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Friday, 22 March, 2002, 16:01 GMT
Margaret Thatcher: Tory titan
Baroness Thatcher praising William Hague
Thatcher launched her new book this week
She was known during her premiership as the Iron Lady.

Famously needing only four hours' sleep a night during her 11 years as prime minister, only this week Margaret Thatcher launched her latest book.

But ill health has now forced her to abandon her regular public speaking engagements.

At the general election last June, she proved she is still a force to be reckoned with, both inside the Conservative Party and to political opponents.

She carried out a series of high-profile constituency visits, rallying the voters in her now familiar style.

Halcyon days

Such was the box office success of her resurrection, she dubbed her campaign "The Mummy Returns".

Her appearance at party conferences has had a tendency to overshadow successive Tory leaders from John Major to William Hague.

Entering Downing Street as Prime Minister, May 1979
Entering Downing Street as Prime Minister, May 1979

She might be old school, but she still has an immense presence in the party and many members hark back to the halcyon days of Tory power, which those who came after her have failed to recreate.

Her stroke before Christmas affected her movement but she appeared to have been making a good recovery.

She made it back into the thick of political life as soon as possible.

Within a few weeks she was back in the House of Lords and then launching her book, Statecraft, this week.

At her side during her illness was her husband Denis, as he has been throughout her long and illustrious political career.

Bitter struggle

The couple were celebrating their wedding anniversary in Madeira when she became unwell before Christmas.

He was there when she first walked into 10 Downing Street as prime minister in 1979.

And he was there when - to the surprise of many commentators - she shed a tear on leaving it 11 years later.

It was an internal power struggle within the party which finally pushed her off her top perch but it was only after a decade in British history she had made her own.

Denis
The Thatchers at Chequers

Taking office, she threw herself into making Britain competitive and old style manufacturing was hit hard.

As unemployment rose above 3m in the early eighties, she became one of the most unpopular prime ministers in history.

That was all to change with the Falklands War in 1982, when she copper-plated her iron lady image.

But more conflict was to come as she faced down the miners in their bitter 1984 dispute.

Political presence

Just three years later, her introduction of the poll tax or community charge saw some of the worst street violence in living memory.

But it was thorny subject of Europe which was to be her downfall.

Her intransigence over Britain's involvement in the EU led to bitter disagreements with Cabinet colleagues.

Michael Heseltine challenged her for the leadership and close political friends told her she would lose.

After her humiliating resignation, it could have been the end of public life for her, but she continued to play a role in politics.

Now she is set to step back from that. But her shadow over her party and British politics will remain undiminished.

See also:

13 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Thatchers celebrate 50 years together
22 Nov 00 | UK Politics
In pictures: Years of power
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