Lady Thatcher again

A few days ago I posted a blog about the death of Lady Thatcher and the abuse against her after her death. Forgive me if I sounded like a finger-wagging idealist who was all well-meaning but didn’t have the faintest clue what life was actually like for people who unemployed because of the closure of mines. I’m sure there are many heartbreaking stories of the effects of deindustrialisation – which Thatcher allowed to continue through the 1980s by stopping subsidising the mines, while doing very little to cushion the effects it had on the communities – and I can understand why there are very strong feelings about her premiership. And despite what I said about death being a universal experience, Margaret Thatcher was deliberately divisive, and David Winnick, a Labour MP since 1979, is right to say that it would be hypocritical for people who opposed her strongly at the time to keep their mouths shut and pretend not to feel the same way now. I wouldn’t mind betting Lady Thatcher would agree with him too. 

There will always be idiots in the world and I suppose the “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead” phenomenon, the abuse and the celebrations of her death are proof of that. But I won’t lump all of her critics in the same group as those people. Also, although I think she had admirable qualities and was certainly the most successful prime minister of the last thirty years, her admirers need to remember that she had flaws and she made mistakes. Peter Hitchens puts it well: “I advise both her enemies and her worshippers to remember that she was human – deserving in the hour of her death to be decently respected, but to be neither despised nor idolised. May she rest in peace.”

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Lady Thatcher – death of a formidable leader

So Lady Thatcher has died. What a sad time for so many people. My thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends, former colleagues and everyone who was close to her.

For all her faults (real and imagined), she was a courageous woman with many achievements, especially considering the sense of despair just before her election that I’m sure anyone who was alive then will recall. Peter Hitchens, in this wonderfully written blog post (and not an obituary-style piece of unqualified praise either; he “[doesn’t] share the adulation” that so many conservatives have), notes “her resilience the night after the IRA tried very hard to murder her, and had succeeded in murdering or gravely hurting several close friends, another moment which even the meanest of her detractors must surely admit does her credit.”

Beyond that, I will not comment on the success (or lack thereof) of her premiership. This is not the time to argue about such things; it is the time to be united in sadness that a fellow human being, whatever her actions and whatever her politics, has died. Politics may divide us, but death is an experience common to us all, which should unite us when we otherwise wouldn’t be united, and there are honourable opponents of Lady Thatcher who have been respectful and sensitive to her family. Even when Osama bin Laden died, I didn’t agree with all of the rejoicing and celebrating over his death. People of integrity may, at most, be relieved that someone has died, but they never actively enjoy it.

All the celebration parties and all the abuse is sadly predictable. Such is the sickness of the human heart that bitterness and division persist even through death, and of course few people have a sense of respect and honour for people in authority anymore. I have no desire to search Twitter for all the idiotic and disgusting remarks that are all over that website.

The hatred of Lady Thatcher is clearly motivated by more than this, but as a general observation, it is certainly a tendency for people, knowing they’re not perfect, to shift the blame for the ills of the world onto two categories of people: the rich and the powerful. Take the current frenzy against bankers or, among Conservatives, the focus on the “mess left by the previous government” as the sole cause of the economic crisis. Yet how many of these people themselves accepted the huge loans the banks were giving out, and used the economic boom period to spend and borrow irresponsibly, just as the Labour government did? And, as a very loose paraphrase of Luke 16:11, if you can’t be trusted with the power and the money that you do have, who would trust you with greater power, or greater riches?

I don’t expect to change the hearts of the nastiest of her critics, but to anyone who feels resentment because of the negative impacts she had on communities and the hardship she caused for the poor, ask yourself this: during her reign in the 1980s, or since then if like me you weren’t alive then, were you doing all you could with everything you had, to help the poor and the vulnerable? If not, then criticise her, but see her as a flawed human being just like you are, and maybe you can join me in thinking of, if not her, at least her family who are going through a universal human experience that you either have or you will go through, at some point in your life.

Jonathan