The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

April 8, 2013

Margaret Thatcher, Iron Lady, dead at 87

(Continued)

She trusted her gut instinct, famously concluding early on that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev represented a clear break in the Soviet tradition of autocratic rulers. She pronounced that the West could "do business" with him, a position that influenced Reagan's vital dealings with Gorbachev in the twilight of the Soviet era.

It was heady stuff for a woman who had little training in foreign affairs when she triumphed over a weak field of indecisive Conservative Party candidates to take over the party leadership in 1975 and ultimately run as the party's candidate for prime minister.

She profited from the enormous crisis facing the Labour Party government led by Harold Wilson and later James Callaghan. Britain was near economic collapse, its currency propped up by the International Monetary Fund, and its once defiant spirit seemingly broken.

The sagging Labour government had no Parliamentary majority after 1977, and the next year it suffered through a "winter of discontent" with widespread strikes disrupting vital public services, including hospital care and even gravedigging. The government's effort to hold the line on inflation led to chaos in the streets.

Britain seemed adrift, no longer a credible world power, falling from second- to third-tier status.

It was then, Thatcher wrote in her memoirs, that she came to the unshakable, almost mystical belief that only she could save Britain. She cited a deep "inner conviction" that this would be her role.

Events seemed to be moving her way when she led the Conservative Party to victory in 1979 with a commitment to reduce the state's role and champion private enterprise.

She was underestimated at first — by her own party, by the media, later by foreign adversaries. But they all soon learned to respect her. Thatcher's "Iron Lady" nickname was coined by Soviet journalists, a grudging testament to her ferocious will and determination.

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