Thatcher’s Sinking Ship
What’s law to a lady at war? On May 2, 1982, in the heat of the Falklands War, the HMS Conqueror successfully launched two torpedoes into Argentina’s Navy cruiser ARA General Belgrano, sinking the ship and essentially proving Argentina’s naval powers. But weapons weren’t the only things destroyed in the attack—it also resulted in the deaths of 323 sailors, a full half of the Argentine deaths of the entire conflict. In the days following the sinking of the Belgrano, critics began to question legality of the attack: after all, it took place outside the 200-mile total exclusion zone mandated by international law. Thatcher’s response to the allegations? All’s fair in love and war. In an interview with David Frost conducted a month after the ship sank, Thatcher remained unfazed by the reporter’s questions—she had no apologies to make.
Just Three Little Words
Margaret Thatcher had a hardline policy concerning Britain’s integration into the European Community economy: “No, no, no!” Despite urgings from her chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, Thatcher refused to give up the pound sterling for visions of a new unified European currency. Her reluctance to join in on the efforts of the European Community transformed the values of the Conservative Party, eventually marking it the party of economic independence. On Oct. 30, 1990, the House of Commons met to discuss the Labour Party’s initiative to move to a central European bank. The prime minister, in classic Thatcher fashion, offered her opponents but three small words—and none of them were “yes.”
No Roundabouts for Maggie Thatcher
With Thatcher’s approval ratings quickly in decline due to unpopular tax increases and high unemployment—a mere two months later her poll numbers would reach the lowest point of any previous prime minister at 23 percent—critics expected Thatcher to unveil significant policy reversals during her speech at the 1980 Conservative Party Conference. However, the Iron Lady stood her ground—and with wry sense of humor, no less. To those in the media who expected an administrative “U-turn,” the prime minister had these choice words: “You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.”
An Iron Lady Made of Gold
On Nov. 20, 1990, a mere eight days before leaving 10 Downing St. for the last time, Thatcher made her final speech as prime minister in the House of Commons. Many of the questions that arose regarded her legacy—which, as posited by M.P. Simon Hughes, is one that, due to the increase in the wealth gap during her time in office, “is not a record that she or any prime minister can be proud of.” But even in her last week as prime minister, Thatcher was quick on the draw, declaring “people on all levels of income are better off than they were in 1979.” Liberals like Hughes “would rather the poor were poorer, provided that the rich were less rich.”
Thatcher’s Last Laugh
Only when she was out of office did the Iron Lady begin show her soft side. On Nov. 28, 1990, Thatcher stood outside 10 Downing St. to deliver her final words as prime minister. The short speech was one of good will: she expressed pride in her accomplishments as a leader and in the journey the country had taken during her 11 years in office, and thanks to those who had supported her. She then exited with grace, wishing her successor, John Major, “all the luck in the world” before driving away from the mansion for the final time.
Known for her firm convictions, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher knew how to make her point. Watch this mashup of some of her best lines.
Margaret Thatcher's influence endured long after her premiership ended. Read Amanda Foreman on her legacy and her film immortalization by Meryl Streep.