On this day in 1990, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher tenders her resignation to Queen Elizabeth II, and leaves 10 Downing Street in tears. The first female PM of her nation, she had come up four votes short in an intra-party leadership challenge from Conservative rival Michael Heseltine, and elected to forgo fighting through a second ballot.
A research chemist before becoming a barrister, Thatcher was elected Member of Parliament for Finchley in 1959. Edward Heath appointed her Secretary of State for Education and Science in his Conservative government. In 1975, Thatcher defeated Heath in the Conservative Party leadership election to become Leader of the Opposition and became the first woman to lead a major political party in the United Kingdom. She became Prime Minister after winning the 1979 general election.
Her political philosophy and economic policies emphasized deregulation, flexible labor markets, the privatization of state-owned companies, public housing “reform” and reducing the power and influence of trade unions. Thatcher’s popularity during her first years in office waned amid recession and increasing unemployment, until victory in the 1982 Falklands War and the recovering economy brought a resurgence of support, resulting in her decisive re-election in 1983. She survived an assassination attempt in 1984.
Thatcher was re-elected for a third term in 1987. During this period her support for a Community Charge, referred to as the “poll tax,” was widely unpopular, and her views on the European Community were not shared by others in her Cabinet; she ultimately lost the confidence of her party and her cabinet and stepped down as noted. After retiring from the Commons in 1992, she was given a life peerage as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, in the County of Lincolnshire, which entitled her to sit in the House of Lords. In 2013 she died of a stroke in London at the age of 87.
Always a controversial figure, “The Iron Lady” has nonetheless been lauded as one of the greatest, most influential and widest-known politicians in British history, even as arguments over Thatcherism persist.