Monday, April 8, 2013

"Rejoice"

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.

31 comments:

  1. I agree with almost every word Sir, but refuse to dance on graves... even the grave of a woman with such odious views... my Facebook post reads "So Maggie Thatcher has died. She was anathema to very many people and her demise is likely to cue celebrations as well as mourning. Despite my absolute abhorrence of her policies, her attitude and almost everything she stood for I will not support the bitter minded individuals who will no doubt dance on her grave. Let it go people."
    However that doesn't preclude honest and accurate criticism which is where I place your blog Pete. I won't criticise those who think a celebratory mood is the best way to respond; but I think it's a pointless and sad endeavour compared to channeling our bitterness and hatred into focussed revolt at the conditions her legacy have left us in.
    Hope you blog more
    Pete Ak

    ReplyDelete
  2. For everyone "rejoicing" I see someone who sits and tuts at what might have been rather than gets on and does something to change things. Whatever your views on Thatcher she went from office some twenty years ago, do you still bemoan the kid at school who beat you at spellings or decide that you are going to succeed all the better because of it. You moaning about Thatcher is little different to someone moaning about you moaning. Get elected and change the world back.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And since when was getting elected a way of changing anything except your own mind?

      Delete
    2. The difficulty is, Anonymous, that the legacy of Thatcher is carved on the communities of Britain once proud to sweat and toil and now, increasingly, persecuted by her successors. The legacy of Thatcher survives her, I am deeply sorry to say.

      Delete
  3. Bridget GreenwoodApril 8, 2013 at 9:09 PM

    Thank you for eloquently and rationally explaining your view point. I was too young and seemingly unaffected by Thatcher's politics to form my own political opinion of her. As a young girl (when she was in power) however, what I absorbed was 2 women running the country/commonwealth (Thatcher and the Queen). Top dog was female.

    It's left a lasting and positive impression on me, one which I miss today. As an adult I'm left missing a strong leader in politics. These are my memories, and they are very much less educated than yours. I appreciate you taking the time to express your views.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anon - if that bully at school created a culture in which bullying was made acceptable, and inspired future generations of bullies, and was then lauded for being a 'great figure' - yes, I still would moan about that bully, so as to warn others. There are more ways of 'trying to change the world', or prevent others from doing so for that matter, than standing for office.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Best thing I've read on the subject all day, thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. (Sorry, got carried away and duplicated)

      Delete
  7. I think thatcher had some kind of master plan In regard to Coal, it's true she wrecked a few lives but you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette.

    When oil and gas run out, Coal will be a very valuable resource,

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. According to some recently released research and declassified documents, it can be said that this "master plan," not of busting the unions but closing pits, had been planned as far back as the early 1960s, and that the famous "Beeching Report" which called for the shutdown of a large percentage of British Rail was based in part on clandestine consultations with government leaders, British Steel, the National Coal Board, etc.

      I find it troubling to think that so many people seem eager that Britain in 2013 would still be sending miners down into deep shafts to risk their lives in a dirty, dangerous job. I'm also quite hard-pressed to think that the British coal industry would look any different in 2013 without the Thatcher regime's actions. Miners would have lost jobs, the solid fossil fuel would still be condemned for its role in global warming, and Scargill and his brand of Communism would be equally irrelevant today.

      Delete
    2. I agree with Alexander, whatever you have against her I think if you imagined that the coal and steal industries would have survived without her, or that Britain would be better for it if they had then I think you are probably seeing things only through rose tinted specs. With respect to coal and steal, she took down those industries without showing any sympathy for those who lost their jobs and took that decision before others would have (ie would have been forced to when it became even more econmically damaging to the UK economy), that was her crime specifically relating to coal and steal. The fact is that, despite the example given in Peter's text, those industries in general were being subsidised as the UK was not competitive in these industries, due to cheap energy and steal from other sources or parts of the world.
      Please accept there is some truth in that, then if you still hate her for all the other things she did fair enough.

      Delete
  8. Well written. The world is a better place without her and it is a shame she didn't die decades earlier.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Not celebrating her death but I agree with all your points regarding why not to mourn. Well put argument.

    There is a difference and I know by what you write above you understand the difference. Having to see some other lame ass half-baked opinions from others though.

    I can't say what level of evil is required before I'd celebrate someone's death as thankfully I haven't lived through a Hitler. I can't even imagine how I'd feel about a Hitler...

    ReplyDelete
  10. I wonder how Geoffrey Howe felt when he heard the news...

    ReplyDelete
  11. "I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand 'I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!' or 'I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!' 'I am homeless, the Government must house me!' and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations, because there is no such thing as an entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation…" - Margaret Thatcher, in a 1987 interview with Woman's Own.

    Meanwhile, the political Left continues, time and time again, to encourage tribalism and collectivism, hatred and enmity, to further its goals.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Meanwhile, the political Left continues, time and time again, to encourage tribalism and collectivism, hatred and enmity, to further its goals."

      Pick up any British newspaper and you'll see that right now the political Right is doing this in a way that the left could never match.

      Delete
  12. I cannot accept your view that the world is a better place without her. You may have had a valid argument when she was in power - but not anymore. She was an old lady with no influence on politics.

    The comparisons between her and Mugabe/Chavez/Bin Laden/etc are ridiculous as these people were/are still in power and inflicting misery on the world.

