On Monday Margaret Thatcher died. My first thought on hearing the news at lunchtime was ‘thirty years too late’, a thought that was accompanied by a momentary pang of guilt regarding my own callousness. A while later, when I logged in to my social networking ‘feeds’, I found them full of the news, and it was clear that any minor pang of conscience I had suffered was unwarranted: even in death this woman inspired depths of hatred and loathing that, by comparison, left me feeling like a wishy-washy fence sitter. The only comment I made at the time was so brief even twitter could handle it with characters to spare. It read: So Thatcher’s dead… I imagine she looked on the works of Cameron et al over the past year and thought ‘my work here is done’…
The next time I looked at my ‘feeds’ I started to feel anger, because they were full of people admonishing other people for ‘speaking ill of the dead’ or ‘failing to show respect’ or ‘not thinking of the family’. Even more enraging, IMO, were re-tweets of similar messages posted by C-List celebrities like Dawn Porter, presumably intended to add weight to the re-tweeter’s own admonitions. I mean, I’ll admit I haven’t made a full study of Ms Porter’s journalistic endeavours to date, but the few pieces I have had the misfortune to catch on slow TV nights have been mildly titillating documentaries in which she’s appeared likely to get her tits out for BBC3’s discerning viewers (hem hem) but then failed to deliver. Honestly, with credentials like that do people really believe that her views on anything could add some sort of credibility to their own (t)witterings?
Over the next few hours I found myself systematically posting the same simple – and, IMO, diplomatic – message: I wonder if people feel history’s other political leaders whose policies created so much misery for so many deserve equal consideration?
Whatever one’s views on Margaret Thatcher the mother and grandmother, the simple fact is that her name is synonymous – almost uniquely in modern British history – with a particular style of governance and a very specific political agenda. It is impossible to separate Thatcher the woman from Thatcherism, and, let’s face it, Thatcher herself would be the last person who would have wanted us to. If we know one thing for certain it’s that this lady was not for turning, regardless of any objections to her policies that you, I or anyone and everyone else on the planet might have, and it was this megalomaniacal self-conviction and inflexibility that engendered such hatred in so many, both during her lifetime and now, as clearly demonstrated, beyond it.
If you asked a group of people to name the most vile, offensive words they could think of you would probably get a fifty-fifty split between the ‘C’ word and the ‘N’ word. Introduce a political slant and ask that question again of people who lived through Margaret Thatcher’s term of office, and the ‘T’ word would possibly edge out both. Her name is linked intimately and inextricably with a political regime that represents for millions, myself included, a turning point in history when reason, fairness and compassion were ripped from the fabric of UK politics and the greed of the few took precedence over the needs of the many in every sector of our society, a landslide that continues to gather momentum under the vile ministrations of all subsequent governments. As Geoffrey Howe once put it; her real triumph was to have transformed not just one party but two, so that when Labour did eventually return, the great bulk of Thatcherism was accepted as irreversible. I think Howe, as Thatcher’s one-time Chancellor, might have meant that as a compliment (?), but for millions it amounts to an obscenity that has rendered UK politics a one horse race ever since she was forced by a nationwide rebellion to hand over the reins.
Uncomfortable as it may be for her supporters or for the wishy-washy fence sitters crying ‘think of her family (who I suspect might be the same people, by and large) the simple fact is that Margaret Thatcher’s legacy is one she herself created, and if it includes a hefty slice of hatred and bile then it’s reasonable and right to acknowledge that and to allow others the freedom to do so. She should be no more exempt from that than any other political figurehead whose regimes have led to the disenfranchisement and abuse of millions.
That said, direct comparisons with fascist dictators and murderous despots probably are best avoided, so I’ll refer instead to a post I read on Facebook which asked whether those chanting ‘show some respect’ and ‘think of the family’ felt moved to demand the same kind of lockdown on people voicing their opinions over the abuses perpetrated by Jimmy Savile. In fact, the differences in the nature of their ‘crimes’ aside, the Savile case offers some very interesting parallels, both in terms of the timescales involved and the widespread collusion of others claiming ignorance of the full implications of their actions. In very real terms the number of people whose lives were devastated by the actions of Jimmy Savile are a drop in the ocean when compared to those affected by Margaret Thatcher’s politics, but few gainsayers, I suspect, would wish to offer Savile a full posthumous pardon purely on the grounds that he is now in his box or feel that misplaced sympathy for his loved ones should prevent those disgusted by his actions from voicing their outrage.
So in a nutshell, I won’t be dancing in the streets to this week’s unexpected number one download single ‘ding dong, the witch is dead’, but neither will I apologise to anyone for my hatred of Thatcher’s policies and the legacy of Thatcherism she left behind or, by extension, of Thatcher herself. If you position yourself by your words and deeds at the top of a totem pole that polarises an entire nation it stands to reason that there are going to be many who want to see it, and you, burn. Now if only Osborne et al were men enough to throw themselves on the pyre in an act of political suttee we might stand a small chance of putting the vile ‘T’ – monster behind us forever, and wouldn’t that be a damn good excuse for a good, old-fashioned, community street party!