Call me old-fashioned, but I believe those recently deceased do deserve some amount of respect; perhaps not if they are pure evil, but – in the case of Margaret Thatcher – a publicly elected official who headed the UK for more than a decade, some is undoubtedly due.
Over a week after her death, and her body now laid to rest; that amnesty is now over. Alas, so much has been written about Thatcher’s legacy and ‘achievements’ over the last ten days, it is a market overflowing of eulogies, sycophancy and disdain.
None more so than during Wednesday’s funeral; indeed, it is this now requires the real analysis. Despite claims that the funeral was not of a full state persuasion, it was exactly that in all but name.
It was an imperial state occasion; a sickeningly imperious and grandiose funeral of pageantry and military pomp – in the ilk of that received by the Royal Family and, of course, Churchill – attempting to expel a myth that Britain was a nation in mourning.
Indeed, the scenes were once-again (a year after the Jubilee celebrations) strangely reminiscent of that of the other big news story of last week; the secretive state of North Korea. (At least the North Koreans have an excuse of being brainwashed, but here clearly people choose to outwardly celebrate divisive leaders and the ceremonial events of the outdated and undemocratic practice that is the continuing existence of the British monarchy.)
Speaking of the Royal Family, it is difficult to see why the Queen broke with tradition to attend the funeral of a dead Prime Minister for the first time since Churchill; the clear symbol that Thatcher was somehow more than those that preceded her (and something which will provide a Royal headache for years to come).
Both this precedent and the overblown glorification of the ceremony was, in one word, wrong, wrong, wrong. Churchill may still remain controversial to some, but he was a man whose actions went beyond that of party and domestic politics. It would not be hyperbolic to say he saved Britain and Europe from the threat of fascism.
Churchill may still remain controversial to some, but he was a man whose actions went beyond that of party and domestic politics. Thatcher was a political divisive political leader who was defined by them.
Thatcher was not the second coming of Churchill; she was a political divisive leader who was defined by party politics. The fact that she was granted such public excess was an insult to those lives she destroyed. (And surely slightly ironic that the very state she harmed, stripped bare, and sold off went some way to funding it?)
After all, you would have to be either blinded by sycophantic revere, a Tory zealot or a moron to see Thatcher as some sort of glorious leader without flaws.
Yet, that is exactly what the right have attempted to achieve on Wednesday and the last-ten days; that Thatcher was a great leader who fought an internal war in Britain. Indeed, many Conservatives have expelled the myth that Thatcher saved Britain; that we were the ‘sick man of Europe’, a nation that had become ‘ungovernable’ and Maggie put the ‘Great’ back into Great Britain. Bullshit.
Indeed, many Conservatives have expelled the myth that Thatcher saved Britain; that we were the ‘sick man of Europe’, a nation that had become ‘ungovernable’ and Maggie put the ‘Great’ back into Great Britain. Bullshit.
Firstly, let’s go back the 1970s. Britain was far from this failed state it was made out to be; indeed, the events of 1978-79 ‘Winter of discontent’ has been exaggerated to encompass the whole decade to give the impression Britain would have spiralled into destitution without her. The power of the unions has also been exaggerated, creating the idea that Britain had a full-blown industrial relations disease; in reality, this was localised to a few troubled industries such as mining, shipyards and the automobile industry.
In fact, in many ways, it was James Callaghan who ‘saved’ Britain, getting the country through a worldwide slump in economic growth. When Thatcher came to power, inflation and unemployment was falling with a strong balance of payments.
What then of her election win in 1983? It is not an exaggeration to say that this was achieved primarily through the Falklands War, which brought a resurgence of support after her first years in office were marred with recession and high unemployment. Indeed, if it wasn’t Leopoldo Galtieri, Thatcher’s death would have gone fairly unnoticed last week.
Her post-Falklands legacy still remains, continuing to tarnish Britain as it stands today. Millions now wait on social housing waiting lists, with a large scarcity of such houses after her right-to-buy policy. She sold off the country’s assets, creating a temporary burst of money to the government’s coffers, but at a price. Yes, these companies needed innovation and competition, but now schools are businesses, the Royal Mail and NHS is about to be sold off and our fire brigade outsources 999 calls. Let’s not even get started on the poll tax – perhaps one of the most unpalatable policies in British political history – which began the movement for Scottish devolution.
Thatcher’s worst legacy, however, was her casual disregard for social values; her neoliberal agenda of ‘casino capitalism’ taking power away from democratically governments and into the hands of big transnational corporations and a deregulated financial sector. It was the triumph of money – and greed/selfishness with it – over basic human values.
It was the triumph of money – and greed/selfishness with it – over basic human values.
No wonder it made the rich richer and the poor poorer, increasing inequality and creating economic collapse in Britain. Those who argued that point would do so foolishly; we are in the middle of the third economic disaster since Thatcher’s policies and now stand as one of the most unequal countries of the west. What a legacy! (To those who say this was unavoidable note how the social democracies of the Nordic north are both equal and prosperous.)
The attacks on the unions may have been necessary, but they now stand powerless to defend worker’s rights – wages stagnate, living standards fall, their rights abused – while corporations continue to post record profits year on year.
Aside from her destruction of Northern communities, she was also anti-gay (not just in speeches, but in policy too) as well beginning the racist discourse towards immigrants that still permeates British society today.
Yes, Thatcher was a strong figure; a person of ‘conviction politics’ (perhaps something Britain needs today), but she wasn’t strong for those who needed it – women, the working class, the poor – but for the rich and the powerful.
Yet, all this facts are ignored; instead, creating a Thatcher Myth. Such rhetoric is all too-obvious in James Binn’s gushing tribute to ‘Maggie’ – unsurprising considering she is the honorary president of Southampton University’s Conservative Association. The idea that we needed a radical neoliberal shock is blinded obsequiousness and; in fact, is a policy has scarred this country beyond repair.
By point here, however, is not to say Thatcher was purely bad; some of what she did was necessary and important for Britain.
All in all though, Thatcher’s funeral and the right-wing heralding is too much; it was a sickening and overblown attempt to rewrite history and paint Thatcher as “Great Briton” – to usher Thatcher into that tiny club of people deemed to have their place in national esteem forever. She is someone who is too controversial for that to ever be the case.
Cameroon even attempted his own version to politicise her funeral and re-write her legacy – “we’re all Thatcherite’s now” – was just nauseatingly oleaginous (and frankly wrong – yes, New Labour may be ‘Thatcherite, but that is still not all of us).
For this reason, there is no credible argument to disagree with those that chose to picket the funeral to show their disrespect if you will. If you choose to put something in the public eye, you cannot expect people to not voice their feelings towards it – be it a Facebook status, a musician’s new LP or an article on student media, the public domain is exactly that; public.
Indeed, feel free to disagree with this article; but let me ask you one question – would you agree if Blair gets the same treatment when he dies? I thought not.