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How 'Lady T' built transatlantic bridges

By John Blundell, special to CNN
April 9, 2013 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • European Union bureaucrats in Brussels trembled at her approach and the regular tongue lashings, writes Blundell
  • Thatcher worked closely throughout his two terms with U.S. President Ronald Reagan
  • Blundell: Margaret loved it when the communists in Moscow early on labeled her the Iron Lady

Editor's note: John Blundell is a visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. and the author of Margaret Thatcher: A Portrait of the Iron Lady available from amazon.com.

(CNN) -- Margaret Thatcher is best known for her domestic economic policy changes, from lifting exchange controls and slashing marginal tax rates, to privatizing state-run industries and bringing the labor unions back under the rule of law.

She also ushered in an era of contracting out which saw local city services soar in quality while costs plunged, and she gave tenants of public housing units a legal right to buy at deeply discounted prices.

She changed the landscape.

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Millions bought their own homes and many more millions started buying shares for the first time. Self-employment became a real vogue and a venture capital industry emerged and grew like Topsy.

Over 11 and a half years in power she became an international icon, regularly facing down terrorists and military dictators, from the Iran Embassy siege through the Falkland Islands war, to the bomb happy IRA who nearly got her scalp one fall in the infamous Brighton bomb.

European Union bureaucrats in Brussels trembled at her approach and the regular tongue lashings.

The noun handbag became a verb as in "to be handbagged," namely hit over the head with a fashion accessory that was rumored to contain a brick.

The inside joke was: Rome wasn't built in a day but then Margaret wasn't foreman on that job. Used Thatcher handbags went for thousands at fundraising auctions.

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It was all a bit of an exaggeration, as she did worry a great deal about some of her more radical policies.

Her policy of privatizing the commanding heights of the economy which had been nationalized by the socialists (1945-1951) turned rotten tax-guzzling behomeths into nimble world-class tax-paying companies.

This started a worldwide trend which continues to this day.

She worked closely throughout his two terms with U.S. President Ronald Reagan. They had met twice in the mid 1970s, both times a one hour appointment which ended up going beyond three hours.

It was husband Denis Thatcher who first spotted Reagan's talents when he spoke at a London business dinner, and sped to their Flood St, Chelsea, home to tell his wife that this man was really right up her street.

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She started with Jimmy Carter in the White House (he complained that he could not get a word in edgeways with her) and ended with the first Bush, notably with her famous advice on Kuwait: "Don't go wobbly on me, George."

But it was Reagan with whom she really solidified the transatlantic bridge. They fell out only once when she roasted him for not alerting her to the invasion of Grenada.

He put her on speakerphone in the Oval Office and let her blast away, before telling her that he had been warned not to alert her because her Foreign Office leaked so badly.

He could not risk American lives just for the sake of briefing a friend, however close.

It was of course the steadfastness of the president, the pope, and the prime minister which brought down that wall and destroyed the evil empire without a shot being fired.

MORE: How Thatcher 'broke the mold of politics'

She was the first leader to visit Reagan after he won power and the last to visit him as his second term ended. When she did not share his passion for horse riding Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II took care of matters.

Margaret, or Lady T as we all called her after her elevation to the Upper House, loved America. She had toured coast to coast, north to south.

She went twice in the late 1960s, firstly as a guest of the State Department -- which openly touted her as a future prime minister -- and secondly as a lecturer for the U.S. branch of the English Speaking Union.

It was said by her Downing Street staff that the second she set foot in America there was a new spring in her step and she lost ten years.

Thatcher loved it when the communists in Moscow early on labeled her the Iron Lady. They thought it was an insult, but she turned it into a compliment and went on to melt the Iron Curtain.

She and Reagan never believed a word of Soviet propaganda. As early as 1950, when she first stood for parliament in her early 20s, she said that as long as we stick to principle we have nothing to fear from Russian communism.

What an astonishing prediction from an astonishing woman.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Blundell

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