Margaret Thatcher died today. And amongst the reaction, I see things like this: a street party in Brixton to celebrate; people taking absolute joy that “the witch is dead”, to quote one person.
(I’m leaving people quoted anonymous today, as I’m mostly taking the quotes from updates that are not necessarily public).
And I don’t get it.
Oh, I understand the animosity people here have towards her. And I understand the bit of a smile that can be generated when something bad befalls such a person — as a complete stranger and public figure who had long ago moved out of the public eye, the concept of Thatcher-as-person does not really seem to resonate with people my age or younger. You may remember her as Prime Minister if you were my age, but you would not have even been a teenager at the time.
Tony Blair even described having seen her on the newsstands as he was “growing up”, and he is nearing 60.
For those younger than me, it is difficult to believe that they have any real memory of Thatcher-the-Prime Minister, at all.
And so Thatcher today is largely a concept. Today’s Conservative Party blueprint. Privatisation. Union busting. Cutting benefits. And cognitively, I think Thatcher’s death is being processed as a death-of-the-concept.
But it’s not. Margaret Thatcher was a person. And today there was a death-of-the-person. And anybody who is cheering her death should take a sober second look at what they are cheering about. Because Conservatives? They think like this:
She was simply a towering colossus of British politics and, to Tories like myself, little short of godlike.
For my own part, there is no doubt in my mind that she literally SAVED THIS COUNTRY.
The person who died today looked like this:
She no longer participated in politics — the little dabbling she did had to stop due to health reasons. She had dementia. She was not making policy, advising on policy, making bold statements in the press, or doing anything that impacted other people’s lives anymore.
And the Thatcher years? They’re over twenty years behind us, and had been fading in the rearview mirror. David Cameron, the current Prime Minister, spent years trying to put distance between the Conservative Party he leads and the Conservative Party of Margaret Thatcher.
Today, the Thatcher that people are remembering looks like this:
And that Margaret Thatcher was not quietly succumbing to dementia in her old age. That Margaret Thatcher is the public figure; the conceptual Thatcher. The one that who is believed to have “literally SAVED THIS COUNTRY.”
As politicians of all stripes gather to say nice things about the woman that they despised in the late 1980s in the coming days, the government will be — as they always are — drafting policies, implementing policies, and authoring bills to be put before parliament.
And this government — this Conservative government, led by a man who was not yet a teenager when Thatcher took over the Conservative party, made of people who either participated in the Thatcher years, or decided to join the party based upon them — this government is being reminded of its only “glory days” in living memory: four consecutive election victories, and international influence.
So please, all you left-wingers out there taking joy in Thatcher’s death, imagine what your Conservative fellows are thinking. Imagine their rose-tinted memories, aided by comments like these from their enemies.
And remember that they’re the ones making the laws right now.
Edited to add that I don’t mean this in a don’t-speak-ill-of-the-dead sort of way.
My point is that people on the left taking pleasure in her demise is an intellectual dishonesty. As a person, her politicking days were over. As a concept, Thatcher’s approach to government will probably get a boost from this.
Basically, stick to bashing her politics. Trash the street parties. You (if you’re a politically active person on the left) should be seeing this as a time for action, not celebration.