On Margaret Thatcher

Here, richly, with ridiculous display,
The Politician’s corpse was laid away.
While all of his acquaintance sneered and slanged
I wept: for I had longed to see him hanged.

With the modification of the relevant personal pronouns, Hilaire Belloc’s famous ditty seems particularly apt today.

How to remember Margaret Thatcher? Shall we recall the friend of Augusto Pinochet, the woman who protested bitterly about the arrest of Chile’s murderous dictator, a man to whom, she said, Britain owed so much? What about the staunch ally of apartheid, the prime minister who labelled the ANC ‘terrorists’ and did everything possible to undermine international action against the racist regime? The anti-union zealot who described striking miners defending their livelihood as an ‘enemy within’, hostile to liberty? The militarist who prosecuted the Falklands war, as vicious as it was pointless? The Cold Warrior, who stood by Reagan’s side, while the US conducted its genocidal counterinsurgencies in Latin America? The British chauvinist who allowed Bobby Sands to slowly starve to death?

Naturally, the Left must resist any and all attempts to posthumously sanctify this evil woman, particularly as the very publications that launched disinformation campaigns about Hugo Chavez with his corpse still warm suddenly denounce any discussion of genuine history as an outrageous attack on the recently departed. Stay tuned for a ghastly parade of social democrats paying tribute to a woman who despised their kind – and worse still, the disinterment of various ex-radicals to mutter about how, while they hated Thatcher back in the day, they now belatedly mourn the passing of a political giant.

In the fact of that kind of fraudulent sanctimony, well, as Oscar Wilde noted about Little Nell, you’d need a heart of stone not to laugh.

That being said, I’ve never found merriment over anyone’s death particularly edifying. Marx liked the Latin maxim ‘Nothing human is alien to me’, and there’s a sense in which mortality of any kind under any circumstances confronts us all as a common enemy – though it’s entirely possible that those whose relatives sailed the Belgrano feel somewhat differently.

But there’s a more important reason to not get carried away with celebrations over Thatcher’s passing – and that is, simply, she’s not dead.

Yes, the Iron Lady’s mortal flesh might have given up but her ideas, like some malignant virus, have well-and-truly spread throughout the world. There are Margaret Thatchers of both genders sitting throughout the Australian parliament.

That’s the argument embedded in Belloc’s wit. Back in the day, we could confront Thatcherism’s original host body. Now, that opportunity has passed – and the Left faces the much more difficult task of defeating the less obvious Thatcherites who still walk among us.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

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  1. I can see why people might say “good riddance” to Thatcher, but the level of glee with which her death has been greeted is a bit creepy really. Her death is more a victory for her – getting to the grave before her war crimes caught up with her. I don’t really see what there is for the left to celebrate in all this.

  2. Well said, Jeff, esp about fact that her legacy lives on – neoliberalism, economic ‘rationalism’, alive, kicking and virulent in Canberra, Washington, London, and etc.

  3. Of course Thatcherism lives on-not least in the UK and Australian Labor parties.
    But I think a little visceral delight in the passing of such a determined hater of the working class is not out of place. As I remember someone saying about the deaths of many more worthy people-Rejoice, rejoice.

  4. Shakespeare was very wise and knew much about human foibles at a time when generally there wasn’t much around in the way of psychology, and other related subjects.

    It seems apt at this stage to quote a passage from Julius Caesar in relation to Margaret Thatcher:

    Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears.

    I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

    The evil that men do lives after them,

    The good is oft interred with their bones.

    As far as I can see, the only good Thatcher did was to die!

    Mannie De Saxe

  5. Jeff, well written piece but I smile at your reference to disenchanted radicals – maybe they’ve just grown up! Every sin of Mrs Thatcher that you list is so because it offends your view of how the world should be – but remember, for a Bobby Sands there are those that hate what he did to them, for a ‘Belgrano’ there is a HMS Sheffield, for the Faulklands there is the horror of the Argentinean Junta and the people actually living on the islands. She was a monster in your eyes but I imagine some of your heroes are monsters to others. What you have written just gives your followers a warm glow and antagonises your opponents – so how does that help the world move to a better place?.

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