LONDON — Margaret Thatcher will be remembered for her stolidly British style as well as her Conservative government’s transformation of the British economy, which resulted in major restructuring of the British apparel, textile and fiber industries.
Thatcher died today of a stroke at age 87. She had been in poor health for several years, including a few small strokes in 2002, and was said to be recuperating at the Ritz at the time of her death, following a minor operation.
Renowned for wearing sturdy Aquascutum skirt suits, her helmetlike hairdo and her black brick of a handbag, Thatcher was on the one hand praised as the “Iron Lady” and “the only man” in the British government and on the other, some more chauvinistic male colleagues lauded her sexy legs. She once described her handbag as the only safe place in Downing Street and it sold for 25,000 pounds, about $37,800 at current exchange, at an auction in 2011.
In 1979, Thatcher was the first female prime minister to enter Downing Street and she remained there for three terms. During her premiership, she became known for the economic policies that she pursued with ferocity and a tenacious will. Thatcher used privatization, deregulation, small government, lower taxes and free trade to reverse Britain’s economic decline, oversaw the war in the Falklands — withstanding pressure from the administration of President Ronald Reagan to compromise — and tamed the rampant power of the trade-union movement with reforming legislation that gave individual union members the right to a secret vote on whether to strike.
With the mighty power of the Trade Union Congress finally in check, textile workers were among the hardest hit by the changed economic reality of the period, with manufacturers seeking lower costs through modernization and lower labor costs.
Thatcher’s reforms ensured that industrial action had to be a majority decision, a real challenge for union leaders fully aware of the pressure the textile industry faced from low-cost overseas labor, and the flight to high-tech production. British industrial giants like Imperial Chemical Industries and Courtaulds undertook massive restructurings that resulted in job cuts. The rate of mill closures accelerated, leaving only those operating in a premium niche really able to carve out an ongoing role after the Thatcher era ended.
With the Queen’s consent, Thatcher will be given a ceremonial funeral with military honors, the same accolade accorded to Diana, Princess of Wales and the Queen Mother. A service at St Paul’s Cathedral will be followed by a private cremation.
“Her legacy will be the fact she served her country so well, she saved our country and that she showed immense courage in doing so,” current Prime Minister David Cameron told the BBC.