Margaret Thatcher is planning to celebrate her 80th birthday this week with a high-powered group of admirers, including one of her successors at 10 Downing St., current Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Queen Elizabeth II, Thatcher's office said Tuesday.
Britain's first female prime minister turns 80 on Thursday and is expecting about 680 guests to mark the occasion at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel near London's Hyde Park, her assistant Gilly Penrose said.
Thatcher has grown frail and faded from public view after suffering a series of small strokes in recent years, but she will step back into the limelight, at least briefly, with the party.
"She is in very good health at the moment," Penrose said. "She's probably far better than the rest of us at standing on her feet and talking to everybody" because she socialized so much during her years in politics, the AP reports.
John Major, the man who took over as prime minister when Thatcher was ousted by her party in 1990, is expected to attend, and the queen will be there with her husband, Prince Philip, Penrose said. Many members of Thatcher's cabinets will be present, along with two current candidates for the Conservative Party leadership, David Davis and Liam Fox, the assistant added.
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, of whom Thatcher once commented "we can do business together", cannot make it but will meet with her when he visits London next week, Penrose said.
Although Thatcher has faded from public view since she gave up most public speaking on her doctors' advice several years ago, the legacy of the woman who dominated British politics for more than a decade still exerts a powerful influence.
Her free-market philosophy and push to privatize state industries dramatically changed the country's economic landscape. Even Blair, whose Labour Party languished in opposition while the Conservative Thatcher held onto office for more than a decade, has adopted many of her views.
"She certainly wrought an economic revolution in Britain and whether or not that's a good revolution or a bad revolution depends upon your definition of what society should be like," said Christopher Stevens, a specialist in British politics at Canterbury Christ Church University College. "She created a new political consensus."
Thatcher's hard-driving style earned her the nickname "Iron Lady" while she held office from 1979 until 1990, when her badly divided party rebelled and pushed her from power.
Her forceful Conservatism and free-market ideology made her one of the country's most contentious figures, loved by the Tory faithful and despised by the left. She privatized state-owned industries and battled unions, most bitterly when she faced down striking coal-miners in the mid-1980s.
Stevens said Thatcher's policies had laid the groundwork for Britain's current economic success.
"She made us competitive in a global economy," he said.
Many say Thatcher's legacy still hangs over her Tory party, which has struggled to find a strong leader she stepped aside.
The former prime minister lost her husband, Denis, in 2003, and she appeared deeply touched at the funeral of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, her close friend and ideological soul mate.
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