Monday, April 8, 2013


I'll always remember that I was eating a cider-infused Scotch egg when I heard that Margaret Thatcher had died. Funny old world.

I said this as well as a few other things on Twitter today. As predicted by Twitter previously, Twitter was divided by the news of her death, as only Twitter can be, and Twitter responded in kind. In the first hours there was an almost audible girding of loins as some people prepared to offend, others prepared to be offended, and others settled in with a picnic on the moral high ground.

My own tweets were nowhere near the most tasteless, but I did express happiness at the passing of an old woman, which seems like an odd and cruel sentiment. Others were much harsher - I retweeted some of them - and received some reproving emails and a smattering of 'unfollows' as a result.

This doesn't bother me in the slightest.

But it did make me want to write a longer piece on my thoughts about Thatcher's death. I'm doing this to get my thoughts in order. If you find it interesting to read, great. If not, there's the whole rest of the internet you can go and play with rather than reading to the end.

I guess the most interesting thing to come out of this is the debate, with one side being put so beautifully in the Guardian, about whether it is always distasteful - plain wrong even - to express anything other than sorrow at someone's death.

It's a difficult question. I have a great deal of sympathy with those who say anyone's death is sad, that this old woman was someone's mum, someone's grandmother, that life is to be celebrated and fought for - anyone's life.

But in this case, I don't agree.

I suppose we might agree that this principle is almost always correct. I'd argue that the exception is when the world is a better place if someone who was in it no longer is, and that's what I feel about Margaret Thatcher. I believe the misery and damaged she caused, and her legacy continues to cause, outweigh any sadness at a life being snuffed out - for all but those who knew her as a friend, colleague or family member. I'd go further and say the only thing that gives me pleasure about her dying at 87 is that she suffered before she finally went.

These are harsh words indeed and I expect anyone who does not wholly agree with me will now be angry and outraged at me writing them. To these people I would say: did you react the same way when many global media outlets said "good riddance" on the death of Hugo Chavez? Another democratically elected leader who divided opinion, who was in equal measure loved and loathed?

The following is not a direct comparison because it is both lazy and untrue, but would you have objected if someone said the same about Hitler, or Fred West? Would anyone have stuck up for Jimmy Savile (a close personal friend of Maggie's) if we had known his crimes before his death, and celebrated it when it came?

I'm not equating Thatcher with Hitler or her good friend Jimmy, or her other good friend the fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet. I'm merely establishing that there is a scale on which we might sit in terms of sympathy.

Few in the west would have been offended by jubilation at the death of Stalin. I doubt very many will be offended if there are parties on the streets of Zimbabwe when Robert Mugabe finally fucks off.

At the other end of the scale, you'd have to be a sick puppy to cheer the demise of Richard Briers or Richard Griffiths - people who brought joy to millions, offended very few, and gave the world more than they took from it.

We all sit somewhere on the scale between these two poles. Thatcher, for many of us, was somewhat closer to the pole marked by the villainous than the one where the much-loved comic actors stand.

So at what point on that scale - if any - does it become OK to take happiness from someone's death?

I consider myself to be a compassionate, empathetic person. I feel bad for wishing someone dead, and for taking pleasure that they finally are. Indeed, I think if you knew most of the people who are happy about today's news, such sentiments would be out of character for them. The people who are happy Thatcher is dead are usually among those described by their political opponents as 'do-gooders', 'bleeding-heart liberals', 'politically-correct lefties', people who have too much compassion and not enough steel in their souls for today's business-centric, selfish world.

On the other hand, those mourning her today tend to align more closely with the faction that wishes to see the reintroduction of the death penalty, those who think it is socially acceptable, in extreme circumstances, to wish to take someone's life away. The people who think it was perfectly acceptable to  'execute' Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden, and to cheer when they died.

I'm not sticking up for Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden, by the way. I'm glad they're dead too, even if I have reservations about how those deaths came to pass.

I think what the 'decency' brigade perhaps may not understand is that this happiness about the death of Margaret Thatcher is not something spontaneous. It's not irony, or shock tactics, or immaturity, or something we say just because we think it's kind of a cool thing to say.

It's something many of us have fervently wished for, for thirty years.

Some people wish Mick Philpott dead, or the killers of James Bulger. Some of those do so because they are carried along by a storm of popular outrage. I dont have much time for them. But others want something nasty to happen to these men because they took something away and left those behind irreparably damaged, did something horrible to people close to them which can never be undone.

Ah, now we're getting warm.

This is not just about party politics. Again, you'd have to be quite fucked up to wish John Major serious harm. The left didn't celebrate the death of, say, Alan Clarke in this way, and neither did the right with Michael Foot.

The point about Thatcher - and this is a paragraph that those who loved her will agree with totally - is that she transcended party politics. She became a figure that towered over the political landscape. Her impact will be felt for generations to come. She had an -ism named after her that's still in popular use - something no leader who came after her will ever have. (Blairism, I'm afraid, didn't quite make the cut, did it?)

We'd all agree on that.

So if the people who felt the benefit of her sweeping revolution are allowed to mourn her death, it's only fair that the far greater number of people who had their lives destroyed by it should also be given a voice.

