Let us clarify something first: that old idiom ‘do not speak ill of the dead’ does not apply to politicians. Why? Because in the act of taking up office, a person chooses to transport themselves from the realm of private individual to being a physical embodiment of a particular set of ideas about society. When people savage a politician, the are usually attacking this public symbol of ideas. I know nothing of Margret Thatcher the person. I do not know what her favourite meal was, which Elton John album she loved most or whether she secretly liked watching german amateur pornography while husband Dennis was napping. The following criticisms are about Margret Thatcher, the politician, the Prime Minister and the public figure. Let them not be crippled by accusation that it’s in bad taste to dance on the grave of a frail old women while her family are grieving. That is a cheap way of shutting down debate regarding the legacy of probably Great Britain’s most divisive Prime Minister.
Calls to respect the privacy and dignity of Thatcher looked even more farcical in the face of yesterday’s grandiose funeral for Mrs T, a public spectacle that cost the U.K’s austerity hit state £10 million. So much for rugged individualism. Couldn’t her multi-millionaire, gun-running son or billionaire friends foot the bill? Yet despite forcing all citizens to endure an inescapable ceremony followed by ubiquitous media coverage eulogizing Thatcher, supporters still try to hide behind decorum when faced with protests. Why are they so keen to ensure opposing voices are shamed into silence? Why would such a monumental ceremony have been chosen at a time when the rest of the country is drowning in cuts? Because supporters are aware that this is the opportune time when Thatcher can be elevated above her truthful status as a deeply polarizing figure into a secular saint whose policies can be crystallized in the echo of history as ultimately correct.
A similar project has been launched in the U.S.A with Thatcher’s old tag-team partner Ronald Reagan. You would scarcely know it from the media’s depiction of Ron ‘n’ Maggie single-handedly ending communism, but the former actor was also highly controversial figure. And outside of Europe, he was almost universally despised. Reagan was almost impeached during the Iran-Contra Scandal; 11 members of his administration were convicted of breaking international law, trading arms for hostages and funding the brutal Nicaraguan Contras led by Manuel Noriega. Add to this his legacy of gigantic wealth inequality and the pointless, bloody War on Drugs, and it should be safe to say his legacy is at the least, debatable. But while war presidents F.D.R and Woodrow Wilson do not have airports (nor the founding fathers) there is Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport – a result of relentless Republican campaigning to deify ‘their guy’. When Reagan died in 2004, there were even efforts to immortalize him on the $50 bill.
Now the U.K faces the same moves towards the canonization of Maggie. Talk of a statue in Trafalgar Square is already under way; is Margret Thatcher International Airport next?
As you may have guessed, I am far from Thatcher’s biggest fan. I am not being hyperbolic when I say I think her Premiership was the worst thing to happen to British society in the 20th century. While it might have been called ‘Thatcherism’ in the U.K., the market fundamentalist ideas she promoted were cooked up by economists from Nash to Friedman to Von Mises and would have likely found another vehicle. Yet, I think they would have struggled to find another politician who pursued those ideas with such wide-eyed zest, who encouraged a sadistic pride in not caring for the human suffering brought on by these policies to spread across the nation. I would detail everything about her politics that I find repulsive but The Daily Banter limits me to 1,000 words.
It is suffice to say that I and millions of others reject her ideas and don’t accept her status as a ‘national treasure’ just because Meryl Streep told us to. When you hear dock workers from Liverpool, miners from Wales, Irish Republicans from Belfast or black people from Brixton talk of Thatcher, they talk in the language of civil war. Over 20 Years since she left office, those communities still are trying to recover from the carnage she caused. Now they face a narrative that tries to discredit their opposition to her as the tantrums of marginal, embittered killjoys.
The newspapers have gone into overdrive to try and make the millions who don’t weep with admiration at memory of Thatcher’s blue power-jacket feel like isolated social pariahs. This isn’t surprising as half of Britain’s papers are owned by Rupert Murdoch, who professed his undying gratitude to Thatcher for destroying those pesky print unions that attempted to stop one man monopolizing our access to information and dictating the terms of public debate. The papers have already begun to try and equate yesterday’s funeral with the one for Winston Churchill so that in the future Maggie will also be seen as a national saviour. The problem is that in addition to the old crusty punks from the 80’s, also protesting are a group of younger dissidents, born like myself at the apex of her Premiership and now live with the consequences of her politics. These are the same people who face endless unpaid internships and a career of zero-hour contracts due to her attack on labor rights, the same people who are to try and make their lives in a society scarred by destabilizing inequality. No wonder they almost got ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ to No.1 in the UK in the week of her death.
I can see why Thatcher’s supporters want to deify her quickly under the protective shadow of sorrow, but with the nation not blind to the link between her policies and the current actions of Cameron’s government, it is more likely that her legacy will continue to be examined in stark, stringent and unforgiving terms, just as it should be.