5 April 2015

The death of Margaret Thatcher: a cause for celebration?

On 8 April 2013, after over a decade suffering from dementia, Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister (in office 1979-90) died.

I have always felt it wrong to take Schadenfreude in a death. Nevertheless, news of the passing of Margaret Thatcher in April 2013 filled me with a sudden rush of satisfaction, contentment and even pleasure. The fact is human beings can control up to a point what they do, but never how they feel.

On a May morning in 1979, I was seventeen years old - and shattered after listening to the radio throughout the night - when Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative party won a forty-four seat majority in the House of Commons. Dad was glum, but optimistic that it might be a one term government - after all, there had been three changes of government in the 1970s, so one further change seemed distinctly possible. But it was Fred Coombs, the chairman of local Liberals, who on one of his regular Saturday morning visits to our house was nearer the mark with his pessimistic comment: “These bastards will be in for a generation.”

Worse, though, was to follow. Not only did Thatcher and her Tory successor, John Major, go on to win three more general elections, but such was the transformation in British society that Thatcherism was able to cause the remoulding of the Labour Party in her own image. That was the fate of Labour in the hands of Blair and his New Labour careerists and disciples in the mid 1990s.

However, back in the early days of the 1980s, the newness of Thatcherism and the personality of Thatcher herself divided the country into bitter hostile camps. While Thatcher asked, “Is he one of us?” we asked the reverse question, “Is he or she one of them?” and if so, we seldom had much to do with them. Culturally and socially we lived an anti-Tory existence and, until the mid 1980s, we had a Labour Party which had the purpose of reversing the market fundamentalism and petty-minded bigotry of the Tory Government.

Thatcher, her legacy and her successors beat us. She destroyed the mild gains of social democracy in post-war Britain, and her ideas, with only slight modification, were adopted by Labour under Blair after 1994. I despised her for who she was and everything she did. But I still think it is wrong to celebrate someone's death.

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