Margaret Thatcher's legacy: her achievements and failures
From financial deregulation to the right-to-buy scheme and the poll tax, Thatcher transformed the UK
MARGARET THATCHER'S three terms as Prime Minister brought enormous change to the UK. An objective assessment of her greatest achievements (and failures) isn't easy – opinions are still divided. But there is some consensus on her legacy.
The Big Bang: The Big Bang was a wave of deregulation that blew away the "fusty" world of stock broking and ushered in the UK's globally competitive financial services sector. It was a "hugely significant reform that cemented the City of London's place as Europe's biggest financial centre and led it to challenge New York for global hegemony," says The Times. "The changes allowed international banks like Goldman Sachs to step in and attracted a river of foreign business," says Fox News.
Privatisation: In her memoirs, Thatcher describes privatisation as "fundamental to improving Britain's economic performance". It also "chimed with her political ideology," says the Daily Telegraph. During her times as PM more than 50 state-run companies were sold or privatised – including dozens from the power and water industries – raising more than £50 billion for the Exchequer.
Education reform: Many people remember Thatcher as the Education Secretary who "snatched" free milk from 7 to 11 year olds. But her education legacy is more positive than that, says The Independent. Her Education Reform Act was responsible for introducing a national curriculum, setting up the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), bringing in regular school inspections and allowing schools to manage their own budgets. "She was responsible for many of the reforms now being built upon by the current Education Secretary, Michael Gove," says The Independent.
Helping end the Cold War: Thatcher stood shoulder-to-shoulder with President Reagan to install cruise missiles in Europe and resist Soviet expansionism. According to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, his relationship with Thatcher "helped bring change and tear down the Iron Curtain". They first met in 1984. "In the end, we were able to achieve mutual understanding, and this contributed to a change in the atmosphere between our country and the West and to the end of the Cold War," he told Reuters yesterday.
The Right-to-Buy scheme: Thatcher's decision to allow council tenants to buy the properties they lived in at a discount was smart politics because it "converted thousands of Labour voters into Conservatives". More than 1.25 million people signed up to the scheme which added £18 billion to government coffers. On the downside, the scheme depleted the stock of social housing.
Forcing the Labour Party to the right: When Thatcher was asked to name her greatest achievement she reportedly said: "New Labour". The former PM defeated Labour at three elections and forced the party "to drag itself into the modern world" by supporting "market forces; privatisation; reform of employment laws and lower taxation for individuals and business".
The Falklands War: The 1982 war was one of the most controversial episodes of the Thatcher era. Her decision to send a task force to the South Atlantic - against the advice of many in her inner circle - earned the enduring gratitude of the islanders, who celebrate Thatcher Day every 10 January. At home, victory was marked with ticker-tape parades in London and Portsmouth. Much more importantly, it led to the landslide election victory of 1983.
Scepticism towards Europe: Thatcher initially supported membership of the European Community. Later, however, she "passionately fought and won a number of battles against what she saw as the excessive powers of Brussels," says the BBC. The Independent says she "shocked other European leaders with her handbag-swinging negotiating style". But her hostility towards Europe also sowed the seeds of her destruction. Her opposition to the Exchange Rate Mechanism (a precursor of the single currency) and other, as she saw it, threats to British sovereignty, triggered the resignations of Thatcher stalwarts Chancellor Nigel Lawson and Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe, and eventually led to her own downfall.
The poll tax: The Community Charge (popularly known as the poll tax) was a single flat-rate per-capita tax on every adult, introduced in Scotland in 1989 and England and Wales in 1990. Critics said the shift from a tax based on the value of a house to a tax based on the number of people living in it, discriminated against the less well off. Large numbers of people refused to pay and the tax triggered violent riots, notably the pitched battle between police and rioters in Trafalgar Square on Saturday, 31 March, 1990. The hated tax was abolished in 1993. ·