Margaret Thatcher, surely the most divisive of all politicians, is gone. As with just about everything she ever did in her political life, her death has provoked extreme reactions and in turn a multitude of reactions to those reactions. Both her legacy and what might perhaps be termed ‘death etiquette’ make interesting studies but the two are very seperate things. Her legacy is of course immense and no-one can possibly deny the sheer impact of Thatcher as a prime minister and a public figure. What is rapidly approaching a majority of the British public regard politicians and politics with almost a shrug of the shoulders now with phrases like ‘they’re all the same’ commonplace. With Thatcher, that is almost impossible to hear.
So was she the savior of Britain or a reckless, evil woman who destroyed the social fabric of the country? One of the most common arguments is the former and that Britain ‘needed’ her and her ruthless approach. Much of this is directed at her ‘taking on the unions’ who had become too powerful. Few, even on the left, can reasonably deny this but did destroying them altogether and dismantling the manufacturing industries they represented represent the answer? The fact we are still paying the price for this is the answer. Britain had a manufacturing industry, it now virtually does not. Huge sections of the population, particularly in the North were crippled by her actions and Britain’s export drive and employment rate suffered immeasurably. Good for Britain? Good for Britain would have been to take on the unions, take robust action and establish who was in power. Good for Britain surely means good for as large a percentage of the population as possible. Good for Britain would have been to engage with the unions and the industries, not to dismantle them to appeal successfully to the right wing baying for their blood.
Supporters of Thatcher forever seem to be blind to the alternative arguments to the point of refusing to even listen to them. Readers of this blog who disagree will probably not even have got this far down. Elsewhere on this blog is an analysis of this attitude when it comes to the royal family or religion and it seems to be much the same with Thatcher. ‘She was good for Britain’. Nothing can change that, Britain ‘needed’ what she did. Years later, whole regions have not recovered and neither has our manufacturing system. Unemployment went up vastly as did the gap between rich and poor, north and south. The economy ostensibly was in better shape when she’d finished, but crises were ahead because of what she did and the wellbeing of a huge section of the population was in tatters. And herein lies the main point – what people really mean when they say Thatcher was good for Britain is that she was good for them. And that’s why they’ll conveniently ignore all points in return – she was good for Britain.
Another chief argument of her detractors is the culture of greed. To be fair, this argument can be rather thin. I don’t think the rich and powerful taking all they could get and people being essentially selfish began with Thatcher. There is an element of human nature involved here, but Thatcher’s free market obsession and deregulation of the financial sector led to what happened in the last five years. Bankers being rich and free to do what they like (like claim to be an honourable person by ‘only’ living off £105,000 a year and losing a knighthood) is a direct legacy of what Thatcher did. And then there was privitisation. The way we all get ripped off by energy companies and train companies and there’s nothing we can do about it? Whose fault was that?
It’s easy to seem like a biased, screaming leftie and no-one in their right mind would claim that everything is down to Thatcher. New Labour were an appalling let down in so many ways and exacerbated rather than halted much of her work. Nevertheless, ‘Thatcher was good for Britain’. If your definition of good for Britain is that your own people are ok and anyone not from your class or your region is not then yes she was good for Britain. It also makes you ignorant and the domestic equivalent of xenophobic.
As for death etiquette, it is hard not to be self contradictory. Facebook and twitter was littered yesterday with ‘ding dong the witch is gone’ and ‘rot in hell’ and ‘what wonderful news let’s have a party’. The extent of the contempt for her has never been a secret, but there is something highly uncomfortable and unedifying about this attitude. Other facebook statuses and comments read ‘an elderly woman died of a stroke today and no matter who she is I will not celebrate the death of a human being’ while many cited Martin Luther King’s views on the subject. In many ways this is a little self contradictory given the continued presence of the thoroughly irritating British culture of ‘they’re dead therefore were great’. If that irritates so much then why go from utter intense hatred to a kind of respect just because of a death? Nevertheless, this writer believes it is unedifying and unneccessary to be so gratuitious in celebrating someone’s death. She was someone’s mother and grandmother. I felt much the same when people celebrated the hanging of Saddam Hussein. One of the most evil men in existence he undeniably was and a threat to safety removed, but so many of these people who celebrated were against the death penalty. Does that principle hold or not? As for Thatcher, nothing can alter the deserved contempt for what she did in power, but either we are a civilised society or we aren’t.