The Vice Chancellor of the University paid tribute to Baroness Thatcher’s achievements in public life, hailing her as “one of the foremost politicians of her age” and commenting: “As Britain’s first female prime minister, and one of its longest serving, Baroness Thatcher ranks among the most prominent of Oxford’s alumni […] today we remember a graduate of the University who reached the highest public office and had a lasting impact on British politics and society.” He noted the fact that Baroness Thatcher was a divisive figure, saying “historians will debate her legacy for decades to come”.
Baroness Thatcher attended Somerville College as an undergraduate, where she read Chemistry and rose through the ranks of the Oxford University Conservative Association, eventually becoming its president. She graduated in 1947 and went on to become the Conservative party’s first female leader, and Britain’s first, and only, woman Prime Minister to date.
However the University has been criticised for never extending official recognition to her for her achievements. Sir Tony Baldry, MP for Banbury, said in the House of Commons during tributes to the Baroness, “as an Oxfordshire MP I always thought it reflected badly on the image and reputation of Oxford University that they have not been able to recognise Margaret’s unquestionable and outstanding achievements in politics and public life.” He highlighted “how sad [Thatcher] was that she was never awarded an honorary degree by Oxford.” The University declined to comment specifically on the topic of an honorary degree.
Other Oxfordshire MPs also paid tribute. Nicola Blackwood, Conservative MP for Oxford West, said, “on the doorstep I hear all sorts of views about her leadership but I consistently hear even her harshest critics say with admiration ‘you always knew what she stood for and she did what she believed was right’”. Mrs Thatcher, she said, had been an inspiration to her: “As a young MP that’s been quite a lesson for me. She will leave a gaping hole in British political life.”
Andrew Smith, Labour MP for Oxford East, also hailed Baroness Thatcher as “a remarkable political leader,” commenting that, “even when opposing some of her policies you could see what a formidable Prime Minister she was. Her undoubted achievements left a lasting impact on British society and international politics. She was a fiercely combative politician and with that came divisions which are also part of her legacy, here in Oxford as elsewhere.”
Baroness Thatcher, then Margaret Roberts, was elected President of OUCA in 1946. OUCA sent out an email to members paying tribute to their distinguished ex-President, saying, “Baroness Thatcher has inspired many of us to engage with politics and get involved with the Conservative Party. I know we are all incredibly proud of her; as a former leader of our Association, our Party, and our Country.”
Plans are under way as to how OUCA will celebrate the life of Baroness Thatcher. An emergency meeting of the association’s council will take place on Thursday for members to pay their respects to Thatcher and decide how best to commemorate her.
Jonathan Metzer, President of the Oxford University Labour Club, also praised Mrs Thatcher’s achievements as Prime Minister. “Margaret Thatcher was a titanic political figure. There is no doubt now that she made the right call on many big decisions, most notably the Falklands War, trade union reform, and standing up to the Soviet Union.”
Baroness Thatcher’s funeral took place yesterday. The Chancellor of the University, Chris Patten, as a former minister in Thatcher’s cabinet, was in attendance.