Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female Prime Minister and staunch ally of President Reagan, dies - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 8 April 2013

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Margaret Thatcher

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who died of a stroke this morning, was one of the most significant global figures since the end of the Second World War.

The politician – who was among the world’s first female national leaders, taking power in 1979 and governing until 1990 – was a member of the UK’s Conservative Party and among US president Ronald Reagan’s most famous international allies.

Their relationship was famously tight as they put up a united front in the Cold War during the 1980s, and they are jointly credited with bringing about the conditions that helped end Communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Mikhail Gorbachev, leader of the Soviet Union at the time, has been reported today as saying: “Margaret Thatcher was a great politician and a brilliant person. She will remain in our memory and in history.”

She was also well known among Americans for her promotion of the first Gulf War in 1990, warning President George Bush – who had just succeeded Reagan – that he should not “go wobbly” after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

President Bush expressed his condolences, and said that America had lost “one of the staunchest allies we have ever known”.

“Margaret was, to be sure, one of the 20th century’s fiercest advocates of freedom and free markets - a leader of rare character who carried high the banner of her convictions, and whose principles in the end helped shape a better, freer world.”

President Barack Obama also paid tribute to the former UK leader, calling her “one of the great champions of freedom and liberty”.

“As a grocer’s daughter who rose to become Britain’s first female prime minister, she stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered. As prime minister, she helped restore the confidence and pride that has always been the hallmark of Britain at its best…Here in America, many of us will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President 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.”

Dubbed “The Iron Lady” around the world for her forthright and decisive leadership style, Lady Thatcher won three UK elections, but was, and remains, hugely divisive in her own country.

During her time as prime minister she was admired by some for her economics, pro-privatisation policies and anti-union stance, and hated by others who despised her tax-cutting, pro-private enterprise approach.

Debate continues over whether Baroness Thatcher – who was born in 1925, the daughter of a Methodist preacher – can be considered a feminist icon, because it is widely accepted that she did not specifically help other women or acknowledge how feminism had helped her.

Certainly, she has remained a figure of admiration for many on the American right, with many neocons seeing her as an inspiration for their policies not just abroad but at home too.

Thousands are expected to attend her funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. While some will be mourning wholeheartedly, there will undoubtedly be cheers from some of her bitterest enemies.

Questions: 

1.) Have you heard of Margaret Thatcher? Where could you look to find out more about who she was?
2a.) How accurate are the assumptions we make about people in public office?
2b.) What are stereotypes and how far can we trust them?

3.) Margaret Thatcher was the UK's first female prime minister (the head of the UK government). What impact might this have had on the role of women in the UK workplace?
4.) What do we expect a leader to look like and what qualities should they have?

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