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The Battleground of Thatcher’s Memory

Posted on Apr 17, 2013
Charlie Williams

Protesters celebrate Margaret Thatcher’s death at London’s Trafalgar Square on Saturday.

By Charlie Williams

(Page 2)

Although steeped in 1980s anti-Thatcher nostalgia, protesters also wished to demonstrate against the continuing legacy of Thatcher and its ubiquitous influence on contemporary mainstream British politics. Thatcher’s death comes at a poignant time, in an era of National Health Service reforms, public spending cuts and “bedroom” taxes that echoes a decade of poll taxes, privatization and the deconstruction of the welfare state. One member of the Socialist Workers Party explained:

“I think particularly because of what Cameron and Osborne are doing, it [Thatcher’s death] has caught a nerve. That’s why people have come out and celebrated, because they recognize that what Cameron is doing today very much stands in the tradition of the class war that Thatcher waged. And just as people fought back under Thatcher, we need to take that struggle forward today.” 

Despite the variety of reasons that brought people out Saturday, there was one sentiment that seemed to be held by the majority. Many were upset by the response to Thatcher’s death in the global and mainstream media. One woman described hearing U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech dedicated to Thatcher as “rubbing salt in the wounds” of the people her policies affected. I asked one member of the Socialist Party how he wanted the day to be remembered.

“Today’s protests truly reflect how people felt about Margaret Thatcher,” he said. “Although it is quite small, most people I know—and I’m from a normal working-class background—celebrated when she died. This really reflects how people feel about Thatcher. …  At the moment you have media, politicians and figures from big business who are eulogizing over Thatcher, giving a rose tinted view of her time in power and the legacy she has left behind. But this protest really gives us a chance to talk about the real legacy in terms of the untold suffering she caused to millions of working-class people not just in Britain but across the world as well.”


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A statement made by one of the flag bearers for The North East Area National Union of Mineworkers noted:

“We haven’t come here to insult anybody. We have come here to tell you there is a different point of view than the one that the media has been pushing and ramming down our throats all week, and if the family of Mrs Thatcher feels insulted, our families are mortally insulted by the eulogizing of a woman who absolutely destroyed our communities and our ways of life.” 

This expression highlights why Thatcher’s death has been so important and why so much has been written about it. As her life, legacy and history is rewritten and reimagined, people want the opportunity to tell their side of the story.

Glenda Jackson, one of the few members of Parliament who spoke out against Thatcher in the House of Commons last week, described how under Thatcherism “everything I had been taught to regard as a vice … came to be regarded as a virtue.” In politics, the media and popular culture, the story of Thatcher is hotly contested territory because it shapes how we understand the ideology of Thatcherism and whether its tenets should be regarded as vice or virtue.

Those who attended Saturday’s protest were no doubt disappointed by the lack of media coverage of the event, especially from the BBC. They were equally disappointed by the low turnout of Labor and Liberal democrat backbenchers, who declined to provide a “different point of view” at the April 10 parliamentary debate concerning the life and legacy of the deceased prime minister. Yet, as admirers and mourners watched the funeral procession Wednesday, they were joined by a handful of demonstrators who stood with their backs turned to the cortege as a deliberate mark of disrespect.

The former prime minister remains the most divisive figure in British politics, and what Thatcherism means and how the Iron Lady should be remembered will be a political battleground for generations to come.

Charlie Williams is a writer living in London.

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