The first time I heard someone wish Margaret Thatcher was dead was in 1984, during the Miners' Strike. It was a weeping man in his forties who had worked hard all his life, supported his wife and children. If his like still existed today, he would be what David Cameron calls a 'striver'. He would be head of that favourite of all recent governments, the 'hard working family'.

Margaret Thatcher called him, and the hundreds of thousands like him, 'the enemy within'.

In her vendetta against the British working class, she took away his job and destroyed his community. She ensured that he and everyone like him would never work again. (Hey, Tories, she did more than anyone else to create the 'benefit culture'.) She also took away his pride, his self-respect, his dignity, his sense of himself as a man. And when he dared to protest against this, he was savagely beaten by armoured police in a carefully orchestrated, brutal, physical attack. He was stopped and searched at random if he dared go anywhere in his car, when he could still afford to have one. And to cap it all, a compliant media then told the world that he and his friends and workmates were the aggressors, that they had started it, that these nasty unarmed men had picked a fight with mounted police carrying clubs and shields.

I grew up in Barnsley and I was fifteen when the strike began. I was at a politically impressionable age. You might say that if I had swapped places with someone the same age who happened to be born into an affluent family in the home counties, who was educated at Eton and was on first name terms with the Dean at the Oxford College his father had gone to by the time he was thirteen, then our political views might have swapped too. I can't say. But I admit that I'm a product of my environment.

Still, when an older kid whom we KNEW had joined the army and was supposedly serving in Northern Ireland turned up dressed as a policeman on a picket line, we knew something was up.

When the father of someone in my class - an NUM official - was in a meeting with an independent auditor who had been called in to Corton Wood colliery - the closure of which had sparked the strike - to prove how much money it was losing in order to justify the closure, and the independent auditor discovered the pit was actually very profitable, and was threatened into keeping quiet about it, we silly, impressionable kids started to think we might just be being oppressed by a sinister Orwellian government. It was 1984 after all.

I was a member of CND, because I was terrified that Thatcher might take us with the trigger-happy Ronald Reagan into a world-ending nuclear war. I was just a kid so I was unimportant, but every time I received mail with a CND postmark with details of a demo close to me, the envelope had been previously opened, the postmark was a couple of weeks old, and the demo had happened three days ago.

When I was aged between nine and thirteen, I played out on the street with my mates, kicking a ball against the wall or playing hide and seek. Occasionally we'd get told off for hiding in someone's garden  and crushing their flowers, or kicking a football against a window. That was in the early eighties, before the strike.

In the late eighties, after the strike, when I went back to the same street, the little kids who had hung around us bigger lads had grown up and taken our places. They weren't playing hide and seek or kicking a ball. They were mugging old ladies for money to buy smack. Police cars were on regular patrol. Custodial sentences had replaced the stern tellings-off we used to get.

But that's just me, and my town, and all the other mining towns in the north of England, Scotland and South Wales. And the steel towns or shipbuilding areas of the north.

For the people of Liverpool, today's happiness might derive from the demise of someone who thought football fans (ooh, mainly working class again in those days) were scum, and how Thatcher, in return for the police doing her bidding in intimidating and beating up striking miners, created a 'culture of immunity' around the police and blocked reports which showed the police were at fault in the death of 96 Liverpool fans at Hillsbrough.

Black people may feel the same way on the grounds that Thatcher was an ardent supporter of the apartheid regime in South Africa, and referred to Nelson Mandela as a "terrorist" to help out her good friend the racist P W Botha who was keeping him in jail.

Gays and lesbians might be happy to see the back of someone who made it illegal for educational establishments to "promote" their "lifestyle" or the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship". (My emphasis).

Women might not shed a tear at the demise of Britain's first female Prime Minister, who said "I owe nothing to women's lib", and "I hate feminism. It is poison."

People who kinda think democracy is the least worst system for electing a government, or who think you perhaps shouldn't be murdered by the state for holding political views other people don't agree with, might think the world is a better place without someone who thanked Augusto Pinochet - an army general who staged a military coup against a democratically elected government and then like a fucked-up hellish David Blaine made many of the people who disagreed with him magically disappear - for "bringing democracy" to Chile.

Anyone who enjoys the social cohesion, the mutual support that we all give to each other while we live together in our communities, might thing we're no worse off without someone who said, "There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families."

Anyone who has suffered in the current recession, who blames "the bankers" for their woes, might like instead to take a moment to think about the woman who deregulated London's financial sector and allowed unfettered, amoral capitalism out of its cage to fuck anyone and anything it felt like fucking.

And finally, if my headline is inappropriate, I'm merely quoting the woman who told us to "rejoice" at the deaths of hundreds of Argentinians during the Falklands War - not just once, but several times. I would not use this word if she had not done so - that's the point. If it's inappropriate to use this word in relation to the death of an old woman, just how much more inappropriate is it for that old woman to have used it repeatedly in the context of the deaths of hundreds of young men?

By any moral, compassionate standard, these are the words and actions of a deeply unpleasant, nasty individual. I know Britain was fucked before she came to power. But you don't cure someone's broken leg by cutting off all their limbs and trying to stuff them down their throat.

I regret if anyone is offended my my views, but they are honest, deeply felt, and based on the sum experience of my adult life, and I make no apology for holding them: the world is a happier place without Margaret Thatcher in it.

And the reason we have to say this now, on the day of her death, is to try to prevent her poisonous legacy from growing even more powerful.