An Interview with Professor Donald Elder: On the Passing of Margaret Thatcher

Apr 9, 2013 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

  1. Professor Elder, with the passing of Margaret Thatcher recently, many memories come to mind- what were your clearest recollections?

Margaret Thatcher was clearly a polarizing figure, capable of inspiring great loyalty and equally great animosity among the citizens of the United Kingdom. I will always remember her best for her decision to contest Argentina for the control of the Falkland Islands in 1982. While many people felt it was not worth fighting for, Thatcher made it a matter of national honor, and the UK ultimately prevailed.

  1. Her contributions- during her time as Prime Minister?

Thatcher had a significant impact, both at home and abroad. She reversed years of economic policy by limiting the power of trade unions and privatizing businesses. She was also very much in favor of deregulation. She also stood squarely beside Ronald Reagan in his efforts to place pressure on the Soviet Union to moderate its policies. As I mentioned earlier, there were many at the time who opposed her initiatives, but she was re-elected Prime Minister twice.

  1. She was obviously the first female Prime Minister- how did that come about ? What was going on in England at that time?

When Thatcher was first elected in 1979, the United Kingdom was in the midst of an economic crisis. High unemployment and a series of strikes had led many to lose confidence in the reigning Labour Party’s governance, and that led to a vote of no confidence for the Prime Minister James Callaghan. Thatcher, who had been the Secretary of Education from 1970 to 1974, was the leading member of the Conservative Party, and as such was asked to form a new government as Prime Minister.

  1. Her relationship with Ronald Reagan has been well documented. How will history review this dyad?

While the two did not always see eye to eye, they did share the opinion that the Soviet Union was a dangerous entity. To that end, Thatcher allowed the US to deploy medium-range missiles in the British Isles. Her implaccable opposition to Communism and her unwavering support of Reagan prompted the US president to famously gush “Maggie, I love you!”

  1. What were the challenges that she faced?

Thatcher faced a multiplicity of problems, ranging from a stagnant economy to unsettled conditions in Northern Ireland. To her credit, she never shied away from making tough choices when problems arose.

  1. Certain leaders stand out in British history- obviously Winston Churchill. What do you see as her strengths and political assets?

Thatcher is nicknamed “The Iron Lady,” and that nicely illustrates one of her main attributes: she was a person of strong will and determination. She was intelligent, and had the ability to use the British and world media to promote her agenda.

  1. She was loved and loathed is a phrase I hear about her. Does this say something about her or the British relationship to their elected officials?

I would say that this is mainly due to her policies. Her economic policies definitely hurt many working-class citizens, and this was reflected in many of the criticisms leveled against her. But many other Britons felt that her changes were necessary, and lionized her for them.

  1. How do you think history will remember her?

As long as there is an England, she will always be remembered as one of the most influential Prime Ministers that have ever held office.

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