LONDON (CBSNewYork/AP) – Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose conservative ideas made an enduring impact on Britain, has died. She was 87.
Thatcher’s former spokesman, Tim Bell, said that the former prime minister died Monday morning of a stroke.
Prime Minister David Cameron also expressed sadness, saying “we have lost a great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton.”
Thatcher, the country’s first female prime minister, re-made Britain’s economic landscape after coming into office in 1979 with a free-market philosophy and the goal of privatizing state industries. And she would wage some hard-nosed battles with the country’s labor unions.
For admirers, Thatcher was a savior who rescued Britain from ruin and laid the groundwork for an extraordinary economic renaissance. For critics, she was a heartless tyrant who ushered in an era of greed that kicked the weak out onto the streets and let the rich become filthy rich.
Outside the British Consulate in Midtown East, the Union Jack has been lowered to half-staff.
British Consul-General Danny Lopez said Thatcher is being remembered ”as a great Prime Minister, a great leader and a great Briton.”
As WCBS 880′s Marla Diamond reported, Thatcher’s distaste for Communism made her a central figure in American politics during the Cold War.
“I’ve heard a lot today from a number of people here in New York who remember her very fondly from the 80s and her relationship with President Reagan,” Lopez said.
A condolence book, along with a portrait of Thatcher, has been set up inside the British consulate.
“I would just say that, of course, it’s a very sad for our country and a very sad day for her family. In terms of her legacy, I’d take you to the words of our Prime Minister who said today that he thought that she would go down as the greatest peacetime Prime Minister,” Lopez told Diamond.
Her influence was felt long after she left office in 1990. Tony Blair, whose Labor Party languished in opposition as the Conservative Thatcher held power for more than a decade, ended up adopting many of her views.
Thatcher’s forceful personality and hard-driving style earned her the nickname of the “Iron Lady.” It was a term that was reinforced when she led Britain into war against Argentina in 1982 after the Argentines invaded the Falkland Islands. She forced them to retreat.
In 1984, she escaped a brush with terrorism. An I-R-A bomb exploded in a hotel hosting the annual conference of the Conservative Party. It narrowly missed Thatcher, but killed five others.
The badly divided Conservatives eventually pushed her from power in 1990, and the party has struggled since then to regain its footing.
In her later years, she grew frail after a series of small strokes. She suffered from dementia in her final years, and her public appearances became increasingly rare.
She is survived by her two children, Mark Thatcher and Carol Thatcher, and her grandchildren.
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