s foreign policy low points from the vantage point of general human decency include befriending military dictators such as Chilean General Augusto Pinochet, who provided military support to Britain during the Falklands War, and whom she defended until the end as the man who “brought democracy to Chile,” never mind that he accepted the pro-democracy referendum only after being granted lifelong immunity from prosecution for his human rights abuses during his reign from the 1973 coup d’etat onwards.
Thatcher also did not consider it necessary to push for sanctions against the South African Apartheid regime. Instead, she called the African National Congress of Nelson Mandela, then still incarcerated, a “typical terrorist organization.” The organization did have a military wing, but Thatcher’s relative benevolence towards the white supremacist Afrikaner government clearly puts her on the wrong side of history on this issue.
Judge for yourself where the Iron Lady’s priorities and sympathies lie.
Here is assorted coverage on Margaret Thatcher’s death and her political legacy, part of which includes Thatcher’s political relationship with Ronald Reagan:
“Inequality before and after Thatcher: what really happened.” (George Eaton, New Statesman, 2013/04/09) – Eaton shows that critics who say economic inequality rose more under Blair than under Thatcher are wrong. He also backs it up with a graph from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, an independent think tank.
“Margaret Thatcher and misapplied death etiquette.” (Glenn Greenwald, Guardian, 2013/04/08) – Greenwald does not buy the notion that opponents of Thatcher’s should not speak ill of her in the wake of her dead, especially because her admirers exploit her death excessively.
“Margaret Thatcher, former British prime minister, dead at 87.” (Fred Barbash, Washington Post, 2013/04/08) – Obituary that talks about transatlantic cooperation with the Reagan White House in deploying nuclear missiles in Europe and other foreign policy activities, such as the Falklands War. It also talks about her domestic policy approach characterized by antiunionism, privatization, and cuts to the British welfare state.
“‘Iron Lady’ Who Set Britain on a New Course.” (Joseph R. Gregory, New York Times, 2013/04/08)
“Thatcher, Reagan and Their Special Relationship.” (Nicolas Wapshott, New York Times, 2013/04/08) – Article from the NY Times that highlights Reagan and Thatcher’s political relationship. Wapshott characterizes their act on the world stage as sometimes being a game of “good cop, bad cop,” whereas Reagan played the bad cop and Thatcher portrayed the more upbeat saleswoman of the same policies.
“Margaret Thatcher: The lady who changed the world.” (Economist, 2013/04/08)
“The Iron Lady vs. The Iron Curtain: Photos of Margaret Thatcher from her days as one of the world’s foremost cold warriors.” (Foreign Policy, 2013/04/08)