    Shame on you.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I agree.I don't hate as a rule but I leapt from my chair and punched the air when I heard the news and I'm not ashamed of it. There is a certain priggishness which has set in and a superior grading of reactions. As for 'the feelings of her family' - I worked with Carol once and she obviously bore the old bag huge resentment and left her largely alone with her millions and dementia. Ultimately Margaret Thatcher's greatest sin was her cruelty.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Very well written piece.... Although I'm fairly sure she sold her grandmother early on in her career.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Please refer to facts not rhetoric. Miners were the architects of their own demise, not Margret Thatcher who was the only MP with balls to stand up to the unions who were killing the country for their own selfish ends.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Dancing on someone's grave is one thing. But deifying someone who neither deserved or deserves it is far worse.

    I didn't care when I heard she had died.

    But when I heard that the world had lost a great contributor to freedom and liberty, I did happen to mention that she was good friends with pinochet and her son had got caught trying to stage a coup in equatorial guinea.

    And I will never forgive her for what she did to ice cream.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Wе're a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community. Your web site offered us with valuable info to work on. You have done an impressive job and our whole community will be thankful to you. just click the up coming document

    ReplyDelete
  18. So, let me see if I understand this!

    If you are against Thatcher then you must subscribe to the following.

    1. It's OK for the state to subsidise a mining industry that is not making any money at a time when everyone else in the country is suffering due to out of control inflation rates.

    2. They must also be opposed to Callaghan (previous labour government) who also tried to cap miners salaries to help the dismal economy in the 70's, or if this is not the case then they are saying that the previous situation under Labour 'The Winter of Discontent' was a preferable situation.

    3. They must also feel that at a time when a nation is on its knees due to high inflation rates that it is OK for miners (NUM) to be immune from austerity steps in order to try and contribute to helping the nation recover whilst the rest of the nation goes with out.

    It seems to me that Thatcher dis what any right minded self employed business owner would do if they were operating a business that was not profitable. They would a) cut/cap salaries just as they previous Labour government tried to do with the NUM and as Thatcher picked up the baton with after Labour failed and b) would look at ways in which to streamline and modernise their business model to survive as Thatcher did through privatising the industry to enable it to become more mechanised.

    I just don't understand how people opposed to Thatcher feel that Callaghan's actions to also restrain the unions in the 70's and impose austerity measures on the miners was any different. Why do opponents of Thatcher feel it is OK for miners to not play their part in helping a nation recover from economic strife by taking cuts??????

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, you don't understand it at all.

      1. I gave you an example of how the industry actually was making money

      2. No one - in my post or the comments that followed - has said anything one way or the other about the Callaghan government

      3. There's a pretty huge fucking white space between making the miners 'immune' from austerity, and singling them out, victimising them, destroying their lives and communities.

      If you read my piece again, properly, it should become clear that my hatred of her in regard to the miners (you seem to have conveniently glossed over the rest of her horrific words and deeds) is not what she did, buut how she did it. She had absolutely no interest whatsoever in streamlining the mining industry to make it more efficient. She wanted to destroy it for political ends, not reform it for economic ones she (and, yes, Scargill on the other side) were playing with miners' lives and livelihoods to score political goals. Her aim was not to make mining more efficient, but to destroy working class political power, to take away their voice, price and solidarity.

      Delete
  19. Thank you for taking the time to write this article. Many don't understand the depth of hate towards this woman and you have put it across in a balanced way. Those that don't understand will never understand and even a balanced article like yours will not shift their views, nor was it intended to I suspect. Merely to try and give these people a taste of why rational balanced people wish death and suffering to this person when that itself appears to be an irrational thought.

    Your article compounds my beliefs and takes me back to that period like it was yesterday. In her height of oppression against the working class I was 16 and dancing freely in fields to dance music, (whist working and paying taxes during the week may I add), then ill informed police officers came in with riot gear and tried to beat us to death, for dancing! It's a personal side issue but my point is many people have a specific personal reason for hating this woman, mine happens to be that. Perhaps I am more fortunate than those whose lives and communities were destroyed. So as a balanced and rational person I have no option but to join those rejoicing this occassion and I make no applogy for doing so. Thanks again

    ReplyDelete
  20. An excellent article - and a perfect response to the 'I didn't agree with all her policies, but...' nonsense currently littering the web, an argument that stands four square with 'Hitler Loved Animals' in being completely facile. Thank you for having the guts to say what many, many people, including myself, are thinking.

    ReplyDelete
  21. A very well written article.

    Incredibly, no-one has even mentioned her part in the 1981 hunger strikes or the support of Pol Pot.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I was surprised to find myself among the ranks of those saying that "Thatcher was horrible but I won't celebrate her death". But your article revived my memories of the deceit and pure bile that Thatcher and her government used to devastate the lives of so many. Whether or not I choose to celebrate her death is largely irrelevant, what is more important is that she is remembered for what she was - a de-humanising, divisive, hate-fuelled woman whose poison was drip-fed into an already damaged society by an amoral press.

    Sadly people are all too willing to demonise other social groups rather than question the establishment. Fast forward to today and Cameron and his goons are playing the same game, holding Mick Philpott aloft as justification for their own war on the working classes, and the vulnerable in our society. And just in case people think this is about party politics, it isn't, I will be *almost* as happy when that lying piece of cr@p Blair meets his maker.

    ReplyDelete