On April 8, Margaret Thatcher, the former Conservative Prime Minister for Great Britain, suffered a series of strokes and died. She was the UK’s first female Prime Minister, serving in office from 1979 to 1990 as a result of her winning three consecutive general elections. Within minutes, Twitter and, to a lesser extent, Facebook were ablaze not only with celebrations of her death but also pious calls against those speaking ill of the deceased. I found I was disappointed with both sides of the division; those celebrating her death appeared moronic, while those vilifying her rational critics appeared both asinine and absurd.
Upon hearing the news of Thatcher’s demise and deciding not to act too brashly, I sat back and observed the furore that her death had caused, having no intention of being swept up by the public outburst. I had no interest in joining in the, now cliché ‘ding dong the witch is dead’ jokes (because no one saw that coming). But what I didn’t quite see coming was the appalled sentiment of those who wished that no discussion of Margaret Thatcher’s politics would take place that day. These events had been accurately prophesied late last year by the journalist Martin Belam, who had shared his perceptive ‘What Twitter will look like on the day Thatcher dies‘ pie-chart on Twitter.
One outcry utilized by the self-righteous, who instantly took to Twitter to denigrate those celebrating the death, was that they wouldn’t celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein. To me, this preaching revealed a far more interesting line of argument. Saddam Hussein had not only waged a war on Iran, but had also launched chemical weapons against the Iraqi Kurds, his own people. This had led to an estimated death toll of 3,200 to 5,000 Kurds. Bin Laden was the mastermind of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks across the globe. The deaths of The Tyrant and The Terrorist may have been a cause for celebration, as it brought an effective end to their damaging activities. There is no reason to celebrate the death of Margaret Thatcher. Having left politics and having suffered dementia in the latter years of her life, she posed little if any threat.
Despite this, I must also object to the vehement adulation of Thatcher. It was asserted that no bad should be spoken of the deceased, especially not on the day of her death. While this seems like a reasonable suggestion for the death of a private person, the response is largely out of proportion when the discussion turns to the death of an often controversial public figure. The only reason that so many knew of the death of Margaret Hilda Thatcher was that she had thrust herself into the public world of politics, rising to a position of great influence and power. In the manner of every other mammal, Thatcher had an expiration date, and the only reason that so many were informed of her passing that day was because of her political career. For this reason, it seems absolutely incredible that those criticizing Thatcher on her politics faced condemnation.
In contrast, most remarks concerning Thatcher seemed to give undeserved praise. A dangerous jingoism appeared where it seemed acceptable to commend her on her various achievements in politics, but unthinkable to disparage her in any other respect. The BBC published an interesting article showing that the use of the word ‘whatever’ had begun to dominate the Twittersphere on the day of her death. Many posts opened with ‘whatever you thought of her…’ or ‘whatever her politics…’ before making an often unbalanced argument. It is often repeated that Thatcher was an icon for the feminist movement, yet Thatcher herself said ‘the feminists hate me, don’t they? And I don’t blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison’.
Odd remarks kept appearing, as if spread by plague, of how people were ‘thinking of her family’ and how her political career should be off the table, so to speak, in order to ‘allow her family to grieve’. What is this nonsense about sending thoughts? It’s understandable that those who knew Thatcher and her family would express their grief and sympathy towards her family, but the notion becomes patronising unless you know them personally. You might as well offer them your prayers for all the good that will do.
Instead, we should now look forward to the excellent articles, essays and documentaries that will no doubt be created in the coming weeks. Some will speak fondly of Thatcher, yet some will speak out passionately against her. Perhaps some analyses will be objective, weighing up the effect her premiership had upon Britain. It’s true that even Thatcher herself couldn’t have seen what was coming, as she remarked, ironically: ‘there will not be a woman prime minister in my lifetime‘. Expect old arguments and bitter rivalries to be reignited, and for decade old debates to resurface, if they haven’t already.
It is absolutely absurd that many call for an arbitrary period of time in which it is frowned upon to criticise the dead. A dangerous trend that I have seen developing recently is the notion that one can take offence in lieu of another person, but that can be a different article for a different time. Currently, I’m disappointed that I couldn’t get this article out sooner; I worry it may limit the amount of offense I hope it causes.