There’s a big hullabaloo going on in Britain about Margaret Thatcher’s death and the subsequent celebrations in pockets around the nation.
In Glasgow’s George Square (where protest about Thatcher’s poll tax took place in 1989), hundreds of people gathered wearing hats, opened champagne, and launched streamers to mark her death. In Brixton, London (the scene of massive rioting in 1981) over 150 gathered for an impromptu street party after it was announced on Facebook. Bristol, Liverpool, Leeds and numerous other cities saw people handing out cake and chanting songs like “If you still hate Thatcher clap your hands!”:
The celebrations extended beyond Britain’s borders – in South Africa, where resentment of Thatcher’s support of the Apartheid government still simmers, political figures expressed happiness at her passing. The Huff Post reported:
Pallo Jordan, a once-exiled ANC leader, was more direct. He told the Guardian: “Good riddance.”
“I’ve just sent a letter of congratulations,” Jordan said. “I say good riddance. She was a staunch supporter of the apartheid regime. She was part of the right wing alliance with Ronald Reagan that led to a lot of avoidable deaths.”
The joyous reactions to Thatcher’s death have been met with stern responses from her fans, and much of the political establishment.
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, former Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the celebrations of Baroness Thatcher’s death were not acceptable, saying, ”Even if you disagree with someone very strongly, you can still particularly at the moment of their passing, you should show some respect.”
Wrote Janet Daley in the conservative Telegraph:
Isn’t it about time we stopped devoting ridiculously disproportionate amounts of news coverage to the handful (and I do mean handful, in proportion to the national population) of youthful idiots and embittered misfits who are “celebrating” the death of the greatest peacetime British prime minister?
So what is the answer? Is it ok to celebrate someone’s death if you believe they caused you, your family or your country unnecessary pain?
I wrote about Thatcher’s tragic legacy yesterday, so don’t think it’s necessary to rehash the specifics. It is suffice to say that through her policies, Thatcher caused an immense amount of damage to large sectors of the British population (and of course abroad in places like South Africa). Britain is a fundamentally different place due to the radical measures she took to deregulate and privatize the economy, and as a result, it is almost irreversibly polarized and unequal. Miners lost their livelihoods, child poverty increased dramatically and workers rights were flushed down the toilet. Thatcher’s policies wrecked lives, and the anger is entirely understandable.
But to take to the streets, sing songs and break out champagne takes that anger to a completely new place, and it’s not somewhere I’d personally like to go.
I don’t wish to lecture anyone celebrating her death – my family wasn’t negatively affected by the Thatcher years (the opposite), so I can only try to empathize with those whose lives were ruined. I can only express my own feelings on the matter and hope that it may provoke some more nuanced debate on the topic.
There are some truly monstrous characters whose deaths are ultimately a good thing. I would personally pull the trigger on many brutal dictators throughout history – Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Josef Stalin, and so on. But these would not be joyous events, just a moral necessity to stop unnecessary carnage and human misery. When the US military took out Osama Bin Laden, it was I believe, ultimately a good thing. I was pleased a genocidal maniac was dead, but not over joyed. I couldn’t really get my head around the celebrations going on around the country – it seemed slightly sadistic and grotesque to be cheering for the pain caused to another human being, no matter how evil they were. If you’ve ever been around real violence or death, it isn’t pleasant, and only people with psychological problems want more of it.
I think it is justified in saying that Thatcher’s presence in British politics caused a lot more damage than good, and her departure from government was of huge benefit to the public. You can be pleased that she is no longer around to do any harm (she hasn’t actually done anything in 23 years), but to celebrate her death is to celebrate someone’s pain and suffering, and that can’t be a good thing.
Martin McGuinness Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister at the Northern Ireland Assembly, and long time Thatcher nemesis said it best, tweeting out: “Resist celebrating the death of Margaret Thatcher. She was not a peacemaker but it is a mistake to allow her death to poison our minds.”