Why I am going to Thatcher’s funeral. And why you should too.

Thatcher Thatcher Thatcher Thatcher Thatcher Thatcher Thatcher Thatcher Thatcher Thatcher Thatcher

She’s dead, you know?

With the passing of a political monolith is born a very modern PR battle. And it is one Thatcher’s advocates, acolytes, admirers, political dependents and press pushers are winning.


Let’s get my position out of the way first. Thatcher did nothing to me I could describe as harmful. I was two when she left office, forced out by her own party in the wake of the poll tax riots. I never lived under her as a politicised individual. I know few people whose communities were destroyed by her policies. Of course the changes she made shape aspects of my life, in ways I often resent, but a personal vendetta this is not.

However. As a believer in progressive politics – with an aversion to the politics of force and heirarchy and a mistrust of the seemingly unassailable virtue of being made of iron – I know I’m no Thatcherite.

Many acts of her premiership were unpleasant – her administration’s sale of weapons to East Timor, her undying support of the hideous Pinochet, her opposition to gay rights, her tolerance of apartheid, her merciless crushing of organised labour (however intransigent their leadership may have been it was a class war, as far as I can see, not simply a hard-fought reconfiguring of industrial relations), her collusion in establishing Murdoch’s unapologetic, unaccountable and anti-democratic grip on British politics by exempting his purchase of The Times from competition law and, of course, there was the milk-snatching (worst of all?).


For these acts – and there could be added more of contention: Northern Ireland, the Falklands/Malvinas and her guniea-pigging of the Scots with her doomed poll tax, I hold her to account, and in the court of my own insignificant opinion, find her guilty.

So why would I go to her funeral? Well, normally, I wouldn’t: I’m not in the habit of intruding into the private mourning of families to whom I have no personal connection. But this time I’m paying for it, so it would seem a little rude not to show my face.


But it’s not the money that worries me so much. Don’t get me wrong: that we’re about to spend millions at time when up to 400,000 children could be pushed into poverty by the Government’s dishonest austerity agenda is – unequivocally – a disgrace. But let’s not pretend that money, if not spent on Thatcher, would find it’s way to poor kids. It the symbolism that counts. And it’s a wider, fundamentally more worrying symbolism that is really at stake here.

The granting of a ceremonial funeral to Thatcher, effectively a state funeral – no less pricey and (conveniently) requiring no authorisation by parliament – is clearly unjustifiable and highly politicised. Think on it: if you’re a monarchist (if you’re not – pretend you are for a second), how do you justify spending public money on royal rites of passage? You argue that the royal family is representative of Britain as a nation, that contained in them is an essence, able to engender a collective national pride for the benefit of social cohesion and well-being. So – you might argue – you’re not really spending money on some posh bloke marrying some slightly-less-blue-blooded woman (or whatever) – no – you’re spending money on an event of nation-building, and therefore one that has national utility.

The Queen Mother’s funeral, to which Thatcher’s will compare, according to the government.

I don’t buy this. But, for a second, do so. Now apply the reasoning to Thatcher. Even her staunchest advocates, her longest-standing allies, her greatest beneficiaries (I’m thinking of the Murdochs, amongst others, here) would grant you that she was probably the most divisive political figure of 20th century British politics. They might even celebrate it – but they wouldn’t deny it.


So what does it mean that Thatcher is receiving a ceremonial funeral? Are we celebrating divisiveness, the rise of inequality, the erosion of community? That doesn’t sound very big-society like. No, instead, a sophisticated operation to re-engineer Thatcher’s legacy into a symbol of the modern Britain we live in is underway. This is unprecedented partisan political theatre, on a grand scale.

ONS graph showing the rise in UK inequality until 2005. Click for more info.

Imagine you’re watching this from abroad – the US, China, somewhere in South America. You see a day of state-organised mourning on your television. Roads are closed, the doors of St Pauls are thrown open, the military is marching in its finest, a casket is driven through the streets, there is a 21 gun salute. This looks to you like a day of national celebration of a cherished and revered national figure. Undoubtably for some she is cherished, and revered, but I refuse to accept that she could ever be a national figure. And this attempt to present her as such is dishonest, unfair, and simply disrespectful to those who fought and lost battles for their communities, livelihoods and identities against her.

