Iron Lady or monster? Thatcher film stirs UK passions

Thu Jan 5, 2012 11:50am EST
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By Mohammed Abbas

LONDON (Reuters) - No one inflames British passions quite like Margaret Thatcher, the former prime minister whose biopic "The Iron Lady" has rekindled debate on her legacy ahead of the film's release on Friday.

Legions of admirers cast her as a pioneering politician whose bold policies rescued Britain from economic collapse, but equally numerous detractors see her as a heartless champion of free market orthodoxy at the expense of the poor.

Memories of her 1979-1990 rule have come into sharper focus for many Britons because the country is again grappling with high unemployment, spending cuts, tensions with Europe, union discontent and riots -- all features of the Thatcher years.

"Her legacy is enormous," said Conservative lawmaker John Whittingdale, who was once Thatcher's political secretary.

"She carried through policies that transformed Britain and indeed Britain's relationship with the world, which will never be reversed and nor would anyone contemplate reversing them."

He cited Thatcher's role in ending the Cold War through her alliance with then U.S. President Ronald Reagan, which along with her successful prosecution of the 1982 Falklands war with Argentina, bolstered British authority on the world stage.

Thatcher's admirers also credit her with turning around, through privatizations and deregulation, what they saw as a quasi-socialist British economy in steep decline and at the mercy of powerful unions when she first took office.

Her detractors point to the bitter and violent strikes when she took on the coalminers' union in 1984, riots in 1990 over her wildly unpopular Poll Tax, and swathes of industrial Britain abandoned to long-term unemployment and decline.   Continued...