Margaret Thatcher's timeline: From Grantham to the House of Lords, via Arthur Scargill and the Falklands War

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Key moments from the life of one of the country's most influential politicians

1925 - October 13: Margaret Hilda Roberts is born in Grantham, Lincolnshire, the second child of Beatrice Stephenson Roberts and grocer and Alderman Alfred Roberts.

October 1936: Starts her secondary education at Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School.

1943: Begins her degree in chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford.

1946- October: Elected as the first female president of the Oxford University Conservative Association.

1947- June: Completes her degree. Graduates with second-class honours.

1949- January 31: Selected as the Conservative candidate in the Labour safe seat of Dartford after being rejected for a safe Conservative seat. She hits headlines as the youngest female candidate in the country.

1950- February 23: Loses to the Labour candidate but reduces the majority by 6,000.

1951- October 25: Defeated again by Labour in Dartford but the Conservatives win the General Election. Supports herself financially by working as a research chemist, developing emulsifiers for ice cream.

1951- December 13: Marries divorced entrepreneur Denis Thatcher, becomes Mrs Margaret Thatcher. Her wedding dress is made of royal blue velvet.

1952: Begins legal training and resigns as a candidate for Dartford.

1953- August 15: Twins Carol and Mark Thatcher are born.

1953- December 1: Qualifies as a barrister.

1955- May 26: Conservative party wins the general election with a majority of 58. Thatcher does not run for a seat.

1958- July 31: Selected as the Conservative candidate for Finchley.

1959- October 8: Elected as MP for Finchley. Maiden speech is in support of her private member’s bill requiring councils to open their meetings to the public.

1961: Rebels against party by voting to restore birching, a form of judicial corporal punishment outlawed in 1948.

1961- October 9: Promoted to the front bench as Parliamentary Under Secretary for Pensions and National Insurance.

1964- October 15: After the Conservatives lose the general election she shadows Pensions.

1965- October 18: Becomes opposition spokesman on Housing and Land, advocating the right for council tenants to buy their homes.

1966- March 31: Labour win the general election. Thatcher moves to the shadow Treasury team under Iain Mcleod. Macleod

1967- October 10: Appointed to the Shadow Cabinet as shadow Fuel and Power spokesman.

1968: Votes to decriminalise homosexuality and legalize abortion.

1968- November 14: Moved to shadow Transport in a cabinet reshuffle.

1969- October 21: Becomes shadow Education spokeswoman.

1970- June 18: Conservatives win the general election and she is appointed Secretary of State for Education and Science.

1971 - June:  Introduced legislation to abolish free milk for primary schoolchildren – earning her the moniker ‘Margaret Thatcher the milk snatcher’ .

1972- January: Unemployment passes 1 million and British troops kill 13 people in the ‘Bloody Sunday’ riots.

1972- December 6: Publishes her white paper: ‘Education: A Framework for Expansion’.

1973- December 13: Three day week announced.

1974- February 28: No party win an overall majority in the general election. The Liberals rejected Ted Heath’s offer of a coalition prompting his resignation as prime minister. Thatcher is included in the Shadow Cabinet, shadowing Environment.

1974- October 10: Labour manage to form a government with majority of three.

1974- November: Thatcher moves to help shadow the Treasury and decides to run for party leader.

1975- February 11: Thatcher is elected as the Conservative leader on the second ballot and appoints her main contender, Willie Whitelaw, as her deputy. It is during this period that she begins to be influenced by economists such as Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman, whose ideas would ultimately shape her monetary and industrial policies when in power.

1976 – January: In response to a withering attack on the Soviet Union she gave in a speech, the newspaper of the Russian defence ministry dubs her the “Iron Lady”. The name sticks.

1976- April 7: The government loses its majority in the House of Commons. From 1977 they are kept in power by a Lib-Lab pact.

1979- March 28: The government is defeated in a confidence motion. General election called for May 3.

