Question: Has the gleeful reaction to Margaret Thatcher’s death reflected poorly on the traditional British left?

Sat, Apr 13, 2013, 06:00

The preparations have been a long time in the making. Today’s “death party” in London’s Trafalgar Square, organised by anarchist group Class War, has been mooted for more than 20 years – from even before Margaret Thatcher left Downing Street.

The death of the former British prime minister was always going to provoke divisions, though the depth and breadth of the divisions of recent days could go much deeper into British society before Thatcher is laid to rest on Wednesday.

The difficulty is that the fault lines in British politics – between the Conservatives and Labour; and between both of those parties and the Liberal Democrats, never mind a host of smaller parties and fringe groups – are marked by genuine hatred.

Some groups, such as Class War, were always going to indulge in a ghoulish celebration of Thatcher’s death. But others have been goaded into reacting given the hagiographic outpouring that has come from her fiercest loyalists.

Essentially, the issue is one of tone: Thatcher’s record can be criticised and dissected forensically, even ruthlessly, but with a degree of moderation that does not sour the nature of public discourse.

Some people in the steel- and coal-mining towns and villages that were destroyed by her decisions can be excused on moderation grounds. Though, often, the people most directly affected by her actions have displayed a basic respect for the dead, if only in public.

It is the social media generation – often ignorant of much of the detail of what Thatcher did or did not do – who have indulged in the most unseemly celebration, often wrapped in the vilest of language.

Equally, however, some on the left of politics have demeaned themselves by making comparisons between Thatcher and Osama bin Laden. Whatever her faults, and they were many, Thatcher was a democratically elected leader voted in three times by the British electorate.

For Thatcher loyalists, no criticism is permissible, as seen by the reaction of Conservative MPs during Wednesday’s tribute in the House of Commons – itself an unusual act since MPs had to be recalled from recess for it.

People have been pushed into taking positions on her death because of previously made decisions. It was Gordon Brown’s government that agreed Thatcher’s funeral arrangements – one step short of a state funeral – with her, not David Cameron’s.