What is it about death that makes us all drop everything and uncritically praise somebody? I’ve never understood that impulse, and so as I read the reactions to the death of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher from Britain’s Labour Party, the heralding of her achievements by those who worked both against them at the time and to undo them in the decades since makes absolutely no sense to me. She’s dead! It’s not like she’s going to get offended.
As an American, it’s hard for me to think of Margaret Thatcher—who was PM from 1979 until 1990 when she was unseated by John Major—and divorce her legacy from that of Ronald Reagan, who was president from 1981-1989, as similar a tenure as a U.S. executive could have. I was born in 1981, so obviously my understanding of international politics at the time has been informed in hindsight, but with survived assassination attempts, rampant privatization and a view of social welfare that hovered somewhere between gutting the middle class and the public flogging of homosexuals, there’s more than a bit of similarity there between Thatcher and the onetime star of Bedtime For Bonzo.
Doubtless that was part of what brought Thatcher to prominence in the first place, and what led to her contributions and leadership position in bringing the U.S. and U.S.S.R. to the table, ending the Cold War as much as it ever ended, but seriously, fuck it. Hitler had a will to power too. Being strong doesn’t automatically make you a good person, even after you’re dead, and I’m not about to pretend to admire Margaret Thatcher’s strength when what she did with it has turned into an entire generation of lunkheaded conservative shitbaggery. I’m sure her family will miss her, but the spirit of political compromise certainly won’t.
I only hope, for England’s sake, that the difference between what the two figures leave behind in their passing is that Thatcher doesn’t become some kind of deified figure to invoke whenever this or that MP wants a measure passed—“Mrs. Thatcher would approve of this law banning anyone making under 100,000 pounds sterling from appearing in public squares,” and so forth, just as the name Ronald Reagan gets trotted out every time a right winger wants his or her base to pop a boner on some dogwhistled hatespeech or “free market” horseshit.
But hey, she’s dead, right? She must’ve been great, because what good does it do to rag on dead people? I’ll tell you what fucking good it does—it’s called LEARNING. There’s a fucking reason not to blindly suck off every corpse that comes down the pike, and it’s so we don’t spend an eternity making the same dumbassed mistakes as generations before us. Margaret Thatcher was a powerful leader, and more pivotally for her time, she was a powerful woman leader, but she’s also someone who—despite having to break down these walls first to serve as a Member of Parliament and then as Prime Minister—contributed nothing to the social progress of those who might follow in her wake. See how upset they are in the Falklands today, or anyone affected by Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, which basically banned any promotion of gay rights. Really breaking that glass ceiling there… and then rebuilding it out of bulletproof glass. They didn’t repeal Section 28 until 2003.
Someone dying doesn’t undo the bad they’ve done, or the good, so as the media trots out their pre-written laudatory obituaries, keep in mind that there’s more to Margaret Thatcher’s story than her being a strong leader who saved Britain from the perils of economic inflation.