1979 – March 29: Thatcher’s friend and former leadership campaign organiser, Airey Neave, assassinated by Irish terrorists

1979- May 4: Thatcher becomes the country’s first ever female Prime Minister after winning the general election with a slim majority of 44 seats. She made political capital out of the ‘Winter of discontent’, which was marked by stagflation and industrial strife, attacking Labour’s record on the economy and promising radical reforms to control inflation and curb the power of the trade unions. The campaign was most memorably captured in the poster, designed by Saatchi and Saatchi, depicting a queue outside an employment office with the words: “Labour isn’t working”. On arriving at 10 Downing Street she paraphrases the Prayer of St. Francis of Assissi.

1979- November: Raises base interest rate to 17% - 30% for many individual customers – in attempt to strangle inflation based on monetarist economics ideas.

1980: Implements manifesto promise of the “right to buy” for council tenants, giving millions the opportunity to purchase their homes at discounted rates as part of her vision of creating a ‘property-owning democracy’.

1980: Inflation peaks at 20% in the middle of the year despite interest rates

1980- October: The first modern hunger strike organised by Provisional IRA prisoners ended after 53 days, with Thatcher’s government appearing to concede on demands for the return of ‘special category status’ and privileges.

1980- October: Gives “the lady is not for turning” speech at the Conservative party conference, in which she states her refusal to pull a U-turn on economic liberalisation and counter-inflationary policies such as controlling interest rates to restrict the money supply. This would become her trademark motto.

1981 – March 1: IRA members begin a second hunger strike. During the strike, inmate Bobby Sands is elected as an MP; but Thatcher refuses concessions, declaring that ‘crime is crime, not political’. Sands dies on May 5, after 66 days. Riots follow in Northern Ireland and 100,000 attend his funeral. The world’s attention captured. Seven more would die of self-enforced starvation before the end of the strike on 20 August. Yet Thatcher’s position remained galvanised towards the IRA and was seen as a victory.

1981 – March 10: the Chancellor, Sir Geoffrey Howe, shocked the commons by delivering a Budget that raised taxes and cut spending amid a recession. The Budget exacerbated unemployment but succeeded in its main aim of bringing down inflation.

1981- April 10-12: Three day riot in Brixton, against a background of heavy handed policing and an 82 per cent increase in unemployment black people.

1981 – July: Riots erupted across the country, starting in Toxteth, Liverpool, where police used tear gas, and Southall, in London.

1981 – July 23: Thatcher confronted in a Cabinet meeting by a major rebellion by ‘wets’ opposed to her economic policies, led by Michael Heseltine.

1981 – July 29: wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer, marking an end to riots.

1981 – 14 September: Thatcher reshuffled her Cabinet sacking several ‘wets’ and brining in her supports – Nigel Lawson, Cecil Parkinson and Norman Tebbit.

1982- January: Unemployment tops the 3 million mark for the first time since the 1930s.

1982- April 2: Argentina invades the British Falkland Islands. Thatcher responds with swift and decisive force, sending a naval force and in just over 2 months the islands are taken back. 255 British servicemen lose their lives along with 3 islanders. The losses are much heavier on the Argentinean side, totalling 649. Seen as a crucial victory, it proved not only a massive popularity boost but also turning point for Thatcher’s premiership at a time of economic stagnation.

1982: Purchase of nuclear missiles as part of the UK’s Trident defence system.

1983- June 9: Returned to power with a landslide majority, her position bolstered by the Falklands war and easily defeating Michael Foot’s divided Labour party which is riven by factional differences.

1984- March: Locks horns with miners in a bitter industrial dispute over the proposal to close pits. The nationwide strike would last a year, with pickets marked by confrontations with police and violence. The miners are defeated, ringing the death knell for the industry while Thatcher and her free-market policies emerge victorious.

1984- October 12: An IRA bomb goes off at the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the Conservative Party conference. Five are killed and thirty left injured but Thatcher is unharmed.

1984 – November: BT privatised, in what was then the biggest share sale in history, with over 2 million individuals buying shares. One, the Tory MP Keith Best, was heavily fined for variations of his name to make multiple applications for shares. 

1985- January: Print workers go on strike against Rupert Murdoch’s proposed move of the press to a new plant in Wapping, where new technology would mean thousands losing their jobs. The strike and protests at Wapping last a year. Laws restricting trade union activity, introduced in the early 80s, are used to effect against strikers.

