The spectacle of seeing people celebrating the death of the former British Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher and stamping their feet on her pictures and images is in sharp contrast to say the downfall of Sadden Hussein or the death of Chairman Mao Zedong. In Chairman Mao’s case millions wept openly in the streets, despite him being responsible for the worst famine in Chinese history which resulted in unspeakable acts of horror, including cannibalism, and the deaths of tens of millions of his people. Similarly, the death of the ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong IL of North Korea invoked national grief on an unprecedented scale however staged it was-there was no dancing in the streets or defacing or stamping on his picture-perhaps because most of the starving and politically repressed North Koreans didn’t have the energy to display such acts of disrespect and defiance?
So, what did some of the well-fed and over-indulged citizens of the United Kingdom have to celebrate over the death of a seriously ill, senile old lady, who once rescued their country from the abyss of political, social and economic decline and obscurity?
During her premiership I was a young man, often full of youthful ideals, yet somewhat naïve about how one managed to govern a country and cater for the needs of in excess of 56 million people of varying cultural, religious, social and political backgrounds. I didn’t always agree with her policies, especially her ruthless approach to the crisis in Northern Ireland and her brutal suppression of the Union movement. However, her decisions and actions on these divisive and alienating religious, social and political issues have to be considered within the turbulent political framework of the time. A political solution in Northern Ireland was off the agenda and the violent revolution being promoted by the IRA culminated in her attempted assassination on October 12th 1984. The long stand off with the miner’s union broke the back of that movement and witnessed a decline in socialism as an alternative measure of economic and political reform in the United Kingdom, and her former colonies. It paved the way for ‘New Labor” or as some would argue an unprincipled socialist alternative to covet wealth and political power at the expense of its former ideals.
Margaret Thatcher is infamously credited with overseeing the decline of the manufacturing base in her country and some would even argue of adopting a deliberate policy for the purposeful destruction of the social and economic power base of the working class. Unemployment reached in excess of 3 million during the initial years of her premiership and economic reform program, while unprecedented rioting gripped many cities within the United Kingdom. The infamous ‘poll tax riots’ culminated in the deaths of over 100 people-the tax was later abolished by her predecessor, John Major. Some 8 years after her election, unemployment had decreased, inflation was down and the economy was stable; the lady, who “wasn’t for turning” on any policy had proved her quintessential political and economic arguments.
Possessing a formidable intellect, Baroness Thatcher also had a delicious sense of humor which she always seemed to exercise at the right moment. One of my favorite examples of this is her encounter with the Australian broadcaster George Negus:
Negus: Why do people stop us in the street almost and tell us that Margaret Thatcher isn’t just inflexible, she’s not just single-minded, on occasions she’s plain pig-headed and won’t be told by anybody?
Thatcher: Would you tell me who has stopped you in the street and said that?
Negus: Ordinary Britons…
Negus: In conversation, in pubs…
Thatcher (interrupting): I thought you’d just come from Belize
Negus: Oh this is not the first time we’ve been here.
Thatcher: Will you tell me who, and where and when?
Negus: Ordinary Britons in restaurants and cabs
Thatcher: How many?
Negus: …in cabs
Thatcher: How many?
Negus: I would say at least one in two
Thatcher: Why won’t you tell me their names and who they are?
Another one I still chuckle over is “No-one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well”.
In contrast to other more notorious and scandal ridden 20th and 21st century western political and intellectual figures like Ann Rand, Newt Gingrich, George W Bush, Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin; Margaret Thatcher never destroyed her own country and its reputation or someone else’s country and its citizenry. She achieved something-she rebuilt a country, economy and empire in decline. In doing so she maintained a stable marriage and family life and modeled in her private life what she promoted in her public life ““My policies are based not on some economics theory, but on things I and millions like me were brought up with: an honest day’s works for an honest day’s pay; live within your means; put by a nest egg for a rainy day; pay your bills on time; support the police.” The very people captured “dancing on her grave” are the ones who should take this advice to heart. They will continue to benefit from the social, economic and political reforms she had the courage to carry out at a time when collective and civil responsibility was subordinated to individual entitlement.
Hatred is a powerful emotional driving force in producing irrational and dangerous human behavior. In the case of Margaret Thatcher perhaps “the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones” (Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene II).