The 8th of April will forever see the addition of the passing of Margaret Thatcher in newspapers around the world. Aged 87 and having suffered from a stroke there have been few public figures from the last 40 years whom have stirred up such strong feelings, to the extent that a classmate of mine from college who was perhaps 21 years old at the time sported a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan ‘Still Hate Thatcher’ this a full 21 years after she had left power. Glen Greenwald has already written a piece in the Guardian about the culture that has arisen wherein the death of a public figure exempts them from criticism, pointing to the very clear difference between being part of commemorating a private citizen and criticizing a public figure. There is always a rather distasteful element of ‘Ding dong the witch is dead’ that surfaces in these occasions quickly followed by a slew of jokes. It’s unedifying to celebrate the death of a human being but let’s not white wash her role in history.
In this age of social media, I always fear I’ve shed some ‘cool points’ every time I write that phrase, it’s a tough call to complete this whitewash. My Twitter timeline exploded with quotes from the Iron Lady with regards to the friends she kept. It’s all out there she had strong relationships with numerous odious figures such as Pinochet, Saddam Hussein and The Shah of Iran. She went to war over a rocky island of sheep herders on the other side of the world, a stroke which saved her skin at home where her deregulation and privatisation policies saw Britain lurch further into the mire between 1979 and 1981. She supported Apartheid in South Africa, to keep Communism at bay apparently and accused Mandela and the ANC of being terrorists.
At home in Britain she is accused of being responsible for the north/south economic divide, she crushed the unions and broke up as many of the state owned businesses as possible. She dived into deregulation and privatisation breaking up the bloated system which had developed under the Labour government with absolute faith in the stability of Free Market laissez faire economics. She cemented the existence of the City of London as a state onto itself within Britain (a cause taken up with zeal by Tony Blair almost 20 years later). One of her biggest PR strokes was allowing people to buy their council houses. The fetishisation of homeownership that we are currently suffering the worse excesses of right now, can well be traced back to this moment. You can all be home owners and we’ll give you the loans to do it. Thatcher over saw a huge explosion of credit.
On this side of the Irish Sea to say there are mixed feelings would be an understatement. Irish people have a strange habit of respecting people that had no warm feelings for them. One person who sang her praises was Charlie ‘Champagne’ McCreevy. Yes that’s right, the man who was finance minister during the government which left Ireland in the worst economic crisis of its history. Listening to the news today I had to chuckle to myself as Gerry Adams took the moral higher against a woman he accused of ‘collusion’. To say she had a mixed record in the North would also be an understatement. This is the same Margaret Thatcher that gave Dublin its first say (discounting then doomed Sunningdale agreement) in the running of Northern Ireland through the Anglo Irish Agreement.
There is a trite expression that ‘History is written by the winners’; this is, to a degree, true and depending on where you stand on the ideological spectrum will very much colour your views on Thatcher. Whatever you felt about her politics one must admire her ability to rise to the top and stay at the top of one of the most male dominated spheres of public life.
Margaret Thatcher: A feminist icon, just one you mightn’t brake for.