Some of her colleagues found her performance distasteful, “a little too triumphant,” her defense minister, John Nott, would say later. But the Falklands campaign revived Mrs. Thatcher’s popularity and sped her toward a second general election, in June 1983.
After that, Mrs. Thatcher repeatedly invoked “the spirit of the Falklands” as she waged war on “the enemy within,” the nation’s trade unions. Her target was the National Union of Mineworkers, led by a symbol of militant unionism, “King” Arthur Scargill.
In 1984, the Thatcher stared down striking coal miners as she closed government-owned coal mines across the country, deeply dividing and weakening the labor movement and undermining her political opposition.
Partnership with Reagan
When Mrs. Thatcher took office, Jimmy Carter was president of the United States. Although the two had a polite relationship, she gushed over Ronald Reagan, who defeated Carter in the 1980 election. “I knew that I was talking to someone who instinctively felt and thought as I did,” she wrote, “not just about policies but about a philosophy of government, a view of human nature.”
Mrs. Thatcher also held to the long-standing British view that a close relationship with the United States was crucial strategically in the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
Over considerable domestic opposition, she collaborated with Reagan in deploying U.S. cruise and Pershing II missiles. The Soviets could not counter that move, which, in the view of some analysts, advanced later negotiations for the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty of 1987.
“All over Europe the peace marchers demonstrated to prevent Western missiles from being installed for their defense,” Reagan wrote in 1989 article in the National Review, “but they were silent about the Soviet missiles targeted against them! Again, in the face of these demonstrations, Margaret never wavered.”
She befriended Mikhail Gorbachev even before he became Soviet leader, believing she had found someone with whom she could “do business,” and later served as an intermediary between Reagan and Gorbachev.
Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher did not always agree, however. The Reagan administration was slow to support Britain in the Falklands. And Thatcher was furious and deeply embarrassed at home when the Reagan administration failed to warn her in advance of its 1983 invasion of Grenada, a British Commonwealth nation.
Embattled again at home
The Conservatives won a third general election in 1987, but with a narrower majority. Mrs. Thatcher’s relationships with senior ministers deteriorated dramatically, as arguments flared first over her resistance to further integration with Europe and then over a botched plan to restructure local taxes as part of her effort to disempower local governments.