April 8, 2013

Thatcher, even in death, divides world opinion

Combative and determined to get her way, Margaret Thatcher divided opinion down the middle in life — and in death.

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In a Feb. 20, 1985 file photo, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is applauded by Vice President George Bush, left, as House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr. looks on just before she addressed a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress, in Washington. Thatchers former spokesman, Tim Bell, said that the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had died Monday morning, April 8, 2013, of a stroke. She was 87. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty, File)

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Floral tributes and memorabilia are seen outside the house of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who died from a stroke at the age of 87, London, Monday, April 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

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Many leaders lauded Thatcher for her steely determination to modernize Britain's industrial landscape, even at the cost of strikes and riots, and to stand beside the United States as the west triumphed in the Cold War versus the Soviet Union. Others saw a pitiless tyrant who preferred conflict to compromise.

British Prime Minister David Cameron lauded his 1980s predecessor as "a great Briton," but others — particularly Europe's socialists who often clashed with her — were less enamored in their reactions to the death Monday of the conservative icon.

Flags at Buckingham Palace, Parliament and across the United Kingdom were lowered to half-staff. Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth II would send a private message of sympathy to the Thatcher family. Government officials began preparations for a London funeral with military honors at St. Paul's Cathedral next week, followed by a private cremation.

"As our first woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher succeeded against all the odds," Cameron said in Madrid. He cut short his trip to Spain and canceled a visit to France to return to London for the funeral preparations.

"The real thing about Margaret Thatcher is that she didn't just lead our country. She saved our country," Cameron said, "and I believe she'll go down as the greatest British peacetime prime minister."

In Washington, President Barack Obama said many Americans "will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President (Ronald) Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply carried along by the currents of history. We can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will."

And former first lady Nancy Reagan said her husband and Thatcher "enjoyed a very special relationship" driven by a common hatred of Communism. "Ronnie and Margaret were political soul mates," she said in a statement that lauded Thatcher's "clear vision and strong determination to stand up for her beliefs at a time when so many were afraid to rock the boat."

In Poland, Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said his country should erect a statue of the British leader. In a tweet he praised Thatcher as "a fearless champion of liberty, stood up for captive nations, helped free world win the Cold War."

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who ousted the Conservative Party from power seven years after Thatcher's resignation, conceded that Thatcher had been right to challenge labor union power — the traditional bedrock for Blair's own Labour Party.

"Very few leaders get to change not only the political landscape of their country but of the world. Margaret was such a leader. Her global impact was vast," said Blair, who credited Thatcher with being "immensely supportive" despite their opposing views on many issues.

"You could not disrespect her character or her contribution to Britain's national life," Blair said.

Not all Britons agreed. Several hundred people gathered in Glasgow and in London's Brixton neighborhood for impromptu celebrations, complete with party hats and streamers.

The National Union of Miners — which tussled with Thatcher in a long 1984-85 strike, and lost — expressed condolences to Thatcher's family, but said: "The damage caused by her fatally flawed politics sadly lingers on. Good Riddance."

A cooler breeze also blew from across the English Channel, where many of the men who ran European governments in the 1980s expressed admiration for Thatcher's toughness mixed with femininity — but not her European Union-bashing politics.

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