Worse – the lack of opposition from the political mainstream to this logically and theoretically flawed occasion is both indicative and confirming of Thatcher’s greatest achievement: the permanent shifting of the political centre to the right and the transforming a socio-economic culture away from ideals of social purpose and into the narrow silos of self-interest, greed, monetary obsession, and a contempt – so evident in this government’s hideous campaign against the poor, of whom most are in work – for those who fail to make it. Social attitude surveys tell us that, to a significant extent, we still live in Thatcher’s Britain. The opposition has been cowed, unwilling to risk the self-righteous flak of a right-wing media baying for anything able to be portrayed as barbaric bad-taste, or bitter-loser sydrome.

So this is why I will be going to Thatcher’s funeral. Because I believe that Thatcher does not symbolise our nation. She does not symbolise me. She does not symbolise many of the people who will read this. She symbolises an uncompromising, idelogically zealous neo-liberal economic agenda riddled with flaws and totally incapable of dealing with our current crisis, of which it, not public excess, is the primary cause.

If this establishment wants to build a political event out of Thatcher’s death, so be it. I will be there trying to show that dissent, heard or unheard, oppressed or ignored, is always a part of politics. And we need it now more than ever. So come along.

—–

Links to planned protests (please comment with more if known)

https://www.facebook.com/WearRedOnThe17thApril

https://www.facebook.com/protestatfuneralprocessionofthatcher?fref=ts

Route of the funeral:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22096613

Suggestions for placards (please add your own, these aren’t very good):

‘Rust in peace’

‘Say hello to Pinochet for me!’

‘I believe in society’

‘The state only grows on special occasions’

‘Now for the ideology’

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3 comments

  1. While brilliantly written, it is clear that you ‘weren’t around at the time’. As our first female PM, the electorate were worried she would be weak. Instead she stood up to the trade union bullies – and yes they did bully, they bullied their members and they bullied the country by striking if employers, including the state, wanted less uncompetitive working practices. She took them on rather than taking the line of least resistance.
    And, of far more importance, she took on the fascist Argentinian dictator Galtieri, who tried to use the invasion of the Falklands to distract the growing internal opposition to his junta’s abusive of civil rights and torturing and murdering his opponents. Mrs Thatcher believed that the world would be a far less safe place if international law was broken, unchallenged, by brutish dictators taking power at the barrel of machine guns. Again, it would have been easier to have made excuses for letting the Falkland Islanders manage under Argentinian rule, but she decided to send our forces to kick out the Argentinians.
    Finally, she realised that people who owned their own homes would feel more part of society, and so encouraged the sale of council houses, managed/repaired very inefficiently by at best lethargic local councils, to individuals – well families – who immediately began to improve their homes, make them reflect their individual tastes, increase their investment. And councils had the revenue to then improve schools, care homes and other services so long starved of cash.

    • Hi Paul!

      Thanks for reading the post.

      I take all of your points on board – I am not attempting to simplify the inevitably complicated and contested elements of Thatcher’s politics, policies and even her personality (particularly re: the Trade Unions). Of course, I have an emotional perspective on this because of my politics, and I can’t stop that from coming across.

      However, this post is more about the significance of a ceremonial funeral, and what that means from an ideological point of view. Put to one side my comments on the unpleasant elements of Thatcher’s time in office, though I do believe they are relevant. I do think we’re looking at an unjustified endorsement of a partisan political figure, no matter how seismic in importance.

      I would think this in any case of a former PM being treated in such a way (with exceptions for future Churchillians – extremely unlikely I think). But I think it is particularly the case when the ideological, cultural and economic legacy left by Thatcher is – in my opinion – the fundamental problem we face today, and a legacy that entails much economic injustice.

      We just cannot continue seeing the concentration of mega-wealth in the hands of the mega-few and yet find a way out of this crisis, in all its guises; economic, social and environmental.

      It worries me deeply that we should be publicly celebrating the symbol of neo-liberal ideology when it is exactly that which is in desperate need of deconstruction.

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