Thatcher funeral: A woman who was hated
Thatchers elaborate funeral has been used by the rightwing establishment to elevate her into national sainthood. Meanwhile unofficial Britain welcomes her death, says Eddie Ford
Exactly as expected, the mainstream press has gone into official mourning over the death of one of its heroes - Margaret Hilda Thatcher, who became an anti-working class warrior on behalf of the bourgeois establishment. This has meant that we have had to endure wall to wall coverage - almost to the point of madness - of every conceivable angle of her life, no matter how uninteresting or astoundingly trivial. Thatcher is now the patron saint of the reactionary bourgeoisie and her funeral on April 17 marked her formal sacralisation.
Naturally, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Sun, Daily Mail, etc have all dutifully trotted out the tale of Thatcher changing the course of history by sheer determination and will power, driven by her Methodist faith and plain-talking ‘common sense’. And her feminine charms. Single-handedly, it seems, she overcame the tyrannical unions and rescued the country from terminal decline. Rescued the Falklanders from Argentinian fascism. Put the ‘great’ back into Great Britain. Brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ushered in the ‘property-owning’ democracy by enabling workers to buy their own council house.
Anyhow, regardless of any real ‘common sense’ - or materialist, Marxist rationality - this toxic, elitist view of history has been constantly reinforced by the bourgeois media. If anything, the ‘impartial’ BBC has been the worst of the lot - becoming little more than a Thatcher fan club, characterised by fawning sycophancy. The absurd ‘Ding-dong’ episode perfectly revealed the craven and hypocritical nature of the BBC. It dutifully censored the 51-second ‘Ding-dong! The witch is dead’ song from the 1939 film soundtrack of The wizard of Oz, cutting it down to a mere seven seconds. The song - rediscovered as an anti-Thatcher protest - reached number two in the UK singles chart on April 14, selling over 50,000 copies.
Explaining his decision to ban it, Tony Hall (Baron Hall of Birkenhead) - the BBC’s new director general - said Thatcher “strongly divided opinion” between those who accused her of “putting millions out of work and not caring about the poor” and those who believe she “changed the UK for the better by taking Britain’s then failing economy and making it successful”. Therefore, in its infinite wisdom, the BBC decided to split the difference - ie, fudge it. However, this high-minded attempt at compromise was somewhat belied by the fact that the BBC played in full the 34-year-old song, ‘I’m in love with Margaret Thatcher’ (three minutes, 38 seconds)1 by the forgotten punk band, the Notsensibles.
Then again, this is the same institution that between 1988 and 1994 employed actors to read out the words of Gerry Adams, while showing images of him saying the very same words. Apparently, this was an attempt to deny Sinn Féin the “oxygen of publicity”. Balanced? Who are you trying to kid, BBC? True, back then the corporation was legally obliged not to broadcast Sinn Féin voices. It has no such excuse for censoring its own chart show in 2013.
As our readers will know, parliament was recalled early on April 10 to ‘pay tribute’ to Thatcher - with MPs able to claim up to £3,750 in expenses if they so wanted to. Nice work if you can get it. Virtually all Labour MPs spontaneously boycotted what was intended to be a mindless session of hero-worship. A notable exception was Glenda Jackson, who used it as opportunity to deliver a very effective, hard-hitting attack on the “heinous social, economic and spiritual damage” which Thatcher had wreaked during her premiership; a time when what had “previously been regarded as vices” suddenly become “virtues”.2
Afterwards, Glenda Jackson’s Commons staff claimed that out of 400 emails sent in response to her speech, 372 supported her ‘disrespectful’ attack on Thatcher. Though if you watched and listened only to the BBC you would probably be convinced that - apart from a few lunatics - the entire world, not just Britain, was unified by grief for the former prime minister. George Galloway too, needless to say, fulminated against the “canonisation” of the “wicked” and “divisive” Margaret Thatcher who “laid waste” to industrial Britain.
Furthermore, the usual suspects - using that term in a positive sense - objected, correctly, to the cancellation of prime minister’s questions so that MPs could attend the funeral. Why should normal parliamentary procedures be suspended in favour of a funeral service for an ex-prime minister - who in 1990 had been kicked out of her job by her own MPs like a “dog in the night”, to use the words of Dennis Skinner. Inevitably, Galloway failed in his attempt to reinstate PMQs - securing the support of only 14 Labour MPs.
For any democrat, it is hard to conceive of a more obnoxious and hypocritical spectacle than Thatcher’s funeral on April 17 - or maybe more accurately, Operation True Blue. The ‘true blue’ committee brought together MI5, the national security secretariat, the police, Buckingham Palace, the Church of England, the parliamentary authorities, government departments and representatives of Lady Thatcher’s estate. A funeral service that will end up costing the taxpayers millions. Nothing special then.
