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.