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MARGARET THATCHER (BARONESS THATCHER OF KESTEVEN)

Margaret Thatcher (1925-) was the British Conservative prime minister from 1979 to 1990. She became Conservative leader in 1975 and led the party to three election victories, in 1979, 1983 and 1987, carrying through many radical reforms. Thatcher curbed trade union power, reduced income taxes, restricted the powers of local government, encouraged private enterprise and returned several nationalised industries to private ownership, thereby increasing the number of shareholders.

In 1985 Thatcher and the prime minister of Ireland, Garret Fitzgerald, signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The document provided for regular conferences between their two governments. As it gave the Irish Republic a say in the affairs of Northern Ireland, the agreement was opposed by Ulster Unionists.

Her popularity was increased by Britain's victory in the Falklands War of 1982, and by legislation allowing council house tenants to buy their homes. However, Thatcher's authoritarian style and her opposition to any loss of British sovereignty to the European Union brought her into conflict with some of her closest colleagues. These factors, combined with the unpopularity of the Poll Tax, contributed to her downfall in 1990, when Geoffrey Howe's resignation speech precipitated a party leadership challenge led by Michael Heseltine, but from which John Major emerged as victor. Thatcher was Britain's first woman prime minister, and she became the longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century. She forged close links with several world leaders, in particular Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Margaret Thatcher's forthright policies and sometimes confrontational manner earned her the nickname 'the Iron Lady'. She told the Conservative Party conference in 1980, 'The lady's not for turning.' Her autocratic style alienated former colleagues, and, after 11 years, led to a tearful farewell from Downing Street.



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