FORMER Prime  Minister Baroness Thatcher died this morning following a stroke.

The 87-year-old, who had suffered bouts of illness for many years, was said to have died peacefully.

Her spokesman, Lord Bell, announced her death on behalf of her children Mark and Carol Thatcher.

He said: “It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announced that their mother Baroness Thatcher died peacefully following a stroke this morning.”

Obituary: loved and hated in equal measure

Baroness Thatcher earned a place in the history books when she became Britain’s first woman prime minister  in 1979. A post she held until 1990.

However, she was both hailed by supporters and reviled by opponents for her hardline policies.

When she resigned as Conservative prime minister she had been the first leader to win three General Elections in a row in 1979, 1983 and 1987.

Over her 11 years as leader of the government even her critics admitted that she changed the face of the country, although not all of them, particularly her Scottish opponents, thought those were changes for the better.

In recent years her health had deteriorated and she stopped making public appearances.

Buckingham Palace said today that the Queen is sad to hear the news of the death of Baroness Thatcher and Her Majesty will be sending a private message of sympathy to the family.

In a statement on the Downing Street Twitter feed, David Cameron said: “It was with great sadness that l learned of Lady Thatcher’s death.

“We’ve lost a great leader, a great Prime Minister and a great Briton.”
Politicians from across the political spectrum took to Twitter today to pay tribute to Baroness Thatcher.

Tory MP Therese Coffey said the former Prime Minister had “transformed” the country, “putting Great back in Great Britain”.
And UKIP leader Nigel Farage said she was a “great patriotic lady”.
Labour MPs also paid tribute to Baroness Thatcher.

Shadow International Development Secretary Ivan Lewis said: “Hoping all Labour supporters will respond with dignity + respect to news of Baroness Thatcher’s death. Our thoughts with her family + friends.”

And former Labour minister and MP Tony McNulty tweeted: “God bless her and thoughts are with her family. RIP.”

The Liberal Democrat MP Martin Horwood tweeted: “Sad news about Baroness Thatcher. Don’t miss her policies but a towering figure in 20th c British politics, & made history UK’s 1st woman PM.

Baroness Thatcher was born Margaret Roberts and became the Conservative MP for Finchley, north London in 1959.

After filling the role of Education Secretary, she took over as leader of the party from former Prime Minister Edward Heath in 1975.
She retired from the Commons in 1992.

During her time in Parliament, her government privatised several state-owned industries and was also in power when the UK went to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands in 1981.

Margaret Thatcher was the woman who, virtually single-handed and in the space of one tumultuous decade, transformed a nation.

In the view of her many admirers, she thrust a strike-infested half-pace Britain back among the front-runners in the commanding peaks of the industrial nations of the world.

For others, however, she was a destructive force who crushed the mineworkers and closed steel plants and introduced the infamous Poll Tax.
Within weeks of her arrival in Downing Street, foreign correspondents from all points of the globe – absent for so long from the House of Commons –flocked back to the press gallery. It was a sure sign that the world was sitting up and listening once again to what Britain had to say.

Whether you liked Mrs Thatcher or loathed her – and her Tory predecessor Edward Heath hated her beyond belief – whether you agreed with her or found her policies utterly repugnant, you could not deny her energy and drive.

Even many political foes secretly admired her single-mindedness.
Veteran left winger Tony Benn frequently held her up as an example of how a great political party should be led, comparing her with what he regarded as Neil Kinnock’s fudged leadership of the  Labour Party.

Margaret Thatcher towered above all other political figures in Britain and her dominance of the Cabinet was supreme and rarely challenged.
Yet the Iron Lady –  a title bestowed upon her by her enemies in Moscow, which, incidentally she relished – was not all stern, steely and strident.

She could not disguise her glee –  “We are a grandmother” – when her grandson Michael was born in Dallas in February, 1989.

She regularly and touchingly admitted that she could not do her job properly without the unfailing and unstinting support of her “marvellous” husband, Denis. He was, she said, the “golden thread” running through her life. His death, in June 2003, some weeks after major heart surgery, was a profound blow to her.

Sir Denis, as he became after she left Downing Street, was constantly at her side, an impeccable consort, protecting her and guiding her in all weathers and in all parts of the world.

Tributes today began pouring in from across the world, although there were inevitable negative messages too from those who said they found little cause for mourning.