Margaret Thatcher died this week. Obviously this threw open a huge debate: was she a great leader, or a vile woman? Is it a disgrace to celebrate her death, or is it reasonable in such circumstances? Should we even be focusing on Thatcher herself, or be more concerned with the ongoing legacy of Thatcherism?
I don't want to focus too much on my own views on these matters; bloggers and columnists have probably already done it to death, and Thatcher was such a divisive figure that most such responses are emotionally-driven more than anything else. Nevertheless, here's a quick summary before I move on to my main point...
- Don't particularly like Thatcher; certainly don't like the lasting impact she had upon society.
- Don't think she was some sort of brilliant hero, but fully understand why many people on the Right will.
- Won't personally 'celebrate' her death, but fully understand why some people of the Left will. As far as such people are concerned, she totally destroyed families and communities, with little concern for the poor/working class, and the effects can still be seen in today's society. As far as such people are concerned, one evening of celebration will be nothing less than she deserves because she affected so many lives in such a huge way.
- Think it's important that a "demand for respectful silence" in such situations does not stifle people from voicing their opinions. A powerful, controversial person in public life, such as Thatcher, will always be loved and hated by different groups. As long as they're not yelling it in Carol and Mark Thatcher's faces, people should be free to voice their contempt just as much as others should be allowed to pay tribute to her life and career. By some it may be seen as tasteless, but to others it may seem totally justified; it's possible to see both sides of the argument, especially when such passionate and personal political values are involved.
More than enough has been said about the reaction to Thatcher's death all over the internet already.
So now on to my main point: the reaction to the reaction.
I think it's entirely likely that the entire left-of-centre will end up being made to look bad, based on the loud vocal support from a minority of far leftists. This perspective will be helped along by people on the Right (such as Dan Hannan and Louise Mensch) who have predictably picked up on anti-Thatcher comments and shamefully used them to try and demonise pretty much the entire left-wing of politics.
I think it's pretty shameful to resort to that kind of political point-scoring, especially when you're supposed to be paying tribute to your beloved ex-Prime Minister. The ever-irritating Louise Mensch sent out this tweet earlier, which is perhaps the best example I saw of somebody trying to use what they consider to be a tragedy in order to vilify their political opponents:
Pygmies of the left so predictably embarrassing yourselves, know this: not a one of your leaders will ever be globally mourned like her.
-- Louise Mensch (@LouiseMensch) April 8, 2013
(What a shame that Louise Mensch wasn't able to hang on as an MP for more than two and a half years, eh? What a great, intelligent, powerful leader she could have turned out to be...)
Anyway. You can also be sure that, amongst all the flowing tributes to Thatcher that can surely be found in the next edition of the Daily Mail, there will be an article which will refer to some of these 'disrespectful' opinions - perhaps from someone like George Galloway, or the SWP, for example - and cleverly use it to vilify the entire left-wing of politics. This is entirely predictable, and I will be stunned if such articles do not arise in the mid-market press over the next day or two. As far as such newspapers are concerned, it's a case of "killing two birds with one stone"; a chance to glorify Thatcher and Thatcherism, and demonise those who oppose her at the same time.
I think that these things may result in moderates, neutrals and politically-apathetic people thinking of "the left" as an obnoxious and dangerous ideology. "What kind of monsters would celebrate an old lady's death?", they might be led to wonder. Ultimately, one can only hope that such people will not fall in to the trap, set by the loud-mouthers at the SWP (who may, quite frankly, be shooting the 'Left' in the foot), in conjunction with opportunistic right-wing commentators who will pounce upon any hint of a celebration, and use it to demonise the left as a whole.
Whilst I do not outrightly condemn anybody who chooses to celebrate tonight (for whatever personal reason they may have for doing so), perhaps it would be wise for them to think carefully about how they come across to the rest of the electorate. If people are led to believe that all "lefties" go around celebrating when a frail old lady dies, then such people may come to the conclusion that the left-wing of political thought is definitely one to avoid.
On a personal note, I have spoken to more than one 'non-political' person today who have said that they think that left-wingers celebrating Thatcher's death is "disgraceful". If this idea becomes ingrained in their minds (despite the fact that many moderate leftists will also think it's wrong to openly celebrate Thatcher's death), then it could the final straw that makes such people disregard the left/socialism/Labour (etc) for good. After all, it's not every day that you see people celebrating an old woman's death.