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Old 05-04-06, 08:49 AM
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Talking Today in History, May 4th

MARGARET THATCHER SWORN IN:
May 4, 1979


Margaret Thatcher, leader of the Conservative Party, is sworn in as Britain's
first female prime minister. The Oxford-educated chemist and lawyer was sworn in
the day after the Conservatives won a 44-seat majority in general parliamentary
elections.Margaret Hilda Roberts was born in Grantham, England, in 1925. She was
the first woman president of the Oxford University Conservative Association and
in 1950 ran for Parliament in Dartford. She was defeated but garnered an
impressive number of votes in the generally liberal district. In 1959, after
marrying businessman Denis Thatcher and giving birth to twins, she was elected
to Parliament as a Conservative for Finchley, a north London district. During
the 1960s, she rose rapidly in the ranks of the Conservative Party and in 1967
joined the shadow cabinet sitting in opposition to Harold Wilson's ruling Labour
cabinet. With the victory of the Conservative Party under Edward Health in 1970,
Thatcher became secretary of state for education and science.In 1974, the Labour
Party returned to power, and Thatcher served as joint shadow chancellor before
replacing Edward Health as the leader of the Conservative Party in February
1975. She was the first woman to head the Conservatives. Under her leadership,
the Conservative Party shifted further right in its politics, calling for
privatization of national industries and utilities and promising a resolute
defense of Britain's interests abroad. She also sharply criticized Prime
Minister James Callaghan's ineffectual handling of the chaotic labor strikes of
1978 and 1979.In March 1979, Callaghan was defeated by a vote of no confidence,
and on May 3 a general election gave Thatcher's Conservatives a majority in
Parliament. Sworn in the next day, Prime Minister Thatcher immediately set about
dismantling socialism in Britain. She privatized numerous industries, cutback
government expenditures, and gradually reduced the rights of trade unions. In
1983, despite the worst unemployment figures for half a decade, Thatcher was
reelected to a second term, thanks largely to the decisive British victory in
the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina.In other foreign affairs, the "Iron Lady"
presided over the orderly establishment of an independent Zimbabwe (formerly
Rhodesia) in 1980 and took a hard stance against Irish separatists in Northern
Ireland. In October 1984, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb exploded at the
Conservative Party conference in Brighton. The prime minister narrowly escaped
harm.In 1987, an upswing in the economy led to her election to a third term, but
Thatcher soon alienated some members of her own party because of her poll-tax
policies and opposition to further British integration into the European
Community. In November 1990, she failed to received a majority in the
Conservative Party's annual vote for selection of a leader. She withdrew her
nomination, and John Major, the chancellor of the Exchequer since 1989, was
chosen as Conservative leader. On November 28, Thatcher resigned as prime
minister and was succeeded by Major. Thatcher's three consecutive terms in
office marked the longest continuous tenure of a British prime minister since
1827. In 1992, she was made a baroness and took a seat in the House of Lords
.
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