Titanic Tuesday: Thatcher vs Mitterrand
Born: Grantham, Lincolnshire 13 October 1925
Died: 8 April 2013
Pre-power: Margaret Thatcher (nee Roberts was the daughter of a grocer, something that political opponents would often mock her for. She gained a degree from Oxford University and married Dennis Thatcher in 1951. She became Conservative MP for Finchley in 1959 and in 1970 was given the post of Education Secretary in Edward Heath’s Government.
Time in office: After just one term in office, Labour returned to power and Thatcher launched, and won, a leadership contest with Heath. She helped the Conservatives return to power in 1979 where she stayed, having won three General Elections, until she resigned in November 1990, handing power to John Major.
Notable moments: Margaret Thatcher was an incredibly divisive Prime Minister, inciting unprecedented passion in both her supporters and detractors. She came to power in a time of great financial uncertainty and unrest, forcing her to make a number of unpopular decisions. These including privatising many state-run utilities, taking a hard line with trade unions and drastically reducing public sector spending in order to reduce the rate of inflation. This resulted in widespread riots, strikes and unemployment but Thatcher, dubbed the Iron Lady by the Soviets, stood by her convictions and turned the economy around, albeit with great costs.
Her other most notable time in office came in 1982 when she sent the British Armed Forces to protect the Falkland Islands, a tiny UK colony off the coast of Argentina that had been invaded by Argentine forces. She was at a low point in the polls and was at risk of losing the next election, but her hardline stance on retaining the Falklands resonated with the British public and the good feeling from victory helped sweep her to victory in 1983.
Born: Jarnac, October 26 1916
Died: 8 January 1996
Pre-power: The son of a railroad stationmaster, Mitterrand studied law and politics at the University of Paris. He served in the French Army during World War II, escaping from a prisoner of war camp in Kassel, Germany in 1941. He met reigning President Charles de Gaulle while working for the resistance and earned a place in the Government in 1946. Voicing his opposition to de Gaulle’s policies got him thrown out of the Government, but he succeeded in his third bid for the presidency in 1981.
Time in office: Mitterrand rose to power in the 1981 election and, after two terms in office, resigned due to poor health in 1995.
Notable moments: His main achievement was a program of social reform, attempting to reinvigorate the economy by creating jobs, improve the pay of the workers and nationalise the banks. He also managed to abolish the death penalty in France.
His Socialist party lost control of the National Assembly in 1986. This forced Mitterrand to deal more with the political right and Prime Minister Jacques Chirac than he would have liked. Another key moment in his career was to appoint Edith Cresson as Prime Minister, France’s first female PM.