On Thatcher’s Death: Demonising, Bandwagons and High-Horses

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Just to get things straight, if it wasn’t obvious enough from the title: this is not about Baroness Thatcher’s policies and actions in office. I am not inclined to comment on her career, and couldn’t claim to know enough about her tenure to do so. This is about the reaction to her death and the questions that arise thereof.

The news was destined to be divisive as soon as it broke. Margaret Thatcher is still one of the most controversial figures in British and world political history, and was guaranteed to polarise opinion in death as much as she did in life. Tributes and vitriol began pouring in across social media platforms within minutes of the official statement of her death, and within these varying statements there appear a number of concerning trends.

My biggest issue, certainly from moral standpoint, is that some feel the need to be celebrating the death of a fellow human being. It is undeniable (whilst also being an understatement) that there is heavy resentment towards Thatcher, especially in the North. Some of her policies and actions damaged communities, hurt families, ruined families. But she was no dictator. No murderous despot, no pantomime villain. The idea that she ‘deserved’ to die is untenable.

A common theme surfacing in the wake of Thatcher’s death is the misguided notion that some can be more ‘qualified’ than others to comment on history simply by virtue of age or interest. Arguments from both sides of the spectrum on Twitter and Facebook seem to suggest that if you weren’t alive during Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister, then you aren’t allowed an opinion on the subject. I’m sure there are a lot of historians who would object to that conclusion: why even bother studying the past if we are unable to comment on it? This approach to the debate is condescending and reductive, but is not without some foundation.

It seems that many of those commenting on Twitter and Facebook were simply jumping on a bandwagon. Thatcher’s name has become a byword for all that is wrong with our political system in some circles, a name associated with intense hatred. Indeed, many of those tweeting seemed to not even really know who Thatcher was: taking one look at the responses to One Direction’s Harry Styles tweeting his condolences is enough to make you lose your faith in humanity. So, unfortunately, it appeared that a substantial number of tweets suggesting Thatcher should ‘rot in hell’ were from the misinformed, people who hated the idea of the woman and the projection of her from their peers, rather than from any basis of their own. I hasten to add, this was not a phenomenon restricted to one side: many defending Thatcher were obviously doing so based on the fact that an old woman had died, despite knowing nothing of her deeds in office or political stance. It’s very easy to get on your high horse when others are being critical of the deceased, but I can’t imagine some of those who did would have been able to defend their position.

Getting the right balance in this kind of scenario is almost impossible. Comment on the death of a world figure is always going to be subjective too – the recent death of Hugo Chavez is a similar case, a man who was loved and hated with equal measure – but it’s important to remember to comment with some dignity. Comment on her policies, her politics, her time as Prime Minister, and be as critical as you like, because you’re damn well entitled to: the last thing that should happen is that she should be deified by virtue of her passing. Just don’t rejoice in the death of an old woman while you’re at it.

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Editor and MA English student. Follow on Twitter @SamEverard1

Discussion27 Comments

  1. avatar
    Isabella Hunter-Fajardo

    Couldn’t agree more! Celebrating someone death is tasteless and hurtful.

    I’m a historian, and I’ve studied Thatcher. Discussions with older relatives who were alive under Thatcher, actually often revealed that I know more about Thatcher than they do.

    Sam Everard
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    Thanks! I get that impression too sometimes, it’s worrying how people can jump to so many conclusions when they know so few facts.

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    “My biggest issue, certainly from moral standpoint, is that some feel the need to be celebrating the death of a fellow human being.”
    Do you or do you not celebrate Easter?

    Samuel Gilonis
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    Easter is a celebration of a resurrection. Good Friday is what you’re looking for…

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    point taken. either way celebration is had. Would you deny the world hot crossed buns?

    Samuel Gilonis
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    Hey I’m on your side: http://www.wessexscene.co.uk/opinion/2013/04/09/please-no-more-tears-for-thatcher/

    Sam Everard
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    Congratulations on missing the point. For one, I’m not religious, so that’s irrelevant. Also, Easter is celebrating death (and rebirth) in a positive light. The celebrations surrounding Margaret Thatcher are far from positive.

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    I’m really glad all the authors on this site respond really well to comments/ criticism and don’t talk down to their readers at all.

    Isabella Hunter-Fajardo
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    Easter is rebirth as Sam said, and it’s done positively not spitefully. The issue here is spiteful celebration. Also, comparing Jesus to Thatcher is interesting… (discuss, 10 marks)

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    By this time Jesus had not “risen again” and so any celebration of his death on the day could only be interpreted as spiteful surely.
    I am sure some people are POSITIVELY happy she has died, e.g. non-racists.

    bridget clay
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    -, get your facts straight, Easter is a celebration of the resurrection, rebirth, new life. As Sam said, Good Friday is actually when Jesus died and for that it is a fast day for Catholics and Xns : far from a celebration of death..
    Really liked this article

  3. avatar
    socialist weasel guardian reader

    im so glad thatcher ded. she were a simbol of upression for many miners in the north hu lost they jobs and had no work, is probable her fault that we hav economic crisis now. i red in guardian that she was bad. despite being born in 1993 i hav strong opinuns on her policies wehn she was in office

    Nick Mould
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    If only Thatcherism died with Thatcher…

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    Alexander James Green

    I was worried the high horse bit was going to be directed at people like me, but in the end I couldn’t agree more with the bandwagon part.

