Margaret Thatcher is the only woman in British politics to become prime minister and her leadership skills have polarised public opinion in the years since she stepped down.
Dubbed the Iron Lady by a Soviet Union journalist, Thatcher was the longest serving prime minister in the country’s history and was well-known for her autocratic leadership style.
The former Conservative Party leader, who died earlier this year, came to power after the 1979 general election and spent 11 years as prime minister before resigning in 1990.
During her tenure, she led the British into the Falklands War, battled against the nation’s then-powerful trade unions and privatised many of the country’s state-owned organisations.
While she divided sentiment throughout her leadership – and in the years following it – her impact on the socioeconomic structure of the UK is undeniable.
Thatcher’s autocratic leadership
Autocratic leaders are characterised by their authoritarian approach, often taking on most of the decision-making responsibilities.
With little or no input from other group members, autocratic leaders tend to dictate work processes and methods.
There are several benefits to this leadership style, including the ability to quickly and efficiently make decisions without a laborious democratic process that may hold up results.
These characteristics can also be particularly effective in high-pressure environments, where hesitation or procrastination can be damaging or even dangerous.
However, the disadvantages can include disgruntlement among colleagues and co-workers who may come to resent that they have no decision-making input, as well as the limitations it can have on new idea generation.
So how exactly did Thatcher’s autocratic style contribute to her big prime ministerial decisions?
Thatcher’s determination is ultimately what enabled her to set goals and see them through, including reducing the influence of trade unions.
Under the previous Labour government, led by James Callaghan, the UK had experienced severe and ongoing trade union strikes when public sector workers demanded larger pay rises.
Many services ground to a halt by the early months of 1979, with the period being dubbed the Winter of Discontent due to the cold weather and economic pressure caused by industrial action.
Thatcher gradually limited the influence of unions through legislature, which culminated in the 1984-85 miners’ strike after the decision was made to close down many unprofitable mines.
By building up coal supplies in advance and refusing to give in to union demands, Thatcher eventually broke the resolve of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) following a year of strikes, with the NUM finally conceding without a deal.
Strong relationship building
The former British prime minister made sure to forge strong political alliances, most notably with then-US president Ronald Reagan.
Sharing many political, financial and ideological approaches, the pair also supported each other’s military aims. These included Britain’s battle against the Argentine armed forces during the Falklands War in 1983 and the US bombing of Libya a year later.
These ties with the US ensured the UK remained a force in foreign affairs, with public support for the Falklands War proving to be an important turning point in Thatcher winning re-election in 1983.
Thatcher’s confidence in her ideals was characteristic of her prime ministerial tenure, and it caused her to run a government based on conviction politics – in other words, driven primarily on her own values.
Branded Thatcherism, these policies included free market economics, privatisation, tax cuts and the promotion of home ownership.
However, some political commentators have argued that this approach is eventually what led to her downfall.
Following a slew of economic problems and unpopular policies, including the infamous Poll Tax, Thatcher decided to resign after it became obvious that she had lost the support of her Cabinet and closest colleagues.
- Margaret Thatcher book: Iron Lady worried that Obama was pulling America too far left (washingtontimes.com)