NOTE: This story, published Sept. 16, 1993 in The State, chronicled former Great Britain prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s appearence at a Lexington Medical Center Foundation fund-raiser.
In 1969 Margaret Thatcher boldly predicted that no woman in her lifetime would ever become prime minister of Great Britain.
In 1993, Thatcher was in Columbia reminiscing about her stint as the longest-serving British prime minister this century.
How did it happen? Changing societal attitudes coupled with hard work, determination and a “slice of luck,” she told an audience at the Sheraton Convention Center on Wednesday night.
“Journalists would ask me, ‘What is it like to be a woman prime minister?’ ” Thatcher said. “I said I didn’t really know because I haven’t experienced the alternative.”
Thatcher ’s memoirs are scheduled to be released next month and she is soon to begin a book tour. But Thatcher agreed to make a special trip to Columbia to be featured speaker at a fund-raiser for the Lexington Medical Center Foundation.
For six months after leaving office in 1990, Thatcher gave no interviews and made no public appearances. Despite winning three consecutive elections and nearly finishing off the opposition Labor Party, Thatcher was ousted in a bitter struggle within the Conservative Party.
Rebellious Tories feared the party was headed toward defeat, thanks to a recession and the highly unpopular “poll tax” — a system in which local property taxes were dropped in favor of charging each adult a set amount, regardless of wealth or income.
Thatcher , 67, didn’t talk about the end. Instead, she was in a mood to consider the incredible change that has taken place in the world. When Thatcher took office in 1979, the Cold War raged; Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization were locked in a vicious struggle; Iran and Iraq were just in the middle of their bloody war.
All that, of course, has changed. And Thatcher said much of the credit must go to her and Ronald Reagan’s determination to “put freedom on the offensive” by increasing defense spending and a philosophical commitment to rolling back “tyrannical communism” and ending the Cold War.
“The world is a much better place than it was 10 years ago,” she said.
Indeed, Britain’s “Iron Lady” prime minister and America’s “Teflon” president had much in common. She privatized many segments of British industry, he deregulated. She guided Britain out of deep economic recession, so did he. He broke a air traffic controllers’ union, she crushed a mine workers’ strike.
Both were willing to reconsider their approach to the Soviet Union when a new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, came on the scene in 1985. Thatcher preceded Reagan’s change of heart by declaring in 1984 that Gorbachev, then the head of Soviet agriculture, was a “man we can do business with.”
“He was a totally different person than I had ever met in the Communist Party before,” Thatcher said. “He could debate issues. He would admit that there were things wrong.”
Thatcher also preceded Reagan in putting military might to use when in 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a British possession. A fleet of two aircraft carriers, 100 support ships and 25,000 troops recaptured the islands. Argentina’s military junta collapsed in disgrace.
“Argentina owes its democracy to me,” she said.
Though the world is safer today, force is still needed in some places, she said. Earlier this year, Thatcher joined former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz and nearly 100 other signers in issuing a letter urging NATO air strikes against the Serbian forces.
Thatcher also offered Americans some domestic political advice: Don’t put the costs of a new universal health insurance plan on the backs of business. And don’t expect improved efficiency to cover the costs for those who don’t now have insurance.
She also urged approval of the North American Free Trade Act, which faces an uphill fight in Congress.
“Mexico will get more prosperous and want to buy more things from you,” she said. “The world grows by free trade. It has smartened up our car industry to no end. It has yours, too.”