Margaret Thatcher died today. She was Britain's first female prime minister and the longest-serving prime minister of the twentieth century. She became PM in 1979 and was forced out of office in 1990. I was sitting in a first-year economics lecture in November 1990, when someone burst into the lecture theatre to tell the class that she had resigned. Most people of my generation can remember where they were when we heard the news that the Iron Lady had resigned. You can read more about Margaret Thatcher here and an obit is here. Below is video clip from her last appearance in the House of Commons as PM, which gives one a flavour of this unique lady.
I admired Thatcher for four reasons. First, she was a conviction politician who stuck to her principles and would not be 'turned' by popular opinion. All British PMs since Thatcher have lacked this quality. Second, her radical economic reforms, although hated by many, helped to transform the UK economy. You can read about the influence of Hayek and Friedman on Thatcher here. Third, she was a defender of democracy and its institutions. Fourth, she was rightly suspicious of the European project.
Thatcher did misjudge several things. First, I think her handling of Northern Irish politics could have been more astute. However, the murder of her friend Airey Neave and the Brighton bomb undoubtedly shaped her policies on the Irish question. Second, as she was hostile to local democracy (mainly because it was dominated by socialists), she strengthened central government at the expense of local government.