14 Dec | Women in Leadership | Women in Politics

Margaret Thatcher named most influential woman of last 70 years

Women’s Hour judges divided by choice of former Conservative prime minister, but even dissenters conceded that ‘she redefined power’.

Margaret Thatcher has topped a Women’s Hour list of the most influential women of the past 70 years, a choice that even the judges admit was the source of “enormous contention”.

One panel member, Ayesha Hazarika, a former adviser to the Labour MP Harriet Harman, said she felt “uncomfortable” with the choice of Thatcher, but said the list was about celebrating impact “both positive and negative”.

For the past two years, Women’s Hour has compiled a list celebrating the global impact of women on other women. But this year, to mark the BBC Radio 4programme’s 70th anniversary, the remit of the list was expanded to cover female achievement over the past seven decades.

The panel was made up of seven women, including businesswoman Karren Brady, screenwriter Abi Morgan, former Women’s Hour editor Jill Burridge, and Julia Hobsbawm, the founder of Editorial Intelligence. It was chaired by the journalist Emma Barnett.

Speaking about the decision to put Thatcher, the UK prime minister from 1979 to 1990, in the top spot, Barnett said that, no matter what your view of her politics, “she redefined power”. “Thatcher was one of the most iconic leaders of the 20th century, regardless of gender,” she said. “These are all things you can’t deny. She shaped how women viewed what it was to be a woman in power, from the way people articulated themselves to the way people dressed.

“She shattered the glass ceiling into tiny splinters and just by having a woman in power, little girls knew they could do it – even if it’s not the power you would have wanted.”