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Thatcher’s lasting legacy

The British leader’s policies marked the recent history of her country and the world

I am not a consensus politician. I am a conviction politician.” This statement, made by Margaret Thatcher, probably defines better than any other the nature of her leadership, which has left a distinctive mark on recent decades. Her death on Monday, at the age of 87, marks the end of an overpowering figure who transformed the United Kingdom and went some way to transforming the entire world.

Thatcher broke several molds, beginning with the rigid class system of her country and of its Conservative Party. Armed with tireless tenacity, she overcame the barrier of gender, and that of her lower-middle-class origins. Having attended Oxford University, she went on to prevail over the disdain emanating from certain circles of her party, and to become the first woman to lead a major Western state.

The Iron Lady was rarely met with indifference. As prime minister, she aroused the most fervent passions and the most vehement hatred; and this polarizing emotion has still to be taken into account in any definitive judgment of her legacy. What is in no way open to doubt, though, is that her 11-year mandate has influenced the entire political agenda of the past three decades. The belief that a nation can prosper only with free individuals and economic liberty, the insistence on individual responsibility, and the necessity of democracies to remain firm against aggression, are the most widely applauded tenets of Thatcher’s ideological heritage.

Her policy of privatization and economic liberalization lifted a paralyzed country out of an economic quagmire

She governed without yielding an inch from these principles. Her policy of privatization and economic liberalization lifted a paralyzed country out of an economic quagmire. She won the war against the unions and against the British elites, in defense of “popular capitalism.” The damage of the collision in terms of social cost, fragmentation and deterioration of public services must also be included in her account. However, no subsequent British leader has reversed any of her principal reforms.

Her defense of liberty led her, along with US President Ronald Reagan, to embark on a policy of harassment of Soviet power, which ended in a dramatic reconfiguration of the world’s geopolitical balance. And as Mikhail Gorbachev admitted, Thatcher’s mediation was decisive in bringing the Cold War to an end. But her stubborn rigidity on the European Union could be said to have backfired on her.

Character is often confused with obstinacy. Firmness of conviction may end in intransigence. Thatcher played for high stakes. Sometimes she won; sometimes she lost. But always in a big way: an internal revolt within Conservative parliamentary ranks in 1990 took her off the political chessboard.

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