1985: In response to cuts to funding by central government, 15 Labour-run local councils launch the ‘rate-capping rebellion’ by refusing to set a budget for the financial year – effectively a political battle between Labour councils and a Conservative government. It involved several London councils as well as those of Liverpool and Sheffield. Eventually all capitulated and the government now has the right to restrict local authority spending.

1985- November 15: Signs the Anglo-Irish agreement at Hillsborough Castle, County Down.

1986 - January: Unemployment peaks at 3.1m.

1986- January: The Westland Affair, which started as a cabinet disagreement over the future of the ailing British helicopter manufacturer, exploded into a personality clash that climaxed with the resignation of the Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine. The discord centred over which company the firm should be rescued by, but with Heseltine feeling he was silenced it fuelled speculation over his own ambitions for the top job.

1986- March: Abolishes the large and powerful Greater London Council in what is seen by some as a political act to eliminate its left-wing Labour administration led by future Mayor of London Ken Livingstone.

1986- October 27: The ‘Big Bang’ in the city – a sweeping deregulation of the country’s financial hub that would lead to its rise as a global centre.

1986- December: British Gas privatised in a share sale worth over £5.4 billion. Privatisation was one of the totemic policies of Thatcher’s premiership and followed from the free-market economic ideology she wished to install in Britain. Many other large monopolies and industries would follow, including British Aerospace, BT, utilities and the transport system.

1987- June 11: Thatcher is re-elected for an historic third term with a slightly reduced majority. Becomes the longest continuously serving prime minister since Lord Liverpool at the beginning of the 19th century.

1987- September: She gives her now-infamous there is “no such thing as society” interview to Woman’s Own magazine, espousing values of personal responsibility and stating that “there are individual men and women and … there are families and no government can do anything … it is our duty to look after ourselves”.

1988- September 27: Gives a speech to the Royal Society warning of the risks of global warming and acid rain.

1988: Doubles interest rates in order to curb inflation.

1989- April 1: The deeply unpopular poll tax is introduced in Scotland before the rest of the country.

1989- March 3: Tells the press “we have become grandmother” after the birth of her son Mark Thatcher’s first child Michael.

1990- March 31: Community charge, or ‘poll tax’ riot in Trafalgar Square.

1990- November 4: Michael Heseltine decides to stand for Conservative party leadership.

1990- November 27: John Major becomes party leader after Thatcher announces her decision not to contest the second ballot.

1990- November 28: Thatcher resigns as prime minister and is replaced by Major.

1992- June 30: Thatcher enters the House of Lords as Baroness Thatcher.

1997: Thatcher backs William Hague who wins the Conservative party leadership. Labour goes on to win in a landslide election.

2001- May 22: Appears at her first Conservative general election rally since 1987. She announces her return by saying: “I was told beforehand my arrival was unscheduled, but on the way here I passed a local cinema and it turns out you were expecting me after all. The billboard read The Mummy Returns.”

2003- June 26: Denis Thatcher dies at the age of 88. The Conservative central office decides to lower their union flag as a mark of respect. 

2004- June 11: Thatcher attends Ronald Reagan’s funeral. He had asked her before his death if she would deliver a eulogy for him, so she prerecords her tribute to be played at the ceremony, despite having being advised by her doctors to give up public speaking.

2005- October 13: Celebrates her 80th birthday with a dinner in a London Hotel, attended by 650 guests including the Queen, Shirley Bassey, Joan Collins and Andrew Lloyd-Webber.

2007- February 21: Sculptor Antony Dufort’s bronze statue of Thatcher unveiled in the Parliament Members’ Lobby. A man had been jailed in 2003 for decapitating a marble likeness of her in an art gallery.

2008-2009: A play entitled ‘The Death of Margaret Thatcher’ is performed in 2008 and ‘Maggie’s End’, which imagines her state funeral, tours the country in 2009.

2010– October 13: missed her 85th birthday party, hosted in Downing Street by David Cameron, because of poor health.

2012- January 6: Film ‘The Iron Lady’, starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher is released to mixed reviews.

Further reading:

Obituary: Margaret Thatcher, Britain's first and only female prime minister

Margaret Thatcher: Round-up of today's full coverage

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