News World On This Day: Margaret Thatcher elected British Prime Minister
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On This Day: Margaret Thatcher elected British Prime Minister

Margaret Thatcher enters 10 Downing Street after her historic election victory. Photo: Getty
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On this day in 1979, Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, beginning an 11-year ascendancy that would change the face of Britain.

Nicknamed ‘The Iron Lady’, Mrs Thatcher was revered and despised for her uncompromising politics and leadership style.

She was the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century and the first woman to hold that office.

A passionate libertarian, Mrs Thatcher won the votes of right-wing voters with economic policies that emphasised deregulation and flexible labour markets.

Margaret Thatcher in 1990. Photo: Getty

She made it her mission to privatise state-owned industries and public services, including television and radio, gas and electricity, water, the state airline and British Steel.

The National Health Service is one of the few state-owned enterprises that escaped the chopping block under her leadership.

She also sold off public housing to tenants and cut spending on social services like healthcare, education and housing.

In a move that haunted her for the rest of her political career, Mrs Thatcher withdrew free school milk for children aged over seven in 1971, earning her the nickname ‘Thatcher the Milk Snatcher’.

In 1985, she was refused an honorary degree from Oxford University because of her education cuts.

Margaret Thatcher was a controversial figure in British politics. Photo: Getty

Mrs Thatcher also gained notoriety over her plans to close 20 coal pits in 1984, which led to a year-long miners’ strike that effectively brought Britain to a standstill.

At the time, the mining union had 250,000 members and was among the most powerful unions in Britain.

Violent clashes broke out between striking miners and police in Woolley, UK. Photo: Getty

The popular musical Billy Elliot is set during the turmoil of the coal miners’ strike.

To her enemies, Mrs Thatcher will go down in history as a cold-hearted leader who destroyed British industry and laid waste to communities that have never recovered.

Residents from mining communities near Barnsley put out banners and celebrate her death on the day of the funeral service of Margaret Thatcher. Photo: Getty

To her supporters, she was a revolutionary figure who reignited Britain’s stagnant economy, tamed the unions and re-established the country as a world power.

After Ms Thatcher died in 2013, Queen Elizabeth II led mourners at the funeral – the second time in history that the Queen attended the funeral of one of her prime ministers.

The only other time was Sir Winston Churchill in 1965.