The nation’s cathartic surge of relief and joy at Thatcher’s death six months ago was overwhelming. It should not have been unexpected.
Our reasons for celebrating were so numerous and manifest there is no real need to list them. Plenty of prominent writers have put out excellent summaries. Owen Jones has it pegged in calling Thatcherism “a national catastrophe that still poisons us.”
Of course a puny and unrepresentative cabal of repellent reactionaries and hand-wringing, liberal damp cloths tried to spoil the party.
The Mail led the predictable outpouring of bullies’ hurt, magnificently quoting Socialist Party general secretary Peter Taaffe describing the Witch of Grantham as “seen by many as a kind of modern-day Genghis Khan.” Of course Paul Dacre is perfectly capable of dishing it out, less than a week before equating benefits claimants with child murderers, calling the serial abuser and homicidal sociopath Mick Philpott a “vile product of welfare.” But the minute the bullied stood up and expressed pleasure at the demise of our chief persecutor, the reactionary right turned on the waterworks.
There was a public announcement of her death on the sign at the Ritzy Cinema, Brixton. The Ritzy was initially advertising its Argentine Film Festival on the night. If anything that was more fitting.
We were right to express our happiness that Thatcher is gone. And here is why we were right.
It’s sick to celebrate a death!
It’s sick to lionise a woman responsible for mass joblessness, misery and yes, even death. It was Thatcher who closed the pits. It was Thatcher who first put the clock back on gay, women’s and workers’ rights. And it was Thatcher who initiated the running down and privatisation of the NHS. It would be sick to treat this life-wrecker with any kind of respect.
Note that great frothing slabs of Britain’s hard-right, vociferous minority took very public delight in the death of the flawed-but-progressive, left-populist Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. That doesn’t justify us, we had our own concrete reasons which transcend tit-for-tat. I’m just saying.
She was a frail and senile old woman!
We can’t isolate people into convenient chunks. And we mustn’t let the progenitor of such enormous, widespread and persistent human privation go without comment.
Thousands die every day. We don’t see Cameron and his brood screwing fists into their eyes over carpenters and clerks. The minute some vile, destructive, arch-reactionary brute popped her 40-year-overdue clogs it was all onions and hankies.
You’re just jealous!
Not quite. Here is a woman who was comfortable and powerful for most of her life, and whose policies systematically deprived and disempowered the rest of us. Jealous? Is the victim jealous of the thief? On one level, yes. But there is so much more to it than that.
You weren’t even alive when she was in power!
Well actually, yes I was, I was just small. But the end of Thatcher’s premiership wasn’t the end of her power. Thatcherism is the ideological lynchpin of today’s Tories, Liberals and Labour Party.
Tony Benn relates that “Margaret Thatcher said Tony Blair and New Labour was her greatest achievement.” I have lived under Thatcher, and under Thatcherism, my whole life. University fees? Thatcherism. Privatisation? Thatcherism. The anti-union laws? Thatcherism. Mass unemployment? Thatcherism. The breaking up of the welfare state? Thatcherism. The crushed and tattered social agency and self-esteem of too, too many of my friends? Thatcherism.
I am a trained and skilled artist and worker. I have had to couch surf because I couldn’t afford rent. I have had to submit to underpaid toil with bullying bosses. I have had to scrape and struggle just to meet the rocketing demands of private energy and transport providers. This is what Thatcher means to me, and to millions of others. This is why I am glad she is dead. I only wish Thatcherism had gone with her.
And all this says nothing of the beaten and discarded dockers, miners and industrial workers of Britain’s former heartlands. Or the thousand-odd Argentinian conscripts drowned in her attack on a retreating ship. Or the countless Chileans tortured, raped and killed by Thatcher’s mate Augusto Pinochet.
Of course, there were some things to be sad about on hearing of the Iron Handbag’s passing.
What about her family?
On a very basic human level, all death is saddening. But you can’t just remove someone from their social and historical context. I’m sure it was a difficult time for Thatcher’s racist daughter Carol and arms-dealer son Mark. With only their celebrity, enormous wealth and aristocratic titles to fall back on. In fact, I really hope this was a difficult time for them.
Endless media tributes
We had several weeks of unwatchable TV to endure. The major outlets inevitably stuffed their schedules with heartbroken, confessional retrospectives and interminable, priapic puff pieces. No wonder people were switching off their sets and hitting the streets, popping cheap champagne and chanting “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie — dead, dead, dead.” You’ve got to drown out the snivelling apologia of the feral overclass somehow.
There is a generation of hardened working-class warriors who were bitterly clinging on to see this day. I only hope her death lent these quiet heroes a new lease of life, instead of cueing their final release.
Thatcherism not dead
As many have remarked, though the Lady is gone, her ideas remain. That, of course, must become our focus. As former Militant MP and Socialist councillor Dave Nellist says:
The people I have sympathy for today are those working class people whose lives have been blighted by her policies.
The real tragedy is that while she may be dead herself her ideas are still alive and well in the form of the Con-Dem coalition and New Labour.
She was a determined fighter for her class, the 1% of very wealthy people at the top of society. The Socialist Party wants to build a movement that does the same for the 99%, working class people.
We want to build a mass movement that will take the wealth from the super-rich and that dismantles the project she embarked upon.
We want to use that wealth to provide jobs, services and a future for working class people.
Too true, Dave. The Tories are a party in historic decline, wracked by internal factionalism, and now threatened from the right by UKIP. The last bastion of Thatcherism is Labour. Ed Miliband, standing proudly in the tradition of Labour leaders in blithely squandering an opportunity, issued asimpering paean expressing “respect” for “her political achievements and her personal strength.” With the party unlikely to be reclaimed, following its decades-long campaign against socialism and internal democracy, there is a vacuum on the left.
This vacuum does not yet have a mass organisational response. We cannot just snap our fingers and recover from the body blows of post-Stalinism and Thatcherism. But that is the way the wind is blowing.
With Thatcher behind us, let’s kill her legacy of filth and misery as dead as her. There is no more fitting tribute.
Photo: Copyright Carl Byron Batson 2013 (not to be reproduced without the photographer’s prior consent)
James Ivens is an actor, writer and socialist activist. He trained for three years at the East 15 Acting School, and works mainly in comedy, fringe theatre and alienating wage labour. He is an active member of Equity, the Socialist Party and whatever union his current day job entails.
James lives in South London with his goldfish Rasputin.
James Ivens can be read at https://jamesivens.wordpress.com/