Decisions of leaders

Using the example of a single selected political leader, explore the potential of the 'psychology of leadership' in explaining how the responses, drives and decisions of leaders are influenced by the experiences of their past. Margaret Thatcher Margaret Thatcher was born Margaret Hilda Roberts in Grantham, Lincolnshire in 1925, the second daughter of a grocer and a dressmaker.

Despite this somewhat modest beginning, she would grow up to become the first woman in European history to be elected prime minister, the first British prime minister in the twentieth century to win three consecutive terms, the nation's longest-serving prime minister since 1827 and arguably the most powerful woman on the Earth's surface during her eleven year reign as British Premier.

During her time in office, Margaret Thatcher was very much in a minority inside her own party, her agenda was often peculiar to herself, yet she enjoyed remarkable success in pushing through desired legislation, often faced with great opposition. The inspiration for Thatcher's policies and explanations for the way she ran the Conservative party have long been discussed by political scholars with a variety of opinions produced. In this report it will be argued that the inspiration for two of Thatcher's main policies in office came from her young life and the years prior to her becoming Britain's first female Prime Minister.

Firstly this report will focus on her attempts to turn the Conservative party into a more merit based party and secondly it will look at the impact Thatcher's childhood religious upbringing had on her economic policy while British Prime Minister. Thatcher & reform of the Conservative Party Almost thirty years after the event, Margaret Thatcher's surprise win of the 1975 Conservative party leadership race might not seem as a significant event in 2003 as it did at the time.

Thatcher was not from the upper class background that traditionally leaders of the Conservative party hailed from, furthermore she was a woman. While the practice of keeping a token female member of the Cabinet had ensured that a handful of British women had reached the national level of politics, none had proceeded beyond the Cabinet. Thatcher's sex combined with her middle class status and the way she was treated because of these directly affected her approach to politics and the political style she would later adopt when she achieved power.

Thatcher's first attempt at entering Parliament in 1950 failed It would take another nine years before the relatively safe Conservative seat of Finchley became available and lead to Thatcher entering the House of Commons. Over the next 15 years she held various posts within the Conservative opposition and government including Secretary of State for Education and Science, fulfilling the aforementioned role of token women in the cabinet. Thatcher has been often been harshly criticised by some for doing little to further the role of other women in British politics.

During her premiership she employed only one woman in her cabinet, Janet Young who for just two years was leader of the House of Lords. Unlike other female leaders such as Brundtland, Thatcher did not believe that quota systems were the answer to get more women in politics, instead she believed it would only affect the quality of women who reached the top level of politics "I don't want get to a position when we have women because they're women, we want to have women because they are able and as well equipped as men and sometimes better.

"[1] Thatcher had realised quickly when she entered politics that to achieve her dreams it would take hard work and determination on her part to break down the old boys club mentality that still existed in the Houses of Parliament, "Show them we're better than they are" [2], she once told Labour MP Shirley Williams. Thatcher's struggle to reach the top and the obstacles she overcame along the way greatly influenced her view that achievement should be based on merit alone and not on gender.

Thatcher told delegates at a conference after she had won the Conservative leadership "Our party is the party of equality and opportunity – as you can see. " Thatcher was using herself as a symbol of the living embodiment of what she had come to believe; "I think it depends on who the person is. I don't think it depends on so much whether it's a man or a woman as to whether that person is the right person for the job at that time. " [3] Thatcher formed these views due to the struggles she had herself faced since she had first started her career in politics.

Thatcher did not see her winning the Conservative leadership or the 1979 General election as being because she was a woman but because she believed she was the best person for the job "I knew the prejudices against women in the top job and I think we look too much at women and men in jobs… you come to a certain time and you look at the personalities available and their policies. And that's how women get on – right personality, right capability, and right place at the right time. " [4] Thatcher adopted a similar attitude regarding class.

From the time she won the Conservative leadership Thatcher was looked down upon by many of the upper class grandees of the party, who behind her back called her Hilda, her middle name which they deemed working class [5]. Unable to depend on the traditional supporters of the Conservative leadership, Thatcher was forced to use her charisma to gain support and loyalty. She exercised strict party discipline to limit opposition and used her extensive powers as Prime Minister to give herself enormous influence over the policy making process, therefore making up for the opposition she herself faced within her own party.

Furthermore Thatcher turned her deemed flaws into powerful assets. She found her gender to be a powerful way of limiting dissention and asserting her domination on the Conservative party. Many of the older Conservative MP's admitted they found the fact that Thatcher was a woman made it far more difficult for them to disagree with her than if she had been a man in the same position, this suited Thatcher's powerful and domineering personality fine and she utilised it to maximum potential.

Thatcher's favouring of a policy of merit over class or gender undoubtedly influenced by her own experiences can be seen throughout her massive over haul of the civil service. The civil service had long become renowned as a haven for privately educated, Oxbridge middle class white men. Among the numerous changes to the service, Thatcher ordered a policy of making appointments to posts within in the civil service based purely on ability as opposed to background and gender.

Hugh Stephenson argued "The arrival of Margaret Thatcher's government in the corridors of Whitehall in May 1979 was the biggest jolt that the Civil Service had experienced in living memory. It was a culture shock. The elite administrative grade of the Civil Service in Whitehall has come to think of itself as the guardian and trustee of national continuity… The Prime Minister and a small group of sympathetic ministers… were arguing that its ideas and advice had proved bankrupt, that now was the time for an entirely new approach…

" [6] Thatcher charged Sir Ian Bancroft with the task of de-privileging the Civil Service, which Thatcher personally kept a close eye over. Thatcher's government also saw massive changes to the way the civil service worked promoting the idea of efficiency, initiative and self-improvement within the service. Hennessy noted the reaction of one rising civil servant to the changes within the service following Thatcher's election "It was exhilarating… you knew you had an opportunity to show that the Civil Service could improve itself…

You were asked to write a report. It would have your name on it. It would go in front of the Minister with your name on it… " [7] The difficulties Margaret Thatcher herself faced as a rising politician, leader of the opposition and finally as Prime Minister directly affected her policy while in power of reforming the Conservative party and historical institutions such as the civil service to adapt to the challenges that she herself had faced on her rise to power.

Unlike the present current political climate which promotes the idea of positive discrimination, Margaret Thatcher supported the idea that advancement should be based on ability, not gender or class. She had achieved her dream overcoming extreme opposition through hard work and skilled manipulation of awkward situations, she expected others to do so also.