Sun, Mar 24, 2002 - Page 1 News List

`Iron Lady' forced out of public life after strokes

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Margaret Thatcher, whose insistent tones have rung in ears of the British people for almost 30 years, has been silenced, on doctor's orders.

The 76-year-old former prime minister and long-time "Iron Lady" of British politics, who suffered the latest in a series of small strokes on Tuesday, will never make another public speech, her office announced Friday. She is to cut back her busy program and has been told she must "avoid the undue strains that public speaking places on her."

The announcement brings to an end an extraordinary era, in which, as British prime minister through the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher provided the national soundtrack for a turbulent decade.

Soundbites such as "The lady's not for turning" and "There is no alternative," delivered in a voice that slowed and deepened as she was coached out of shrillness, will live for ever in the political lexicon, causing enemies to shiver and admirers to sigh for a lost age.

Even since leaving office in 1990, Lady Thatcher has regularly re-emerged to launch carefully chosen but often off-message verbal missiles, increasingly frequently aimed at the EU but often embarrassing her successors leading the Tory party.

Last year's election campaign provided a burst of vintage Thatcher, when she told her adoring audience in Plymouth: "I was told beforehand my arrival was unscheduled, but on the way here I passed a local cinema and it turns out you were expecting me after all. The billboard read The Mummy Returns."

Though her office was insisting that Lady Thatcher was "desperate" to fulfil her public commitments -- including promoting her new book, Statecraft -- and would consider whether she could attend signings and literary festivals as planned, aides said she would do "exactly what the doctor orders."

The present Conservative Party leader, Iain Duncan Smith, said: "On behalf of the whole party I wish her and Sir Denis the very best and our thoughts and wishes for a speedy recovery."

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