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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 May, 2004, 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
Evaluating Thatcher's legacy
Twenty five years to the day since she entered Downing Street, Margaret Thatcher remains a controversial figure.

To her supporters, she was a revolutionary figure who transformed Britain's stagnant economy, tamed the unions and re-established the country as a world power.

Together with US presidents Reagan and Bush, she helped bring about the end of the Cold War.

But her 11-year premiership was also marked by social unrest, industrial strife and high unemployment.

Her critics claim British society is still feeling the effect of her divisive economic policies and the culture of greed and selfishness they allegedly promoted.

BBC News Online asked people from across the political spectrum about her legacy.

STELIOS HAJI-IOANNOU, EASYGROUP FOUNDER

When Margaret Thatcher was voted in as prime minister I was a 12-year-old schoolboy living in Greece.

So my recollection of watching her election victory on Greek television was one of surprise that a woman could lead one of the world's superpowers!

At the very least, she has helped change the way women are perceived in many parts of the world.

What is interesting, however, is that her legacy lives on even with a Labour government.


Margaret Thatcher believed market forces should be allowed to promote healthy businesses and expose the weaker ones, creating what is, to me, the most entrepreneurial of European societies.

She was the first in the world to privatise the national flag carrying airline paving the way for a freer competition in the sector.

This is one of the main reasons why in the mid 1990s I decided to set up all my easyGroup businesses here.

In addition, Margaret Thatcher wanted us all to be a nation of shareholders and the privatisations of the 1980s, which I watched with amazement as a student at the London School of Economics, created a truly "popular" capitalism.

Consequently the UK has the most powerful stock market in Europe and I am proud that the airline I created is now on the FTSE list of quoted companies.

JULIAN THOMPSON, COMMANDER OF LAND FORCES DURING THE FALKLANDS WAR

When Margaret Thatcher was elected, Britain was the sick man of Europe; long on advice and short on action.

Her predecessors would have responded to the Falklands crisis by squawking in the United Nations, perhaps some sabre-rattling from a safe distance, and humiliating climb-down.

By her insistence on sending a task force to re-possess the Falklands, she restored the people of Britain's faith in themselves, and gained the respect of the rest of the world.

We now know that her action shocked the Soviet Union.

It demonstrated that morale in a key Western country was not nearly so low as they had imagined.

The lesson was sharply reinforced when Margaret Thatcher was returned to office with a large majority soon after the Falklands War.

She turned Britain into a country that counted once more on the international stage.

TOM ROBINSON. SINGER AND ACTIVIST

I deplored her contempt for social values, for citizenship and her brutal indifference to human suffering.

She helped accelerate the global shift of power away from accountable governments into the hands of transnational corporations and their lobbyists: she championed the supremacy of financial values over human ones.

Tom Robinson
I deplored her contempt for social values, for citizenship and her brutal indifference to human suffering
Tom Robinson
Nonetheless it's an uncomfortable fact, even for those of us who violently disagreed with her, that Britain is overall a more vibrant and prosperous society than in 1979, even if its inequalities are greater.

If the wretched Callaghan regime had managed to stagger on for a further five years, that might not have been the case.

Her most damaging legacy is today's presidential style of government with unelected advisers sidelining the cabinet, stifling dissent and reducing our elected representatives to lobby fodder.

TOMMY SHERIDAN. LEADER OF THE SCOTTISH SOCIALIST PARTY

Scotland's communities suffer the brutal legacy of Margaret Thatcher to this day.

Just as she gave the order that sent 323 young Argentineans on the warship General Belgrano to their grave, so Thatcher carried out the wholesale decimation of Scotland's industries.

Factories, shipyards and thousands of associated workplaces closed their doors.

Tommy Sheridan
Scotland's communities suffer the brutal legacy of Margaret Thatcher to this day
Tommy Sheridan
The hopelessness and despair as a generation were sacrificed on the alter of a creed of greed still echoes through Scotland's communities.

The poll tax marked a turning point, its introduction in Scotland a year earlier than the rest of the UK both a calculated insult and a monumental blunder.

From the grassroots uprising against the poll tax was born a new spirit in Scotland, a determination to re-forge a spirit of co-operation and human solidarity.

In that respect, six Scottish Socialist Party members of the Scottish Parliament are also a legacy of Margaret Thatcher.

CAROL THATCHER, DAUGHTER OF THE FORMER PREMIER

My feminist friends always complain she didn't do a lot for feminism. I think she led by example - 'I can get to be prime minister so you can get to the top of where you want to go if you try hard enough'.

Of course she was also the longerst serving prime minister of the last century. I think she will also wish to be remembered roundly and soundly for her policies as well.

I do think my mother changed the political map of Great Britain in a number of ways.

I am biased and I think on the international scene she put the 'Great' back into 'Great Britain'.

LORD TEBBIT, FORMER CONSERVATIVE MINISTER

She was divisive where she had to be.

It's hard looking back over those years now, to remember the terrible condition in which the country was.

Norman Tebbitt
When you mentioned Britain, people generally said 'how sad'
Norman Tebbit
Both Ted Heath and Jim Callaghan had been brought down by trade union bosses and strikes against the country.

We were regarded as a basket case by most people abroad. When you mentioned Britain, people generally said 'how sad'.

That took a bit of curing and, of course, she made some enemies in the process, and sadly, some people who still don't understand it. Neil Kinnock is one.

...She is blamed for creating three million unemployed. Of course, she didn't. She exposed the fact that three million people were on the payroll who were not doing a job.

It wasn't always their fault. But in many cases we were over-manned. People were doing jobs which didn't need to be done and, of course, that was very painful.

ANDREW ROBERTS, HISTORIAN

Margaret Thatcher will go down in history as a great liberator.

She liberated Britain from sclerosis and Socialism; she liberated industry from the abuse of trade union power; she liberated the Falklands from fascism, and she helped liberate the peoples of Russia and Eastern Europe from Communism.

She liberated Britain from sclerosis and Socialism
Andrew Roberts, historian
She was brought down by a treacherous cabal only moments before she was able to liberate Britain from Euro-federalism, in the manner set out in her historic Bruges speech.

Of all the many things she created, including New Labour, the greatest was a Britain strong, proud and free.

LORD HEALEY, FORMER LABOUR CHANCELLOR

A lot of her legacy was disastrous - an enormous increase in unemployment, the collapse of manufacturing industry and the doubling of inflation. There is no way of regarding that as a good thing.

...But I think the time had come for a shift from government to the market, as far as economic policy was concerned, and ending the rule of the trade unions in deciding policy.




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