Sunday, August 26, 2007

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher (Roberts) was born on October 13, 1925 in the town of Grantham in Lincolnshire, England. Brought up as a devout Methodist, she studied chemistry at the Somerville College, Oxford in 1944 (which incidentally made her understand the issues of global warming as a prime minister). Her rise in the political arena was accompanied with a few failures. At the 1950 and 51 elections she fought the safe Labour seat of Dartford and at the time was the youngest ever female Conservative candidate for office.

As a Conservative MP, she was one of the few to support Leo Abse's Bill to decriminalise male homosexuality and voted for David Steel's Bill to legalise abortion. In the run up to the General Election in 1979, Conservatives went on to win a 44-seat majority in the House of Commons and Thatcher became the UK's first female Prime Minister (while also the first female to lead a major political party in the UK). She famously said: "Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope."

The longest continously serving Prime Minister of the UK since Lord Liverpool, she held that post until 1990. Her political and economic philosophy emphasized reduced state intervention, free markets and entrepreneuralism. Privatisation was synonymous with "Thatcherism." For a while, UK was economically prosperous under her leadership, but there were certain problems associated with her antipathy towards trade unions, support for laissez faire economy, unwillingness to promote European integration. Also her support for the death penalty and hard line on the Irish political prisoners were going to alienate the liberal wing in England. Moreover, her party was becoming more and more divisive which contributed to her resignation and the rise of the Labour party.

While she could not be favored by all domestically, as a world leader she was very compassionate. There was a huge earthquake in Armenia in 1988, when my native town Leninakan (now Gyumri) was completely destroyed. There were virtually no buildings left standing. I, a 10 year old then, remember vividly how she personally visited this small city and directed building of an English school and a library named after George Gordon Byron. Even before my family moved to Russia, it was in this library where I got my books to learn English and it was where I learned to read Byron, Shakespeare, Hemingway and Faulkner in the original. I am personally grateful to Margaret Thatcher. I still remember how her non-tinted limousine was circling in the streets of our destroyed city and how she was stopping to waive to people, comforting them with her warmth and empathy.

An ideological supporter of Ronald Reagan in international politics, she played a decisive role in the efforts to end the Cold War. She was the first Western leader to respond warmly to Gorbachev and said about him "a man we can do business with" after a meeting in 1984. Political commentators give most credit for the end of the Cold War to Reagan and Gorbachev. But Margaret Thatcher, a true English lady, with remarkable charisma must also be given serious credit for the determination of Gorbachev to pursue democracy in Russia. Her influence on Gorbachev is well-known. While Winston Churchill, a man, promulgated the "Iron Curtain" officially announcing the beginning of the Cold War, Margaret Thatcher, a woman, brought that curtain down with her charming smile...

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