This piece was also a cross-post at Harry’s Place
On Twitter, Margaret Thatcher died a thousand deaths. OK, maybe not a thousand, but lots. Countless times her name would trend as some mischief-maker or other would start yet another rumour that she had passed away. This would ping around the Twittersphere before slowly receding as reality dawned on everyone. Then, a week or so later, the same thing would happen again.
So today, when the news was official, we kind of knew what to expect already, albeit on a larger, louder scale. First and foremost there would be multiple tweets of joy as a sizeable section of the population reacts to the only kind of news that can rouse it from its slumber: celebrating the death of somebody it hates. And hatred is the word here – a pure form of it.
A cursory search of Twitter alone will throw up the most extraordinary bile and hyperbole. I can’t claim to be a fan of the woman or her policies, personally, but I still recognise her achievements and purpose of vision. The reason the left hate her so much is for her very success, of course. She set out to shape the country in a certain way and met many of her targets while the left rallied around a supine Labour Party led by two unelectable leaders in the shape of Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock. Thatcherism was extremely divisive in ways that are still being felt across the country – it’s not difficult to see why the left disliked her so. Certainly, as a centrist liberal there’s little for me to love in her legacy, although it’s difficult to look at the state of the UK economy in 1979 and think that a continuation of existing policies was the answer. She took some tough choices and saw them through. As John Rentoul points out: she saved the economy but was indifferent about the social consequences of her policies. This pretty much mirrors my thoughts on the subject. She wasn’t ‘evil’ or a ‘tyrant’ or any of the other epithets banded about by those who despise her, but a purposefully single-minded politician elected three times by a democratic process identical to the one her opponents were taking part in. This is a simple point overlooked, I feel, by many on the left who talk of her as if this was all pushed through by some autocratic dictator. No, sorry, she won three elections by winning the biggest proportion of the votes, just like every other prime minister we have ever had.
I’m not going to get sanctimonious about the bile that has spewed forth in the last twelve hours or so (and will continue to do so). I think it demeans those responsible for it, but let them have their fun. I don’t really care. Currently there are street parties celebrating her death taking place in Glasgow and Brixton (to name just two that I’m aware of: I dare say there are champagne corks popping all over the country). This is just silly behaviour for fully grown adults to take part in.
A Glenn Greenwald piece in The Guardian (mercifully brief by his verbose standards) argues that the concept of not speaking ill of the dead should not apply to public figures and I’d be a hypocrite to disagree with him: I wasn’t exactly dancing in the streets when Hugo Chavez died recently but nor was I remotely sympathetic. Likewise I cheered when Christopher Hitchens tore into Jerry Falwell when his corpse was still warm. This happens, we all live with it. (Of course, being a Greenwald piece it also suffers from some curious flights of fancy: Thatcher played, apparently, “a key role” in bringing about the first Gulf War. Which is interesting. Call me old fashioned, but I think Saddam Hussein was the main actor here when he annexed Kuwait. Still, this is just a detail. In support of this claim the article links to no less an authority than Michael Moore’s website. Let me repeat that: Michael Moore’s website.)
Of course, others have gone the other way. Guido Fawkes has shut down his blog as a mark of respect. Quite why this self-styled ‘libertarian’ feels such an affinity with someone as socially conservative as Thatcher is anyone’s guess, but to each their own.
We can now expect days, weeks, if not months of retrospective commentary on Mrs T’s legacy and I’ll enjoy reading all of it, no doubt. There is so much to discuss, more than I could ever attempt to do here: the unions, privatisation, the Falklands, Section 28, Europe, Northern Ireland, the IRA’s attack in 1984, Reagan and the Special Relationship, Gorbachev and the USSR and of course, her overthrow in 1990. Regardless of your politics, regardless of what you thought about her policies, her achievements and impact on this country were colossal – the like of which we won’t see again for a very long time.
I have to agree with your principal conclusion – as divisive as her legacy is, it will be with us for a very long time. It seems to me that those popping champagne corks tonight, as well as those dabbing their eyes, miss much of the story that makes Margaret Thatcher as dynamic a force as she was – all the complexities and nuances that are there, bubbling away under the surface that help enrich the tale. For all her steely drive, directness and resolve, I think, she was a remarkably complicated person with a remarkably complex legacy. It’s always nice to read an expression of this tension 🙂
Also – glad someone else finds the Greenwald piece a little wayward with the truth in places. Was worried I was quite alone in that!