The former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher has died at the age of 87. After battling more than decade of poor health, the ex-Conservative leader passed away on Monday from a stroke.
Baroness Thatcher had been staying at the five-star Ritz Hotel in Central London for several months. It is understood she died in one of the hotel’s suites in the morning.
The grocer’s daughter, who became the longest serving British prime minister of the 20th century, is the U.K.’s first, and so far only, female prime minister.
Known as the “Iron Lady” for her unshakable political and personal strength, “Maggie” was a formidable figure.
On the world stage she was viewed as tough and determined politician. Thatcher led her country to victory in the Falklands war and her strong alliance with President Ronald Reagan battled against communism and saw the Berlin Wall torn down in 1989.
Either loathed or loved
Still, in Britain, Thatcher was a divisive force, whom you either loved or loathed.
Critics say she widened the gap between the rich and the poor. Between 1979 and 1990, her governments privatized state-owned industries and utilities, crushed the unions and her controversial poll tax policies sparked a wave of riots.
To her admirers, though, she was a national icon, a decisive leader, who transformed the British economy from a nation in long term industrial decline to a free market economy.
Thatcher not beloved by black Britons
However, among black Britons, for the most part, Thatcher was less revered.
“There is no doubt that Margaret Thatcher was a formidable politician: She smashed the Unions, she defeated the Argentinian military junta, she even scared the Conservative elite who had run the country for centuries,” said Simon Woolley, director of U.K. lobby group Operation Black Vote.
“The reality is, however, her time in power coincided with one some of the darkest episodes of race relations in recent British history,” adds Woolley.
Riots that are still remembered
During her time at the helm of the British government, the U.K. experienced a series of unprecedented race riots, including the infamous 1981 Brixton Riots.
In 1985, the country again saw angry protests in Birmingham and London’s Broadwater Farm.
“After continued harassment from the new police due to the ‘Sus laws,’ which meant the police could ‘Stop and Search’ anyone they suspected of crime, major race riots broke out across England in black areas,” said Woolley.
“Many viewed Thatcher’s new government as giving the police ‘carte blanche’ to harass and even ‘fit up’ — plant drugs and other crimes on innocent black people. Thatcher’s government was characterized by demonizing black people to win votes from white areas,” he adds.
Indeed, under Thatcher’s premiership, immigration policy tightened.
Controversial legislation left minorities troubled
Her government passed the British Nationality Act in 1981 and subsequent legislation, which restricted immigration from former British Commonwealth countries in Asia and Africa. In an early interview, Thatcher also publicly said she sympathized with whites who felt “swamped” by immigrants.
Maggie’s relations with the U.K.’s African and Caribbean community were further strained by her apparent ease with the South African apartheid regime.
For years she refused to back sanctions against South Africa. Maggie also infamously described Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) as “a typical terrorist organization” during the struggle against apartheid.
Since the announcement of Thatcher’s death, the online reactions from black Britons and minorities has been mixed, with many acknowledging her undeniable place in history but criticizing her policies. Earlier today MSNBC’s Martin Bashir also referred to Thatcher’s “incredibly” divisive domestic policies.
Nigerian native Patti Boulaye, who once competed as a Conservative candidate for the new London assembly, nevertheless acknowledges the former prime minister’s strength. “I am honored to have met Margaret Thatcher so many times,” said Boulaye.
“She reminded me of my mother, a strong African woman, not intimidated by men but instead treated them like what they were, her wayward sons,” said Boulaye, who is a longtime member of the Conservative Party.
“She ruled as a woman rather than a wannabe male prime minister, and the result was she was a force to reckon with. Love her or hate her she was a formidable woman.”
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