Margaret Thatcher Becomes the First Female Prime Minister in Great Britain

Margaret Thatcher arrived at her North London constituency early, in good time for glad-handing and a last bit of publicity.

But it was well into the following morning when the last paper ballots from every village and shire came in: the gutsy politician of the zealous right had routed Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan and smashed the gender barrier to become Britain's first female PM.

On the doorstep of her new home, 10 Downing Street, the new leader cited the compassionate litany of St. Francis of Assisi: "Where there is discord, let there be harmony." It would be the last conciliatory message from this aggressive, even strident, Prime Minister, who boasted, "I am not a consensus politician, I am a conviction politician!" Her conservative creed transformed Britain: she broke the unions' stranglehold, flogged the business world out of complacency, altered the welfare-state mentality and boldly fought a war over the Falkland Islands, some 8,000 miles away. And she did it all her way.

Angelo was the magazine's London bureau chief from 1978 to 1985

May 3, 1979 - Margaret Thatcher became the first female prime minister in Great Britain?s history when the Conservative Party (Tories) that she headed soundly defeated the ruling Labour Party in the parliamentary elections. The Conservatives captured 339 seats (an increase of 55) in the 635-seat House of Commons; Labour Party candidates won 268 seats (a decrease of 40). The election gave the Conservatives an absolute majority in Parliament and brought to an end the Labour government of James Callaghan. Other parties represented in the new Parliament included the Liberals (11), Northern Ireland Catholics (2), Scottish nationalists (2), and Welsh nationalists (2). A nonpartisan speaker of the House holds the other seat. On May 4 Queen Elizabeth II accepted Callaghan?s resignation at Buckingham Palace and requested 53-year-old Thatcher to form a new government. During the campaign, Callaghan pleaded for a continuation of his policies which, he claimed, had reduced inflation. Thatcher promised voters greater control over trade unions, major tax cuts, and less government involvement in business and in the lives of individuals.

The United Kingdom general election of 1979 was held on 3 May 1979 and is regarded as a pivotal point in 20th century British politics. The Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher defeated James Callaghan's incumbent Labour government in the first of four consecutive general election victories for the Conservative Party.

In the end, the overall swing of 5.2% was the largest since 1945 and gave the Conservatives a workable majority of 43 for the country's first female Prime Minister. The Conservative victory in 1979 also marked a change in government which would continue for 18 years until the Labour victory in 1997.

The general election of 1979 was to prove a political watershed. Most historians and commentators agree that the election of Margaret Thatcher marked a break in post-war British history. The era from 1945 - 1979 had been characterised by a 'consensus' style of politics, in which the main parties mostly agreed on certain fundamental political issues and concepts such as the mixed economy, the role of the trades unions, the need for an incomes policy and the nature of the provision of public services such as health and education. This was now to change. Most of all, Mrs Thatcher's election heralded a change in the politics of unemployment.