Margaret Thatcher – Enough
I said my piece about Margaret Thatcher a few hours after she died. I’m not at all surprised by the vitriolic celebration of her death among the Twitterati, the “witch is dead” posts going viral on Facebook, the headlong rush of anyone who’s anyone to comment on her death, and the subsequent gleeful feeding frenzy in the media.
Looking on from afar, I suspect that much of the rest of the world will be somewhat bewildered at the clamour. After all, was she not a strong leader, a stateswoman? Why are her people celebrating her death?
Here, for example, is part of a letter to Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News from Rajendra Aneja:
“The death of Margaret Thatcher – the longest serving British prime minister (1979 to 1990) – this week marks the passing away of one of the most towering leaders of Britain and the world. She was a strong leader with the courage of her convictions. She translated her beliefs into action.
The three most remarkable milestones of her life and career are: First, she transformed Britain from a socialistic pattern of society to a free market economy and mobilised the power of the middle classes in trade and development. Second, she played a pivotal role along with president Ronald Reagan and president Mikhail Gorbachev in ending the cold war.
Finally, she was a women of strong courage and integrity. As a premier she even insisted on paying for her own ironing board, at her official residence.
She was a brave lady and despite attacks on her life, she did not waver from her policies. She narrowly escaped injury in an IRA assassination attempt at a hotel in October 1984. Next day she adhered to her itinerary. She was also far-sighted. She realised China’s growing importance and built bridges with the country.
The daughter of a simple grocer, she was a fierce patriot. Her leadership was always characterised by a strong vision for Britain, clarity in her views and an endeavour to transform society. It is sad that eventually her own party dethroned her.
However her legacy of building a strong and independent Britain inspires Britons even now, 23 years after she relinquished office.
In an age when politicians are doubted and often abhorred, Thatcher is highly respected, even by those who disagreed with her policies and style of management.
Compared to her, many contemporary politicians seem to be men of straw.”
Mr Aneja would be surprised at the level of disrespect shown to her in her own country.
We should not. We lost our inhibitions about funerals when Princess Diana died. Her funeral was accompanied by mass emotional incontinence of a kind not seen in Britain in living memory. Before she died we would have regarded the wailing and gnashing of teeth that accompanied the burials of foreign leaders with a faint air of superiority, or even amusement.
The sight of Ayatollah Khomeini’s body being hoisted on the shoulders of a sea of mourners, and at one point slipping out of its shroud, would have had an observer in Middle England thanking goodness that “we don’t do things that way here”. Yet a decade or so later, we’re weeping in the street and pelting Diana’s cortege with flowers as it makes its way through London en route to the burial ground.
I have a French colleague staying with me at the moment. Last night we were chatting about the relative states of Britain and France today. He believes that France is in a state of slow decline. Whereas thirty years ago the French would have seen Britain as the “sick man of Europe”, many in France now believe that this term applies to their country.
The difference, as he sees it, is that France has not been through a rupture, or shake-up of the kind administered by Thatcher’s government. And it wasn’t only Britain that went through radical change over the past thirty years. Germany also had its ruptures, in the shape of economic reforms by Chancellors Gerhard Schröder and Helmut Kohl, as well as the massive challenge of reunification.
Powerful vested interests and fear of reform in France have prevented the transformative change that shook up the other “great powers” of Europe, with the result – according to my friend – that the country is starting to look more like the economic basket cases of Southern Europe.
Looking back at Thatcher, I wonder if the reaction to her death would have been as extreme if she had died before 2008. To what extent is her legacy a focus for the frustration many Brits feel about the past five years of economic decline? Of the erosion of living standards through austerity measures and a sense that no serious improvement is in sight? Certainly responsibility for the climate of greed in the banking sector is being laid at her door.
Yet if she is looking down on us today with beady eyes, she would probably be asking a number of questions of those who seek to dance on her grave:
“How many of you have benefited from becoming house owners, and have climbed the property ladder?
How many of you profited from shares in British Telecom or the demutualisation of Building Societies?
How many of you have suffered serious losses through industrial action since I faced down the miners?
How many of you have had financial, career and social opportunities that were never available to your parents and grandparents, regardless of whether or not you chose to take them?”
To which the unfaithful would be lining up to provide equally robust answers. No doubt those arguments will flow back and forth between her representatives on earth and those who hope she has gone to hell until all who lived through her time have died off, and the field is left to historians.
There’s a great Arabic word/expression combination I would use today: “Khalas”, accompanied by the motion of hand-washing – meaning enough – it’s finished, it’s over. For better or for worse, the package was delivered years ago. All the malevolent glee, the bitterness and the abusive tweets will not change that.
It’s time for us Brits to put back on our emotional incontinence pads, accept that not everybody saw Margaret Thatcher as the wicked witch, and let those who wish to mourn her do so in peace and with decorum.
And when the funeral is over, time to start focusing again on building a future.