Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Thatcher: First Female Prime Minister of UK - Part 3

Thatcher riding a tank
In 1982, the Thatcher government was very unpopular and on the brink of defeat in the upcoming elections. Many blamed her policies to be the cause of the 1980 recession. Suddenly, an event at the Southern Atlantic would turn her faith. An invasion would bring Thatcher another term and proceed to her plan of a country of capitalists.

In Argentina, April, 1982, General Leopoldo Galtieri, dictator of the country, was on the brink of downfall. His brutal junta caused triple digit inflation to the Argentine economy. Human rights were widely neglected. Torture and disappearance of critics to silence opposition was common. Protests were everyday scene in Buenos Aires. To divert attention from the dire situation of the country and to bring a good image on to his government, Galtieri planned to invade a small group of British islands near the coast that was claimed by Argentina. In Argentina the island was known as Malvinas but for the British, it was called the Falklands. The invasion of the islands would arouse nationalism and would turn the Galtieri junta from a brutal regime to a nationalist regime. They thought that Britain was too far away to react and to recapture the far flung islands. So in April 2, 1982, an Argentine invasion forces landed and captured the whole islands and its capital, Port Stanley. 

Galtieri, however, miscalculated the will of Margaret Thatcher to respond. Thatcher was, after all, known as the Iron Lady. Immediately, a British expeditionary force with two aircraft carriers was sent to retake the islands. Although, with a slightly high casualties, the recovery of the islands was successful. As soldiers came home, Thatcher was revered by many as a wartime leader. Her popularity soared. This soaring of popularity materialize in form of her party’s victory in the 1983 general elections and allowed her to pursue her policies.

After the 1983 elections, Thatcher winning a majority, she was free to continue her unpopular economic policies. This term of her though would focus in creating a nation of capitalists. Under the principle that business is better run in private hands, she intensified her privatization program of large state-owned enterprises, such as British Telecom, British Gas, and British Airways. To allow citizens to have part in the economy, buying stocks in the London Stock Exchange were encouraged. Also for the Treasury, it was an opportunity to fill the coffers. An example was on 1987 to 1988, the government collected about £5.1 billion from privatization. Sure enough privatization had its good results for the stock market. Stock ownership increased up to 25% in 1988 from 7% in 1987.

Thatcher also planned to dismantle the National Health Service to reduced budget deficits. She received heavy opposition because of the announcement of the plan. She instead made the health service providers to be competitive with each other. She allowed hospitals to have more authority in every day decisions. She also reduced the influence of local authorities in interfering with public services. This system was also done in education.

The policy of Margaret thatcher of making industries afloat continued to her second term and would result to a face-off between the powerful unions and the government. In 1984, the Thatcher government announced the closure of 20 unprofitable coal pits and privatization of the rest. Arthur Scargill, the leader of the unions, announced strikes and picket lines in reaction to the plan. Thatcher was ready to face them. The strikes and the picket lines have no much effect because, first, the government had secret stockpile of coal, and second, the strike was not popular to the members. It was because the strike was carried out without the secret voting of nationwide members, which was also required by law. The confrontation lasted for a year when in 1985, the unions back down. The confrontation destroyed the hold of the unions in the economy. 

Besides unions, Thatcher also faced the Irish Republican Army or IRA. She was confronted with the IRA prisoners on hunger strike in British prisons due to her government’s refusal to consider them political prisoners. Thatcher didn't, again, back down. She remained firm even with an IRA bombing of the Brighton Grand Hotel where the Conservative Party Convention was held. Thatcher was present in the hotel during the bombing. She was unharmed by the attack and was able to gather her words for a speech she later did. In 1985, she signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement that reduced tensions and gave Republic of Ireland consolatory powers with Northern Ireland.

Thatcher, in just less than a decade, changed Great Britain. She showed that her country can still win wars. She privatized industries and lessened the burden of the government. She showed her toughness to the country by taking on the IRA and the Unions. But Thatcher’s governments must then soon face a rebellion within her party and the issue of a European integration. 

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