The BBC has just announced that Margaret Thatcher, the first woman Prime Minister, has died.Baroness Thatcher was an incredibly controversial figure here in Britain, who could be compared to Ronald Reagan not only in terms of advancing neoliberal policy, but in the force of her character and in the polarized response of the public.The concurrent outpouring of joy and grief onto social media is likely to make the British bits of the internet quite unpleasant over the next few days. The #nowthatchersdead hashtag, spearheaded by http://www.isthatcherdeadyet.co.uk/ is a bizarre mixture of crass celebration and questions from confused Americans who have mistaken #nowthatchersdead to mean that Cher has passed away (or “melted” as one tweep puts it). Users on Reddit have also lived up to the expected level of debate, and I’m sure there will be arguments on every UK Facebook feed over the next few days.
You can probably guess that I wasn’t a fan of Maggie. I’m not going to debate policy here, but to my mind the most significant indicator of her legacy is the gargantuan rise in inequality over the last 24 years (another thing she shares with Ronald Reagan). Owen Jones put it best last year, pointing out the futility of Thatcher-hate, especially given the ongoing impact of Thatcherism, as evidenced by the recent anti-poor restructuring of both the NHS and the welfare system.
No one should celebrate the death of an 87 year old lady, especially one who has suffered from a lengthy decline, and leaves behind a grieving family. Reagan also suffered a long decline, from Alzheimers. The crushing effects of his mental decline were best recorded by his biographer Edmund Morris:
“I think the single most shattering story I heard about him was the fact that a friend put a white ceramic model of the White House into this fish tank that he had in his office. And he took it home in his fist,” adds Morris. “And when Nancy pried his fingers open and said, ‘What’s that, Ronnie?’ And there’s this little, wet White House in his hand. He said, ‘I don’t know, but I think it’s something to do with me.'”
However understandable it is that people viscerally hate Thatcher, its disrespectful and distasteful to take joy in the suffering of others, especially to the point of firing off fireworks at their death (as is purportedly happening in Liverpool this afternoon). Martin Luther King put this much more eloquently than I can:
“Let us move now from the practical how to the theoretical why: Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence and toughness multiples toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.” – Martin Luther King Jr
I hope that the left will see Baroness Thatcher’s death not as a time to gloat and crow like children, but as an opportunity to shine a light on the impact of her controversial leadership and policies. Because, while the newspapers and television will be full of mourning over the coming weeks, there will never be enough air time or column inches to eulogise all of those who have suffered in the 24 years since she took power.