Britons Looks Back At The Life And Legacy Of Margaret Thatcher

Britons remember the Margaret Thatcher era, her conservative principles, her determination and her record as prime minister. Thatcher, known as the "Iron Lady", died Monday following a stroke. She was 87.

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It is a day of tributes and critiques for Margaret Thatcher. The former British prime minister died today at age 87. She came to be called the Iron Lady because of her uncompromising pursuit of Conservative ideology. From her home country, NPR's Philip Reeves has reaction.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: In Britain, Margaret Thatcher was loved and loathed. Even her enemies respected her. There's consensus that she changed the political landscape. To understand her political power, it helps to hear her in action. This was Thatcher in Parliament 30 years ago, taking on the opposition Labour Party stalwart Denis Healey.

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MARGARET THATCHER: Oh, the right honorable gentleman is afraid of an election, is he? Afraid. Afraid. Afraid. Frightened. Couldn't take it. Couldn't stand it.

REEVES: Thatcher had an extra gear that she shifted into when on a roll. That made her even more fearsome.

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THATCHER: Right now inflation is lower than it has been for 13 years, a record the right honorable gentleman couldn't begin to touch.

REEVES: Margaret Thatcher's supporters are now paying tribute to her as one of the West's greatest postwar politicians. Her Conservative Party governs again in Britain, though in coalition with the Liberal Party, something she would have found very difficult. In her shoes these days stands Prime Minister David Cameron.

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: Margaret Thatcher didn't just lead our country; she saved our country.

REEVES: Then Cameron added this.

CAMERON: We can't deny that Margaret Thatcher divided opinion. For many of us, she was - and is - an inspiration. For others, she was a force to be defined against. But if there is one thing that cuts through all of this, one through - one thing that runs through everything that she did, it was her lionhearted love of this country.

REEVES: That divided opinion that Cameron talks of lives on in Britain today. A lot of British people don't dispute that Margaret Thatcher redefined politics, but think it was for the worse. They're airing their views on the Internet right now.

They criticize Thatcher for fighting an obscure and costly war over the Falkland Islands. They oppose her sell-off of big state-run enterprises. She passionately believed in the primacy of the individual as opposed to the state and once famously said: There's no such thing as society. When she sold social housing to tenants on welfare, the left were enraged.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The total cost of (unintelligible) Thatcher's policies to the British taxpayers is currently 2,250 million pounds or double the cost of the Falklands war. That's the price she's prepared to pay. I've got a message: She might have won that, but she'll not win this battle.

REEVES: But this was the most divisive issue of all. Parts of Britain cannot forget or forgive her battle against their coal miners, led by the firebrand union leader Arthur Scargill. Thatcher won and more or less destroyed the industry and the union.

One of Thatcher's greatest battles was fought with city and local governments run by the left. Her decision to impose a uniform tax on householders, whether rich or poor, played a large part in her downfall at the hands of her own Conservative colleagues.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Before Thatcher got in, the British people were the third-happiest people in the world in terms of polling.

REEVES: That's Ken Livingstone, stalwart of the left and former head of the Greater London Council.

LIVINGSTONE: We had a strong manufacturing base. It needed some investment. Instead of doing that, she decided to throw everything behind the bankers. In reality, (unintelligible) tremendous respect for the drive by which she pursued her beliefs, but it has been a disaster, and many lives have been destroyed because of it.

REEVES: The British are now preparing formally to mourn Margaret Thatcher. They'll remember the first woman elected to lead a major Western power and a politician who loved to scrap. This is Thatcher, again in Parliament, after giving the European Union a pasting.

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THATCHER: Now where were we? I'm enjoying this. I'm enjoying this. Mr. Speaker, I was asked.

MICHAEL CARTTISS: You can wipe the floor with these people.

THATCHER: I was talking about Europe.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.

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