Women Prime Ministers of Britain

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The tussle for premiership in Britain, to replace Boris Johnson, who had to resign the post, boiled down to two contestants: Liz Truss, Foreign Secretary in Johnson’s government and Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer.

By all measures and counts Sunak should be the elected Prime Minister but the Conservative Party, that voted all along and will make the final decision, is conservative. It’s not for them to elect a non-white Britisher to the highest post in Parliament and government.

 Sunak is a British citizen, second generation – and is more British than perhaps many white Britishers in education, intellect, personality, ability et al, but he is Indian still. Brown and certainly black cannot rise to the top in Britain although, almost a decade and half ago, America elected a black president, albeit half white. Even we in far away Sri Lanka, embroiled in our own problems, are interested in the race in Britain, run to a finish on 5 September. Consensus is that Liz Truss will be the next PM of Britain. (More’s the pity in my opinion!)

Women Prime Ministers

Sri Lanka/Ceylon can be justifiably proud the world’s first woman Prime Minister was from this tiny Indian Ocean island.

In 1960, Sirimavo Ratwatte Bandaranaike succeeded her husband SWRD, who was assassinated by a man in yellow robes at the instigation of a more powerful Buddhist Thera.

 It was said she came in as the ‘Weeping Widow’, swept to power with a sympathy vote, but she progressed well and ended a true stateswoman, even dubbed the ‘only man in the Cabinet’ as Margaret Thatcher was said to be. Thatcher was also named the ‘Iron Lady’ and was extra forceful and tended to be domineering. Mrs. Banders, however, retained her feminine modesty though she did rule with a firm hand. She listened to advisers and took the right decisions in matters of government.

My essay, however, today is on British women PMs, so let’s move over to that country.

Margaret Thatcher, christened Margaret Hilda Roberts, was born in Grantham in 1922. She was a tobacconist’s daughter and hence not even upper middle class. She, however, through sheer personality and determination, proceeded to be one of the most powerful and successful PMs of Britain. Educated at Oxford University offering chemistry as her major, she took to politics not long after graduation. She became leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 and continued till 1990.

She was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990 – three terms: elected in 1979,’83 and ‘87. She was not only the first woman PM but the longest-serving British PM too, withdrawing from the Conservative Party through traitorous manoeuvres of party members in November 1990. Following her name are many initials of distinguished titles bestowed on her, while on resigning the premiership, she was granted a life peerage and was then known as Baroness Thatcher and served in the House of Lords.

She experienced bad times specially the ‘Winter of Discontent’ with trade unions striking, especially the coal miners, which made life very difficult for the people.

But, she put the unions down, privatised State-run enterprises and made public housing available on sale to tenants. She engineered reduction in spending on social services, even education, and thus helped the ailing economy. These moves created the term ‘Thatcherism’ in economic management. Her popularity soared with the victory won by the British in the Falkland Islands against Argentina in 1992, which war she instigated.

 Her second term victory was a landslide win. In 1884, her Conservative Party weathered successfully with only minor injuries from an IRA terrorist attack on the hotel they were residing in for the Brighton Party Conference. Her external relations were most successful with the US when she and President Ronald Reagan fostered an extra close countries’ friendship. In 1976, a concerted effort against Communism had her named ‘The Iron Lady’ by the Soviet Press.

Her daughter Carol first disclosed the fact her mother was suffering signs of dementia leading to Alzhiemer’s. Margaret was greatly bereaved when her main support and constant companion – her husband Denis – died in 2003. She died at the Ritz Hotel in London of a stroke in 2013.

The very touching film of her last years, made in 2011, titled ‘The Iron Lady’ starring Meryl Streep drew some flak for showing an ageing, feeble woman not quite right in the head. It was however a humane story that amply showed her great days and achievements, in flashbacks.

The second woman PM of Britain – Theresa May – pales in significance against Margaret T. Born in 1966 in Eastbourne, Sussex, to a church pastor father and Conservative Party member mother, she was named Theresa Mary Brasier. Graduating from Oxford University, she married Sir Philip May and took to politics.

Becoming the Leader of the Conservative Party she was elected PM and served her term between that of David Cameron and Boris Johnson – 2016 to 2019. Her achievement was moving adroitly in Brexit negotiations with the European Union.

This article assumes Liz Truss would be the third PM of Britain, judging from what is written about the election results, which will be out on 5 September. Rishi Sunak is par excellent for the post; however racism exists, though camouflaged, in Britain.

Kumari