Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady” who transformed Britain and inspired conservatives around the world by radically rolling back the state during her 11 years in power, died on Monday following a stroke. She was 87.
Britain’s only woman prime minister, the unyielding, outspoken Thatcher led her party to three election victories, governing from 1979 to 1990, the longest continuous term in office for a British premier in over 150 years.
A grocer’s daughter with a steely resolve, she was loved and loathed in equal measure as she crushed trade unions, privatized vast swathes of British industry, clashed with allies in the European economic bloc and fought a distant and improbable war to recover the Falkland Islands from Argentinian invaders.
She struck up a close relationship with U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the Cold War, backed the first President George Bush during the 1991 Gulf War, and declared that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was a man she could “do business with”.
“Very few leaders get to change not only the political landscape of their country but of the world. Margaret was such a leader. Her global impact was vast,” said Tony Blair, whose term as Labour prime minister from 1997-2007 he acknowledged owed a debt to the former leader of his Conservative opponents.
“Some of the changes she made in Britain were, in certain respects at least, retained by the 1997 Labour government, and came to be implemented by governments around the world,” said Blair.
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron cut short a visit to Europe to return to Britain after the death was announced and British flags on government buildings and royal palaces across London were lowered to half mast.
President Barack Obama led an outpouring of tributes from the United States: “America has lost a true friend,” he said.
But, in a mark of lingering anger at a woman who explained her belief in private endeavor by declaring “there is no such thing as society,” someone also left a bottle of milk; to many Britons, for scrapping free milk for schoolchildren as education minister in 1971, she remained “Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher.”
The former premier died peacefully on Monday morning at the Ritz Hotel after a stroke. Having retreated into seclusion after being deposed by her party, the death of her husband Denis in 2003 and creeping dementia had kept her out of the public eye for years. She had been in poor health for months.
The government said Thatcher would have a ceremonial funeral with military honors at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, which falls short of a full state funeral, in accordance with the wishes of her family.
While often deeply unpopular at home, especially in the crippled industrial heartlands of the north, Thatcher’s strength won her praise and high regard in Washington, Berlin and Moscow.
She formed a strong alliance against communism with Reagan and was rewarded by seeing the Berlin Wall torn down in 1989, though she opposed German unification, warning Gorbachev that a combined East and West Germany would come to dominate Europe.
“Thatcher was a politician whose word carried great weight,” said Gorbachev, who sought to reform the Soviet Union and improved ties with the West but failed to avert its collapse.
Statement by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations:
“The conference of presidents mourns the passing of former Prime Minister, Baroness Margaret Thatcher. She was a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people. We had the privilege of meeting with her, both here and in Israel. Prime Minister Thatcher made a remarkable contribution not only to her country but also to fostering ties between England and the United States. During her entire career she promoted and advanced the Western democratic principles in which she deeply believed. We send our condolences to her loved ones and to the people of Great Britain,” said Richard Stone, Chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.