Dec 12, 2013
The Battleground of Thatcher’s Memory
Posted on Apr 17, 2013
By Charlie Williams
Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Dead! Dead! Dead!
Those words were chanted by the thousands of protesters who gathered at London’s Trafalgar Square on Saturday to celebrate the death of Margaret Thatcher. The event marked the end of a bizarre and remarkable week in the U.K., characterized by an absolutely polarized response to the demise of the longest serving British prime minister in living memory. The history of Thatcher is once again being reconstructed and reimagined. Although she was finally laid to rest Wednesday, people from across the political spectrum will continue to compete in their attempts to revise her complicated legacy.
At one end, leaders from around the world have expressed their respect and admiration for a woman who, in current Prime Minister David Cameron’s words, “made Britain great again.” For many people across the U.K. however, Thatcher and Thatcherism continue to leave a bitter taste in the mouth. The announcement of her death April 8 inspired not only national mourning, but also a series of celebrations across the country, some of which were impromptu, others planned for decades. Contempt for Maggie and her policies still runs deep.
In the U.K. it is traditional to loathe politicians, especially those we elect to office. In 2003, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair received the top prize in a national television poll dedicated to finding the “worst person” in Britain. Despite this accolade, he still managed to win a third general election two years later.
More recently, in summer 2012, Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer and Cameron’s right hand man, George Osborne, was invited to present medals during an award ceremony at the Paralympic Games. An audible boo erupted across the stadium as Osborne’s name was announced. The chancellor laughed nervously and for a brief moment seemed to share the aspirations of the audience members, who hoped that the ground might open up and swallow him whole.
As someone who found it slightly unnerving when Americans took to the streets of New York and Washington, D.C., after the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011, I found the death party of an 87-year-old lady with Alzheimer’s to be an altogether unsavory affair.
The theme of dancing on Thatcher’s grave was heavy in the air Saturday. Disfigured effigies of the Iron Lady were lovingly constructed and zealously destroyed. Torrential rain did little to dent the bitter enthusiasm of the protesters, and as darkness fell and live bands began to play, the atmosphere turned increasingly carnivalesque. Clashes with an abundantly present police force were inevitable.
Everyone had his or her own reasons for being at Trafalgar Square and for hating Maggie T. Some came to remember the victims of the Falklands War, or to pay tribute to the memory of Bobby Sands and the Irish hunger strikers. Many others continue to regard the poll tax, privatization and the disempowerment of the unions as some of the cruelest political injustices in modern British history. According to one demonstrator, the 1980s defined a class war in which Thatcher intended to leave workers “emasculated and on their knees.” A handful of people at the gathering told proud stories of how they marched on Trafalgar during the Poll Tax Riots of 1990.
Most people over the age of 25 had at least one personal story to tell, showing how Thatcherism directly affected their lives and those of their families. Many were forced to relocate from industrial communities in search of work, and suffered periods of intense poverty as a result. One Liverpool native described how the prime minister had “poisoned his life” ever since he was forced to leave home after losing his job in the Merseyside docks during the 1980s. By far the loudest cheer of the evening erupted as the banner bearing the emblem of The North East Area National Union of Mineworkers began making its way through the crowd. Everyone present offered the utmost respect for the mining communities decimated by Thatcherism.
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