Britain's First Female PremierWhen Conservatives returned to office in June 1970, Thatcher was appointed secretary of state for education and science, and dubbed "Thatcher, milk snatcher," after her abolition of the universal free school milk scheme. She found her position frustrating, not because of all the bad press around her actions, but because she had difficulty getting Prime Minister Edward Heath to listen to her ideas. Seemingly disenchanted on the future of women in politics, Thatcher was quoted as saying, "I don't think there will be a woman prime minister in my lifetime," during a 1973 television appearance.
Thatcher soon proved herself wrong. While the Conservative Party lost power in 1974, Thatcher became a dominant force in her political party. She was elected leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, beating out Heath for the position. With this victory, Thatcher became the first woman to serve as the opposition leader in the House of Commons. England was in a time of economic and political turmoil, with the government nearly bankrupt, employment on the rise and conflicts with labor unions. This instability helped return Conservatives to power in 1979. As party leader, Thatcher made history in May 1979, when she was appointed Britain's first female prime minister.
Conservative LeadershipAs prime minister, Thatcher battled the country's recession by initially raising interest rates to control inflation. She was best known for her destruction of Britain's traditional industries through her attacks on labor organizations such as the miner's union, and for the massive privatization of social housing and public transport. One of her staunchest allies was U.S. President Ronald Reagan, a fellow conservative. The two shared similar right-wing, pro-corporate political philosophies.
Thatcher faced a military challenge during her first term. In April 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland islands. This British territory had long been a source of conflict between the two nations, as the islands are located off the coast of Argentina. Taking swift action, Thatcher sent British troops to the territory to retake the islands in what became known as the Falklands War. Argentina surrendered in June 1982.
In her second term, from 1983 to 1987, Thatcher handled a number of conflicts and crises, the most jarring of which may have been the assassination attempt against her in 1984. In a plot by the Irish Republic Army, she was meant to killed by a bomb planted at the Conservative Conference in Brighton in October. Undaunted and unharmed, Thatcher insisted that the conference continue, and gave a speech the following day.
As for foreign policy, Thatcher met with Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, in 1984. That same year, she signed an agreement with the Chinese government regarding the future of Hong Kong. Publicly, Thatcher voiced her support for Ronald Reagan's air raids on Libya in 1986 and allowed U.S. forces to use British bases to help carry out the attack.