Number 10 Downing Street

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Margaret Thatcher

Conservative | 1979 - 1990

Margaret Thatcher


The Iron Lady


13 October 1925, Grantham, Lincolnshire

Dates in office

4 May 1979 - 28 November 1990

Political party


Major acts

Housing Act 1980

Gave security of tenure, and the right to buy homes, to tenants of local authorities and other bodies.

Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, was the first female British Prime Minister and the longest serving for over 150 years.

Margaret Thatcher’s father, a shopkeeper and Mayor of Grantham, was a major formative influence. Mrs Thatcher was educated at the local grammar school and at Oxford where she studied chemistry. She also became president of the university Conservative association.

Mrs Thatcher later read for the Bar, before being elected in 1959 as the Conservative MP for Finchley.

She held junior posts before becoming shadow spokesperson for Education, and entered the Cabinet as Education Secretary in 1970.

In Opposition she stood against Edward Heath for the party leadership in 1975. Her victory was considered a surprise by many. In 1979, the Conservative Party won the General Election and Margaret Thatcher succeeded James Callaghan as PM.

Thatcher’s first two years in office were not easy. Unemployment was very high, but the economy gradually showed improvement. She brought more of her supporters into the Cabinet, and bolstered her reputation by leading the country to war against Argentina in the Falkland Islands.

The Conservatives went on to win the 1983 election by a landslide, aided by a fragmented opposition. Margaret Thatcher’s government followed a radical programme of privatisation and deregulation, reform of the trade unions, tax cuts and the introduction of market mechanisms into health and education. The aim was to reduce the role of government and increase individual self-reliance.

She also became a familiar figure internationally, striking up a famous friendship with US President Reagan and gaining the praise of Soviet leader Gorbachev.

One great difficulty during her time in office was the issue of Europe. Her long-serving Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe resigned in November 1990 in protest at Thatcher’s attitude to Europe.

His resignation speech set in train events which were to lead to Thatcher’s downfall later that month.

Margaret Thatcher outside Number 10 1979
Margaret Thatcher outside Number 10 1979

Michael Heseltine challenged her for the leadership, and while he failed to win, he gained 152 votes – enough to make it evident that a crucial minority favoured a change. Thatcher was eventually persuaded not to go forward to the second ballot, which was won by her Chancellor of the Exchequer, John Major.

She left the House of Commons in 1992, and now sits in the Lords as Baroness Thatcher. Margaret Thatcher’s writings include two volumes of memoirs: The Downing Street Years and The Path to Power.

The Baroness is still seen at Tory party gatherings and has endorsed party leaders such as William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith.