It says a lot about someone when their death is not just joked about, it is celebrated. Margaret Thatcher is one of those people. Parties have been held across the country to greet her passing and Ding Dong the Witch is Dead almost reached the top of the charts. To see such a hated and divisive figure remembered in any other way would seem to be offensive to the historical record. However celebrating her death achieves absolutely nothing unless her legacy is also fought against.
The mines are still closed, most industry is still privatised, the welfare state ever more dismantled. Those who died needlessly in the Falklands so she could win an election are still dead. The one-time windfall of North Sea Oil has still been squandered on paying unemployment benefit and tax cuts. Britain is an increasingly divided society riven by new attempts to foster class hatred. This is Thatcher’s legacy.
The current Conservative-dominated government are heavily influenced by Thatcher in their pursuit of destroying the state, with Osborne even claiming that they are making cuts she only dreamed of. One woman’s death will not change this.
The final insult is that despite her family’s considerable wealth, her funeral has been largely funded by taxpayers’ money at a time of austerity. Surely it would have been much more fitting to privatise it.
Unless the left rallies and creates its own real alternative to Thatcherism, her hateful neo-liberal policies will persist. The attitude comes in part from the myth that Thatcherism was in some way inevitable and therefore should be accepted. This is not to say that there were not problems in the 1970s but Thatcherism as a remedy was akin to curing a headache with decapitation. France under the Socialist Francois Mitterrand also brought inflation under control in the 1980s, but without the damage Thatcher caused.
It is also important to remember that she was so hated by the end of her time in office due to policies such as the poll tax, that it was her own party that ruthlessly kicked her out.
In many ways the hatred towards her from many of the left comes from the frustration that they have not had their own Thatcher, who would have ruthlessly implemented their desired policies at the expense of all opposition. The liberal paradox of attempting to find consensus even when their opponents have no time for such measures, has hampered any attempts to find such a figure. The most successful leader Labour has had electorally was Blair, who was as infatuated with Thatcher as many Conservatives, and accepted most of her policies. Thatcher herself saw the creation of New Labour as her greatest achievement.
Therefore as much as it is painful to admit it, Thatcher was phenomenally successful in her own terms. All the street parties and jokes in the world will do little to change that.
However it does not have to be this way. Thatcher showed what the right can achieve when the left is divided and weak, something that must be remembered today. If the true pain that Thatcherism has inflicted is fought against and countered at every opportunity, there is the hope that in future Britain can be changed for the better.