Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead

By Jack Apollo George

There is a lot to be said about respecting the dead. There is also a lot to be said about how much so many people hated the late Baroness Thatcher. Following the UK’s first and thus far only female prime minister’s death, columnists and intellectuals across England raged war over whether or not one had to be nice about Margaret Thatcher when they reported her death. Some, like the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald likened forcefully positive obituaries to a great infringement of free speech and a thought-police style warping of history, whilst many others stuck to the traditional laud-loaded great woman of our times spiel. No one wants to speak ill of the dead but no one wants to manipulate the truth either.

She has had what is a state funeral in all but name (one has to settle for a ceremonial procession with military honors these days) despite a clear majority of members of the public being completely and utterly adverse to the idea that the government would spend their money on organizing, providing and policing the event. Many have called, ironically but somewhat logically, for her funeral to be privatized. The last Prime Minister to receive a funeral this grand was the last to receive an official state funeral – the nigh-on-mythical Sir Winston Churchill. His funeral in 1965 took place against the backdrop of a wondrous celestial curtsey of the cranes on the waterfront. Thatcher was an altogether different beast. Her legacy was not one of uniting a country against the most lethal of common enemies and thus going a long way towards saving a free Europe and perhaps a free world. Instead, hers was of disaffecting an entire nation from itself. The argument that she was a great leader because she had such a profound effect on the then present and future of her nation seems desperately flawed, for the same could be said of the most atrocious of dictators. Not that Thatcher was one. It’s just very important to remember that the level of political impact is not inherently linked to the amount of public good. She had strong beliefs, overcame huge prejudice to reach office and inspired many people. But then again, she was also without doubt the most aggressively despised of all my country’s recent leaders.

Her values were founded on a strong and just belief in the affirmation of oneself, in personal freedom. This belief was epitomized in her policies, notably giving people living in social housing the ability to buy their homes. She was a promoter of private power and privatized many of the UK’s public services. Her determination was to remove government from the people, and her adoration for liberty went a long way towards explaining her tendency to often disregard public opinion: after years of manic liberalism, she herself became the most free person in the country. She refused to denounce South African apartheid, took exiled Chilean dictator Pinochet under her wing and instigated a Poll Tax known officially and oh-so-diplomatically as the community charge.

The anger displayed and felt towards her by huge waves of the British population was able to come out with her death. This somewhat sickly opportunism, demonstrated by insidious parties and the morbid but admittedly funny campaign to get an excerpt from the Wizard of Oz, the track “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead,” to number one in the music charts (it got to second), probably pushed democratic criticism a little too far.

In a way her death provides us with an opportunity to evaluate her legacy. Without doubt she increased the UK’s stature as a world power, becoming very close to Reagan and being at the forefront of the right side at the end of the Cold War. She also bravely regained the Falkland Islands from the Argentines as well as defeating the often-mafiosa trade unions. Then again, she also caused many diplomatic scandals and great social pain and discord. Divisive on almost all fronts, she was without doubt the most controversially influential peace time leader a parliamentary monarchy has ever seen. Not to say, of course, that that is by any means a good thing.