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Protesters Willing Thatcher to Die Reveal How Wrongheaded They Are

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MARGARET THATCHER
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While reporting on the 9 November student protest in London last Wednesday, I heard the all-too-familiar "Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Die! Die! Die!" chant being belted out through megaphones and echoed by protesters.

This bizarre refrain is one that's become a regular fixture in the 2011 Protesters' Songbook. I also heard it during the protest outside the Conservative Party conference in Manchester last month as well as during the J30 protest by public sector workers in June.

Over the past few years, some on the left have projected a hefty, and - it has to be said - somewhat distasteful significance onto the day that the iron lady goes to meet her maker.

The prospect of a state funeral for Thatcher is already being protested against, with the Facebook group "We'll only pay for a state funeral for Thatcher if she's buried alive" having over 23,000 members.

There are competiting campaigns to get the songs The Day That Thatcher Dies and Ding Dong the Wicked Witch is Dead to Number One and parties have already been planned on Facebook.

One young blogger, a supporter of the student protests, writes: "my friends and I long ago started a kitty with which to buy booze and party streamers in the event that the Iron Lady should suddenly shuffle off this mortal coil."

As a Left-winger, I have no love for Margaret Thatcher. Indeed throughout the 80s, I was taken on demonstrations as a child - from opposing the Alton Bill to the Poll Tax - where we shouted "Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Out! Out! Out!" until our voices were hoarse. Some of my earliest memories were when I was on picket lines during the miners' strike, hearing miners and activists alike rightly curse her name.

But, frankly, there's something otherworldly about protesters' fixations about Thatcher now, almost exactly 21 years since she left office in 1990. Particularly given many of the students on last week's demo hadn't even been born when she was in power. Whatever she may have been in the past, Thatcher is now a frail old woman living out her final years with periodic health scares, mourning her deceased husband.

And yet there is still a perverse notion that the Iron Lady is somehow secretly controlling the Coalition government today, remaining a potent political threat. Nowhere was this more evident than at the protests outside the Tory party conference, where banner after banner pictured Thatcher wielding knives, axes, sledgehammers; wearing Devil's horns; morphing into the image of David Cameron; and operating David Cameron and George Osborne as if they were puppets on strings.

In believing that in some ways - in spirit, if not in reality - Margaret Thatcher still secretly rules Britain; and in willing an aging, infirm woman to die, the protesters show just how wrongheaded they are.

It reeks of a certain nostalgia, of a time when politics were clear-cut and Thatcher the Milk Snatcher was public enemy number one. For the young students, you wonder if they're just trying be like their parents (many of whom, most notably with the Stop Kettling Our Kids collective - played an unprecedented, unhealthy role in the student protests last year). Say what you like about Cameron and Osborne, but it's evident they aren't forcefully championing the (supposed) values of Thatcherism, such as self-indulgence, individualism and free-market competition.

By making such crude comparisons with the objects of protests from bygone eras, contemporary protesters reveal how directionless they are. Any sophisticated political critique should be historically specific, analysing what's different now, compared to previous times. Instead of suggesting that the Wicked Witch somehow still pulls the strings, they should be spending more time trying to understand what it is they are dissatisfied with - and, equally, what exactly it is they want to achieve - before taking to the streets and voicing their anger.

Maggie's out and has been for a long time. Leave the old Iron Lady alone.