Margaret Thatcher: A Divisive Life, and Death

Last night, the news broke that Margaret Thatcher – Britain’s first female prime minister (and the twentieth century’s longest serving one) – had died, aged 87, of a stroke.

‘Margaret Thatcher succeeded against all the odds,’ said serving British prime minister David Campbell, on hearing the news. ‘As our first woman Prime Minister, She didn’t just lead our country, she saved our country. I believe she’ll go down as the greatest British peace-time prime minister.’

Australian prime minister Julia Gillard tactfully offered her condolences, acknowledging Thatcher’s history-making achievement as Britain’s first female PM and recognising her ‘strength of conviction’.

‘Margaret Thatcher arrested the decline of Britain and gave the British people renewed confidence,’ said opposition leader Tony Abbott. ‘She ensured the British people no longer simply dwelt on the glories of the past but could enjoy a strong and prosperous future.’

In death as in life, her legacy is divisive.

Champagne celebrations and privatising funerals

In areas of England and Scotland, partiers are celebrating with champagne and songs of ‘ding dong, the witch is dead’. In a party of over 300 people in Glasgow, the ABC reports that ‘anti-capitalist campaigners shouted, “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie” while the crowd replied “dead, dead, dead”.’

In keeping with the tributes being paid to Thatcher’s conviction and ideological strength, a tongue-in-cheek (we assume) e-petition has been launched to privatise her funeral.

In keeping with the great lady’s legacy, Margaret Thatcher’s state funeral should be funded and managed by the private sector to offer the best value and choice for end users and other stakeholders. The undersigned believe that the legacy of the former PM deserves nothing less and that offering this unique opportunity is an ideal way to cut government expense and further prove the merits of liberalised economics Baroness Thatcher spearheaded.’

In the Guardian, Sunny Hundal applauds the move. ‘Surely the serious point behind this petition is to ask how far ideologues are willing go. Wouldn’t Thatcher prefer the first privatised funeral instead of a state one? After all, why go out on a state subsidy?’

In fact, Thatcher will be given a ceremonial funeral, one step below a state one (and the same level as that given to Princess Diana).

Thatcher’s legacy

The Guardian takes a balanced look at her legacy, and five areas in which she imprinted her personal legacy most: the Falklands war of 1982, the dethroning of trade union power, economic policy and the New Right, the poll tax, and her ‘strident’ relationship with Europe.

The paper’s editorial concludes:

She was an exceptionally consequential leader, in many ways a very great woman. There should be no dancing on her grave but it is right there is no state funeral either. Her legacy is of public division, private selfishness and a cult of greed, which together shackle far more of the human spirit than they ever set free.

‘I was a teenage Thatcherite’

Respected conservative political commentator Andrew O’Sullivan says that he owes his ‘entire political obsession’ to Thatcher, the one person in British politics who refused to accept an ‘insane’, largely government-run, Britain that he likens to ‘the dark side of the moon’ in its gloom and decay.

I was a teenage Thatcherite, an uber-politics nerd who loved her for her utter lack of apology for who she was. I sensed in her, as others did, a final rebuke to the collectivist, egalitarian oppression of the individual produced by socialism and the stultifying privileges and caste identities of the class system.

‘Part of our mental furniture’

Sullivan’s university classmate John Cassidy has written his take on growing up in Thatcher’s Britain for the New Yorker. ‘To Britons of my generation, she wasn’t merely a famous Conservative politician, a champion of the free market, and a vocal supporter of Ronald Reagan: she was part of our mental furniture, and always will be.’

‘Every few months, I’d go down to London to protest,’ he writes. ‘Walking around Hyde Park and bellowing “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie - Out! Out! Out!” was good for the spirit, but it didn’t make the blindest bit of difference.’

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