I’ve spent a couple of days holding back from this post. People close to me already know my thoughts and everybody else can probably live comfortably without knowing. But there are a few things I feel the need to say. I wrote a piece a couple of years ago about my changing engagement with politics. I touched on something which has become extremely relevant this week;
Here’s the thing; I dislike Thatcher. As I’ve made clear again and again, I grew up in one of the regions that caught the brunt of her policies. As an adult I live in another. I have no regard for her life, and I don’t plan on feeling much when it deserts her. However, there is a huge difference between feeling anger towards a person, and between thinking that gives me licence to talk of “dancing on her grave.”
I need no lectures on the destructiveness of Margaret Thatcher and her politics. I also feel little need to presume to lecture others on those issues. My brain is simply not wired in a way to understand how anyone can not see that her legacy is one of ruination and contempt. I cannot imagine a time when my words will not drip with venom when I discuss her.
But I saw something exceptionally nasty on Monday, something that has continued to fester and grow in the days that have followed. I saw fireworks being let off on Monday evening. I’ve seen people talking of parties, and dancing. I’ve seen the celebration of the death of an old lady.
At a time when I was far more active in party politics than I am now -a time when I was raised to be a firebrand lefty- I believed that “my” side believed that people matter. That life matters. I believed that was what separated “us” from “them.” The same “them” who would pick and choose who mattered. The same “them” that believed in creating divides and tearing communities apart. I’m reminded occasionally of a brilliant speech by Stephen Fry. In a televised debate on religion, Fry said;
“The Church is very loose on moral evils, because although they try to accuse people like me, who believe in the enlightenment, of somehow what they call ‘moral relativism,’ as if it’s some appalling sin, where what it actually means is ‘thought,’ they for example thought that slavery was perfectly fine. Absolutely okay. And then they didn’t. And what is the point of the Catholic church if they say,’oh well we couldn’t know better because nobody else did…THEN WHAT ARE YOU FOR?”
And to borrow from one of my favourite Fry speeches, I have to ask; If liberals -a title I have proudly given to myself even after becoming disenchanted with party politics and many other labels- feel we can in fact pick and choose when life matters and when it doesn’t, if we can dance on graves, and if we can indulge in division and anger with as much venom as “them,” then WHAT ARE WE FOR?
A frail old lady has died. And at some point over the next few days, her loved ones are going to gather together to put her into the ground. I don’t know the details of her family, but we have a very real chance that children and grand-children will be stood saying a final goodbye to a family member knowing that the country has put “Ding Dong, The Wicked Witch is dead,” into the music charts to celebrate the death.
Is this what we are for? Is this the best we can do?
The phrase that keeps getting thrown around is “speaking ill of the dead.” It’s a stupid concept. I won’t link to the most-shared piece on this, because it’s author is also of the very loud opinion that rape is a lesser crime than a cock-eyed conspiracy theory about extradition, and that a man accused of the former should be granted asylum from facing those charges because of the latter. But as a general principle, “speaking ill of the dead,” needs to be retired. A figures deeds and legacy should be discussed as strongly in death as in life.
We should never feel the need -and should never be asked- to curb an open and honest discussion about the damage done by Thatcherism. I’m sat watching the parliamentary debate right now where any attempt by Labour politicians to voice discontent is coming as a welcome relief against the eulogizing that is taking place. But each of them is pitching it right, they’re talking about what she stood for in life, they are not celebrating the fact that she no longer has it.
And whilst I don’t believe in the general principle that we shouldn’t “speak ill of the dead,” there is something in that phrase that we should give far more thought to than we do. Let’s be clear and blunt; Margaret Thatcher doesn’t care if we speak ill of her, because she is dead. She’s not here. She is not part of the conversation. We need to spare thought for the living.
I don’t see that any of my contempt for that woman gives me any rights, any decent imperative, to cause hurt to her loved ones. There’s something a bit to Old Testament about that, to me. I don’t want to celebrate death, I don’t want to dance on a grave and I don’t want to betray the very ideals that I thought made me ‘liberal.’ We are on the verge of crossing that line.
You’re angry about what she did? Great. That means you have eyes. That means you have a social conscience. But use that anger the right way. Debate her legacy. Raise awareness of the issues. Help people. Donate to charities that fight against that legacy. Organise.
Don’t revel. Don’t celebrate. Don’t set out to cause pain and hurt. Margaret Thatcher attempted to rob millions of people of their dignity and humanity. And if we let her win, what are we for?