    I don’t know why so many people felt the need to write anything when most don’t even have an opinion on the matter, but did so merely to jump on a social media groupthink trend. Moreover, if people want to write something, why not read something and make your own mind up?!

    Sam Everard
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    Haha don’t worry man, definitely wasn’t aimed at you! As I remember we said pretty similar things on Facebook, glad you agreed! I really don’t get it either, I didn’t know much on the subject so I made sure to read up as much as possible before saying anything. It’s a shame how easily people can be led.

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    But she wasn’t just any old woman. If your nan undermined public services, dismantled heavy industry, demonised poor people, privatised, supported South African apartheid, was friendly with Pinochet, loved Ronald Reagan, underwent self serving foreign policy ventures, e.t.c. I’m sure it wouldn’t be a massive surprise that people would line up to gob on her grave. When you have a nation of people whose welfare and health service is being dismantled in front of them, why is so morally objectionable to let them have some happiness in their lives for once, even if it comes from relishing the fact that there’s a new occupant in Hell.

    People exploiting the emotions created by her death for their own sick propagandistic needs, should be condemned more so that anyone participating in what essentially amounts to harmless gallows humour. See Green Greenwald’s piece yesterday in the Guardian for a good article on this.

    What’s truly disheartening is that Thatcher died knowing that she had more or less won.

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    What is the point of this article? There is a lot of high horse by you too, mostly by judging people by their appearance on twitter, whilst your argument only really comes a a half arsed conclusion. It would be ill informed to assume that those who insult her, or dance on her grave, are ill informed. Whilst those who defend her are only doing so because she has just died. That is not a logical argument- whilst Harry Styles can say what he wants, how do you know that he doesn’t know about Thatcher? He and his friends are millionaires, which takes a basic level of intelligence. He may know more than you (as you admitted at the beginning of the article you are in fact judging people who probably know much ore than you at the offset)

    Sam Everard
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    I’m sorry that you didn’t see a point to this, and I’ll try to respond to a few points. I thought my conclusion was pretty obvious and I certainly didn’t go about it half arsed, but you’re welcome to think that. If you’re going down that route, it’s equally ill-informed of you to suggest that people are only defending her because she died.
    With regards to Harry Styles, read the article again. At no point do I criticise him, only the people who responded to his tweet. For all I know, he may be the country’s foremost Thatcher expert. Also, I’m not sure where your belief that wealth and intelligence go hand in had comes from. Lottery winners and Jade Goody are enough to prove otherwise.

    Hartley Wonder
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    You misread what i wrote, it was you who said that those who defend her were mostly doing it to stop insensitivity on the other side. And you do say that you have lost your faith in humanity just because of harry styles’ tweet- just being him doesn’t disqualify him or others from holding opinions, which is what you strongly imply. I was not implying that wealth=intelligence but his path to riches indicates some intelligence to be able to seize opportunities and use your talents- not all rich are lottery winners or Jade Goody, otherwise we would have a fucked up society.

    Face McPalm
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    Read it again, at no point does he criticise Harry Styles:
    ‘taking one look at the responses to One Direction’s Harry Styles tweeting his condolences is enough to make you lose your faith in humanity.’

    Note the words ‘responses to… Harry Styles tweeting his condolences’.

    I’m all for debate, but read carefully before you make an arse of yourself. You might end up making a valid point.

    Sam Everard
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    Mr McPalm pretty much sums it up perfectly. I’m more than happy to debate on these matters, but you do keep misinterpreting what I’m writing.

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    Really excellent article Mr Everard, couldn’t agree more with pretty much every sentence!

    Sam Everard
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    Thanks Beth! 🙂

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    I agree wholeheartedly. It’s one thing to criticise someone in death, and quite another to wish upon them the eternal hellfire of damnation. I mean, that’s some pretty serious stuff right there. That kind of moral opprobrium and condemnation is usually reserved for serial killers and despots. Thatcher, for all her faults, was not even nearly bad enough to warrant that kind of treatment in death. If we were Chilean and Pinochet had just died, or Panamanian and Noriega had just died (even then, a bit extreme), or Libyan and Gadaffi had just died, or Spanish and Franco had just died (I could go on), then it could be justified, but not for someone as comparatively reasonable as Thatcher. Someone who organised the death parties justified her behaviour by saying that people danced in the streets when Hitler died. The problem with that reasoning is that hitler was responsible for millions of deaths, whereas Thatcher just made people unemployed. She was far from a saint, but comparing her to Hitler is like comparing a broken toe to an amputated leg.

    In any case, the main reason people hate her can more or less be boiled down to her lack of human compassion. Why, then, do we extend so little of it to her herself? Surely if we believe ourselves to be decent, compassionate people not formed in the mold of Thatcher’s poisonous ideology, then we should not be able to take any great pleasure in the death of another human being, let alone one who, for all her faults, was not a monster and certainly not a witch.

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