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Expert Alert

While she drew Great Britain closer to America, Margaret Thatcher's legacy still divides her country, U of M expert says

January 10, 2012

“The Iron Lady,” starring Meryl Streep as Great Britain’s first and only female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, opens in Minnesota this weekend. A University of Minnesota expert who can share insights on Thatcher’s impact – fact and fiction, past and present – is:

John Watkins, Distinguished McKnight University Professor, Department of English, College of Liberal Arts

Watkins, who studied in Great Britain at the height of Thatcher’s power, says her legacy still divides the nation. “While many Britons laud her for redeeming Britain from the yoke of bankrupt socialist policies, others denounce her for reversing a commitment to the welfare of English men and women that dated back to the Victorians. Under her administration, privatization became the buzzword of day. She inherited a country with inflation dangerously approaching 20 percent; she dropped it by 10 percent in her first years.”

But the costs were enormous, including the highest level of unemployment Britain had seen since the 30’s, Watkins explains. “Many charge Thatcher with cheapening the level of national discourse by replacing reasonable argument with slogans and sheer bullying. She led Britain to victory in the Falklands War, but so opposed Britain’s involvement with the European Union that she came close to isolating her country from the continent and alienating herself from her own party.”   

Two things are clear, Watkins concludes. “First of all, Thatcherism decisively changed the country’s economy and politics. Secondly, she had an unusually warm, albeit controversial, relationship with Ronald Reagan that drew Britain closer than ever into the American sphere of influence. As ‘The Iron Lady’ shows in theaters throughout our country, Americans will have a rich occasion to reflect on the Reagan-Thatcher Revolutions and the world they jointly created.”

Watkins’ teaching and research interests include historiography; sovereignty and queenship; medieval and early modern diplomacy; pre-modern political culture; and classical and medieval origins of the Renaissance.

To interview Watkins, contact Jeff Falk at (612) 626-1720 or

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Tags: College of Liberal Arts

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