Harsh judgments flow as Thatcher's divisive legacy remembered

The deaths of few public figures have been hailed as joyfully as Thatcher's. Some have had champagne on ice for decades awaiting the day

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 April, 2013, 5:41am


"May she burn in hell fires" … "This could not come soon enough" … "Tramp the dirt down".

A respectful pause in hostilities is customary upon the death of most political figures. Not so for Margaret Thatcher. In death, as she had been in life, Thatcher proved a deeply divisive figure. To no one's surprise, her death at the age of 87 drew expressions of satisfaction and even delight.

The "burn in hell" remark was tweeted by left-wing member of parliament George Galloway, who also quoted the Elvis Costello protest song Tramp the dirt down.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams offered a scathing assessment of Thatcher's political legacy. She had done "great hurt to the Irish and British people during her time as British prime minister. Here in Ireland her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering".

No amount of genuine dismay at such sentiments within the rival family of Thatcher admirers could inhibit the toasts and cheers. Some people claim to have kept champagne bottles on ice for the occasion for decades.

Any satisfaction that Britain's first woman prime minister - and their personal enemy - is dead mingled with burning anger and regrets rekindled in those who still feel that Thatcherism ruined their lives and wrecked their communities. The further north, the more visible it was among people who felt she cared nothing for them, their skills or values, or for a slower, gentler world. In Scotland her legacy has crippled the Tory vote and may contribute to the break-up of Britain, one of many ironies for her own declared values.

David Hopper, general secretary of the Durham Miners Association in northeast England, now a shadow of itself, in part thanks to Thatcher's defeat of the miners' union, spoke for millions who blamed Thatcher for the loss of livelihoods that globalisation and technology might have taken anyway.

"It looks like one of the best birthdays I have ever had," said the ex-miner, 70 on Monday, who spent all his working life at Wearmouth colliery. "There's no sympathy from me for what she did to our community. She destroyed our community, our villages and our people. For the union, this could not come soon enough and I'm pleased that I have outlived her."

Thatcher supporters will recoil from such sentiments as unfair and blind to economic realities and the selfish, sectional stranglehold then exercised by unions on behalf of their members. But such talk will not sway the likes of Hopper.

"I imagine we will have a counter-demonstration when they have her funeral," he said. "Our children have got no jobs and the community is full of problems. There's no work and no money and it's very sad the legacy she has left behind. She absolutely hated working people and I have got very bitter memories of what she did. She turned all the nation against us and the violence that was meted out on us was terrible. I would say to those people who want to mourn her that they're lucky she did not treat them like she treated us."

It was Thatcher's misfortune that her insights were not tempered with much sympathetic imagination for people unlike herself - "Is he one of us?", asked of any potential collaborator, became a famous phrase. She had tender feelings - her staff liked her - but rarely let them show in public, until that last tear after her party ejected her from power with a brutality she had not expected.

Even among the party faithful it made her more admired than loved. On holiday among friends the restless workaholic was not easy company. Among those she bested in political battles it all made it much easier to hate her. Few British prime ministers have been burned in effigy, and certainly none with such frequency.

The gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said Thatcher was "an extraordinary woman but she was extraordinary for mostly the wrong reasons. During her rule, arrests and convictions for consenting same-sex behaviour rocketed, as did queer-bashing violence and murder. Gay men were widely demonised and scapegoated for the Aids pandemic and Thatcher did nothing to challenge this vilification."

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone blamed Thatcher for causing unemployment and leaving people reliant on welfare: "She decided when she wrote off our manufacturing industry that she could live with two or three million unemployed."