The Death of Baroness Thatcher: An Obituary
13 October 1925 – 8 April 2013
Monday the 8th of April 2013 marked the death of the first female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Baroness Thatcher caused enough argument and controversy when she was alive, so it was only fitting that her death, at the age of 87 would lead to the same.
As I was born in 1992, two years after Thatcher’s resignation as Conservative party leader, following her eleven and a half years in office, I do not claim to understand or comprehend first-hand the experience of Thatcherism in the 1980s. However what I am aware of, and feel I am entitled to comment on, is the modern impact and legacy of Thatcher, giving me some legitimacy to comment on her death.
Looking at the reaction itself there was no better place than in 2013 to go, than Twitter. Such as the death of Michael Jackson, and relative to previous ‘first to post’ moments this year such as the election of Pope Francis and re-election of Barack Obama; in this new frenzied age of social media, Thatcher went viral. As friends sought to be the first to announce the news, Twitter reported more than one million mentions of #Thatcher in the first four hours following her death.
Shifting from the informal to the most formal of domains, current Prime Minister David Cameron recalled Parliament in a tribute to his former idol. The commons was packed for up to almost a full day, as MPs were encouraged to voice their tributes.
However in the wake of the new public debate, there was one theme that was central to the reaction. This was the overwhelming taboo ‘not to speak ill of the dead’. Within hours one of the most common tweets, began with “whatever you thought about her…” For me it seemed at one point the twittersphere was full more of people looking out to tell people off, rather than mourn themselves. In the Commons much was the same, as many of Thatcher’s critics were heckled to “sit down!” and “have some respect!”
However is this misplaced? Indeed every death is a tragedy, and in no way do I condone the cruel ‘Thatcher parties’ and tweets such as ‘#dingdongthewitchisdead’ for what can be in the most human terms described as the death of a mother, and a grandmother.
This aside what needs to be readdressed is the misapplication of what constitutes as ‘death etiquette’. When followed in the wrong sense, the demand for ultimate respect is misguided and dangerous. Discourse in the public domain should take on a different protocol, and living in democratic society, the idea that all politicians ought to be proclaimed as saints upon death, omitting their failures seems to be a paradox in itself.
The reason I take issue with this taboo, the etiquette of ‘silence’, is simply because on the other side, the admiration is not silent. The constant overstating and over glorification of any politician’s achievements, not just Thatcher’s in the wake of death, at the expense and avoidance of their failures, is not only inaccurate, it falsifies history and looks to distort public perception.
One of the more memorable quotes in the wake of Thatcher’s death is that she was “the woman who saved Britain.” Spiralling into deep and deeper decline at the end of the 1970s, Thatcher’s Britain in the end was a richer Britain, but in what sense?
Richer at the top of society, by no means did this wealth trickle down. Unemployment and child poverty were seen to triple under the Thatcher government, as thousands were turned out of their jobs and onto the streets. The entrenpreunial society, the competitive society it seemed, lacked any form of compassion, as efficiency simply does not have any time for sympathy; it gets in the way of profit.
Thatcher’s success came mostly from lashing out at others and certainly the ‘Iron Lady’s’ politics of conviction took no prisoners. Equality was dismissed as unrealistic and impractical, the unemployed were denounced as lazy, homosexuals dehumanized under Article 28 and even Nelson Mandela was condemned as a terrorist. Instead former vices of greed and selfishness were heralded as virtues and as ambitious. No doubt today, the links between Thatcherism and the current banking culture are clearly visible. Most importantly the spiritual attacks Thatcher began on human nature were an insult to anyone who did believe in society. In summary she may have increased the net value of the country, but at the expense of social breakdown.
In 1979, the journey from being the child of a grocer to Downing Street is an unlikely one, particularly when that child is a daughter. Whilst Thatcher may be entitled to her own legacy as an undefeated politician, in death she should be treated with humanity, but acknowledged as a person who failed to show or see any humanity herself.
“She measured the price of everything and the value of nothing” (Tony Benn)