On 8th April 2013 news that would soon herald the sounds of joy and celebration from a vast majority of British towns was broken: Margaret Thatcher was dead. Soon enough, ‘Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead!’ reached No.2 in the British charts, and street parties were held in Brixton, County Durham, Bristol and Liverpool amongst others, leaving no doubt that this was not unwelcome news for an overwhelming majority of the population. Yet, simultaneously, the union flag was lowered to half-mast at Buckingham palace (not without controversy), and prominent politicians around the globe volunteered words of praise for Thatcher’s character, if not her policies.
Of course, such a polarised response to Thatcher’s death was not unexpected, and just how the world should remember this woman will undoubtedly never be a settled debate. However, significant portrayals in popular culture even during her lifetime have definitely added fuel to the ever burning fire of popular, divided, opinion.
‘The Iron Lady’ (2011) is one of the most recent, and significant attempts at portraying the former Prime Minister in a somewhat positive light, yet has drawn criticism from both Thatcherites, and the anti-Thatcher left. With a humanising portrayal of her character and her fight with dementia a sense of the ex-Prime Minister as separate from her policies seeks to paint a more positive picture of the conservative leader, one that sits uncomfortably with left-leaning anti-Thatcherites. However, in its narrative, the film also breaks down the strong icon that is favoured by right-leaning supporters, and shows Thatcher as she was, ‘an old lady’ (Phyllida Lloyd) therefore creating discomfort on both ends of the love-hate dichotomy.
In some ways Thatcher is the marmite of the political world, most Brits are at some point faced with the question: Love it or Hate it? Yet there are those who still claim a strange possession over the right to an opinion on her, based on whether a person was fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to have been alive to experience her ascension through the conservative party and subsequent rule. Reports on the demonstrations and celebrations at her death can be found littered with implicit statements that those too young to have experienced her rule are not entitled to feel anger at the consequences it had. Reports such as this seem to almost suggest that the issues caused by Thatcherite policy began and ended with her time as leader of the country, and, in their lauding of those who were ‘toddlers’ during her reign, they invalidate the political voice of younger generations.
As uncomfortable as it may be to do so, it has to be said that there are some aspects of Margaret Thatcher’s life that must be acknowledged as relatively worthy of praise; her stark self-assurance in the face of a country openly hostile to its first female Prime Minister should absolutely not be ignored.
Yet, as was aptly demonstrated when, after Thatcher’s death it was put to an audience vote as to whether a damningly anti-Thatcher song should still be performed in the opening of the second act of Billy Elliot the ‘overwhelming’ response was “yes”, there are significantly more aspects of her reign that deserve the criticism they have received.
Those attending celebrations and demonstrations – of all ages – do not after all remember Thatcher as a personal relation, or as someone who cared about them. They remember her as the often caricatured face of policy that, to quote a rather eloquent builder, ‘ripped the arsehole out of [Britain]’ and left entire classes to shoulder the consequences for decades.