As the BBC put it with exquisite stupidity, “Politics will stop today to remember Margaret Thatcher”. Big Ben was silenced. More than 4,000 police officers were deployed, creating ‘sterile zones’ where the police had the power to arrest any protestors deemed to be causing “alarm or distress” under Section 5 of the draconian Public Order Act. There were full military honours involving at least 800 personnel from three armed forces, including those who played a key role in the Falklands campaign. Remember, this was not a state funeral though. A sick joke.
Almost indecently, the Tories wanted a Tory funeral - a party political funeral - to become a national funeral: a state funeral in all but name for those who stopped believing in fairy-tales, or the BBC. Nor was it any old Tory Party funeral - it was a distinctly rightwing Tory Party funeral. Such a nakedly partisan exercise might backfire against the Tories.
Whatever they might think or hope, Thatcher is no Lady Di and never will be - she was hated by at least half of the population; a ComRes survey compiled on April 10-11 found that 60% were opposed to using public funds for her funeral. Even the Church of England - the established church - was unhappy, complaining about the “invidious” position in which the queen was placed when she attended a funeral of a prime minister for the first time since Winston Churchill in 1965 (one senior Tory MP actually boycotted it for this very reason).
Whilst the response of the right to Thatcher’s death might be misguided, that of the left, using that term in the broadest sense, has for the most part verged towards the puerile. Speaking clearly with her heart and not her head, Anne Scargill declared that Thatcher “weren’t a woman” - she was “evil”. Similarly, the unctuous Derek Hatton - former deputy leader of Liverpool city council, forever associated with the disastrous experiment of ‘socialism in one city’ - informed us that the issue “isn’t about whether she is dead”; instead, he feels “regret for the sake of millions of people that she was ever born”. Thatcher was somehow destined by fate or DNA to become Conservative leader and prime minister, we can only deduce.
Expressing the general leftwing and highly personalised anti-Thatcher mood, Facebook sites were set up to organise various parties with a range of names like ‘We’re having a party when Thatcher dies’ and ‘Ding-Dong when the bitch is dead!!’ (6,000 ‘likes’). Another Facebook page, named ‘When Thatcher dies, I’m going to celebrate with a glass of milk!’, featured the exhortation: “Unite and invite!!! our childish bones were brittle because of this woman”. In the opinion of the Daily Mail this was an example of “old lefties” who were “crawling out of the woodwork” and “spewing bile about Lady Thatcher” (April 11).
Of course, communists perfectly understand the reaction of millions of ordinary people to her death - we probably all know someone who has had a bottle of champagne or two (the good stuff) tucked away for ages just for this occasion. Some of us might even have attended a spontaneous anti-Thatcher party ourselves. Yet the whole point is that we expect better from the organised left, especially that section which calls itself Marxist or communist. Not in some po-faced or ideologically purist way, but just in the sense that it is the task of the Marxist left - or at least it should be - to provide political and programmatic answers, not merely tail spontaneity.
From this perspective, the Socialist Workers Party’s response to Thatcher’s death has been atrocious. As part of Socialist Worker’s “Rejoice! Thatcher’s dead special pull-out”, we are treated to a picture of Thatcher with a noose around her neck and the headline: “Gotcha! Now get the rest” (April 13).
Sorry, comrades, this is utterly crass - and says a lot about the frighteningly bad politics of the SWP. Yes, we all know - yawn - that the Socialist Worker editorial team were aping The Sun’s vile headline about the sinking of the Belgrano in 1982. Jolly good, no doubt, that Ian Burrell of The Independent has described the headline as a “breakthrough” or “triumph” for Judith Orr, current editor of Socialist Worker, writing that the paper’s “name was everywhere” (April 12). Orr herself is obviously proud as punch that the “Gotcha!” headline/image went “across the world as being the most defiant front page celebrating the end of Thatcher”. Enjoy your 15 minutes of fame, comrade.
Socialist Worker is deluding itself and treating its readers as idiots, not for the first time. Neither the SWP nor anybody else on the left ‘got’ the 87-year-old Thatcher - nature did. What are we supposed to do - wait for all Tory politicians, or perhaps the entire bourgeoisie, to die of natural causes? A brilliant revolutionary strategy. What the headline actually did was reveal the SWP’s impotency, advertising the fact that it has no answers and - like the left in general - is programmatically directionless. Get real, comrades.
Even if the headline had appeared the day after the Brighton bombing in 1984, a bomb which let us say actually did kill her, it would still send the wrong message. We defended the IRA, but we have no need to ape its methods. But the sad fact of the matter is that today, all the SWP can do is resort to a sort of vicarious terrorism now that she is safely dead.
Once again, the SWP has proved itself to be reformo-anarchist - meekly reformist when it comes to fighting elections and engaging in broad campaign work; anarchistic when it comes to empty posturing.