Margaret Thatcher: her legacy, her funeral and our future
That a politician as divisive as Margaret Thatcher should polarise opinion in death is probably not surprising. Unfortunately, responses on both sides of the divide have done little but entrench bitterness and have pointed yet again to the sterile confrontationalism of so much of our politics.
Thatcher was a politician from another era. She was the strident voice and destructive force of my early adulthood and I abhor what she did and what she stood for. She has, without doubt, written the script and made the weather for the politicians who followed her. She destroyed communities in which coal and manufacturing had long been the mainstay and in doing so, left deep wounds which will be generations in the healing. She was the friend of reaction abroad and intolerance at home and her patriotism at times verged on parody. Her appearance, elocution, social attitudes and reduction of national and international finance to the economics of the Grantham corner shop seem absurd in the political culture of 2013.
But such was the force of what she was and what she did, that Britain's first female Prime Minister - a woman who has had no direct impact on public life for at least 10 years and who had sunk into physical and mental decline – has unleashed a fresh wave of rancour and bile as the nation prepares for her funeral.
Death is the leveller of us all. Prime Ministers “must, as chimney sweepers, come to dust”. The Iron Lady, reduced by frailty, dementia and lonely purposelessness was, in William Penn's words “turned over from time to eternity” last week. Where we cannot mourn, we might at least refrain from ugliness in the face of this immense mystery. The time to rejoice - as many of us did - was when she became too much for even her own party to stomach and was removed from office 23 years ago.
But neither restraint nor a sense of proportion has been on the agenda. 'Death Parties', celebrating Margaret Thatcher's lonely demise in the Ritz Hotel, are grotesque. So is Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson's description of the participants in these festivities: “unemployable dross” and “social misfit bottom feeding dregs” The puerile battle of the downloads – 'Ding dong, the witch is dead' from the Wizard of Oz and the Notsensibles' 1979 track 'I'm in love with Margaret Thatcher', resembles nothing so much as overwrought and intemperate children accusing each other of rudeness. And that is before the Daily Mail sought out two nonagenarians who had played the role of Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz to add their comment.
Next week's 'ceremonial' funeral seems likely to add more fuel to the fire. The cost, the military
trappings and the readiness of the Established church to lend itself to pomp and pageantry are all questionable. A Prime Minister's obsequies will inevitably have a public dimension, but this event, effectively indistinguishable from a state funeral, seems almost to have been designed to further bruise and divide a nation struggling under austerity.
We cannot turn back the clock. But we can refuse to be divided further. The vicious rhetoric against those who receive benefits and the growing stream of misleading, manipulated statistics emanating from government ministers in support of their war on welfare are happening now. There is “much to do now”, as Bernadette Meaden reminded us in her recent blog 'Let's not spend too much time debating the Thatcher legacy' (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18303)
We could start by refusing to be the kind of people, both individually and collectively, that Margaret Thatcher did her best to make us.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen
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