As the nation looks back at the legacy of the Thatcher era, FactCheck separates fact from fiction.

Thatcher the milk snatcher

The nickname was coined by Labour in opposition and the press after the government abolished free school milk for over-sevens in 1970 when Margaret Thatcher was education secretary.

thatcher school FactCheck: the Thatcher myths

But according to her memoirs and archives, Lady Thatcher herself had argued in cabinet against getting rid of free milk altogether. It was a policy driven by the Treasury, first under Iain Macleod, then Anthony Barber.

So in Barber’s first budget of October 1970, the policy was limited to children above the age of seven, and special schools and children with medical needs were excluded.

She was an arch-eurosceptic

It certainly wasn’t always that way.

During the 1975 referendum on whether the UK should remain in the EEC, this was her opening gambit as she launched the Conservative campaign: “I welcome this opportunity to launch the Conservative campaign to keep Britain in Europe.”

In 1978, while still in opposition, she called for consideration of a common European approach to defence, and criticised the Labour government for failing to sign up to the exchange rate mechanism.

In 1986, she signed the single European act, which set a deadline of 1992 for the full completion of the single market to allow the free movement of goods, capital and people within Europe.

thatcher europe FactCheck: the Thatcher myths

She had, however, fought for Britain’s position in Europe. In 1984, Thatcher threatened to stop payments to Europe unless the UK won its rebate – the “We want our money back” moment often misquoted as “I want my money back” .

Her position became more entrenched,culminating in the Bruges speech of 1988 in which she criticised an apparent “European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels”.

She took a hard line with the IRA

Thatcher was known for her uncompromising position on the IRA and the Maze prison hunger strikers in 1981. Ten men – seven IRA and three Irish National Liberation Army members - died during a campaign to secure political status for republican prisoners. Thatcher refused to budge as the men starved themselves to death, one by one.

But files of cabinet discussions released under the 30-year rule reveal that she negotiated directly with the republican leadership in an apparent attempt to resolve the crisis, and she considered whether compulsory “intravenous feeding” could be used to keep prisoners alive.

Messages were sent between MI6 and the IRA, with details concessions on clothing, parcels and visits the government would offer if the strike was called off.

One note appeared to carry Thatcher’s distinctive handwritten alterations. The following day, the Northern Ireland secretary, Humphrey Atkins, confirmed that she had approved the messages.

The economy boomed

Only for a while. In the late 1980s GDP growth was topping 5 per cent. But the Thatcher era was book-ended by two recessions, from 1980 to 1981 and from 1990 to 1991.

Annual GDP growth averages out at about 2.3 per cent over the whole of Baroness Thatcher’s time in office compared to 2.5 per cent under Tony Blair.

thatcher brickies FactCheck: the Thatcher myths

She destroyed the welfare state

Wrong again.

Persistent high unemployment was part of the reason why total spending on benefits rose from £53bn in today’s prices in 1979/80 to £77bn in 1990/91.

Public spending overall went up in cash terms every year under Lady Thatcher, generally keeping up with inflation. In 1982/83 the government was spending 48 per cent of GDP, more than in any year under Blair or Brown.

Spending had fallen dramatically as a share of GDP by the late 80s, but that was mainly because the economy grew quickly, not because spending was cut.

She cut taxes

No. She did lower taxes for the rich – lowering the top rate from 83 per cent to 60 then 40 per cent. But that was offset by a rise in VAT from 8 to 15 per cent.

Total tax and national insurance receipts as a percentage of GDP were actually slightly higher in 1989/90 than in 1979/80: 35 per cent rather than 33.7.

She destroyed manufacturing

The Thatcher era certainly saw de-industrialisation, but that process began before she became prime minister and accelerated under Blair and Brown.

Manufacturing output fell from 25 per cent of the economy in 1980 to 23 per cent in 1990.

thatcher harrier1 FactCheck: the Thatcher myths

The decline was much faster under Labour – manufacturing fell from 17 per cent of the economy to just 11 per cent between 2000 and 2010.

Most advanced economies have experienced a similar decline in manufacturing as a share of GDP.

The poor got poorer

It depends what you mean by “poor”.

The gap between rich and poor certainly got wider. Relative poverty and earnings inequality went up under Lady Thatcher.

gwf1 FactCheck: the Thatcher myths

That doesn’t mean the poor actually lost money, it’s just that the top earners did considerably better - a point Lady Thatcher made forcefully in her last appearance at the Commons dispatch box.

Median earnings went up faster than under John Major or in Labour’s second and third terms, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

thatcherifs FactCheck: the Thatcher myths

And while wages among the very lowest earners didn’t increase as fast as the top earners, they did go up too, according to Treasury data.

Of course we have to remember your wages could only go up if you had a job. Unemployment reached 3.2 million in 1984, a rate of 11.8 per cent – both record highs.

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