There is a saying that you get the face you deserve.
There’s another saying that you must never rejoice over a death. Martin Luther King wrote in The Strength to Love, ‘No one should rejoice at the death or defeat of a human being’. In fact, I feel no impulse to rejoice over this death, though I’m finding it harder even than in the cases of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. They were treated with stark inhumanity that reduced everyone in whose name it was done, and she lived to 87 completely on her own terms, which frees us to think instead of her life, rather than her death.
I always thought the famous Is Thatcher Dead Yet website was in rather poor taste. They’re having a very good day today, though, you have to hand it to them:
But even Thatcher was a human being – and what a human being. I’m not going to waste my time and yours rehearsing the bleedin’ obvious, we all know what she was like, whichever side we’re on. One day she’ll be very interesting to read about, the way Henry VIII is.
But the eighties were hell, and because of her it’s been hell ever since.
I used to have to walk out of the room when she came on the news, and now I daren’t turn on the telly at all. (Just as well. In a stroke of luck, my straitened circumstances – thanks to the deregulation she and Reagan bequeathed us, and the inhumanity of the response of her successors – mean that I’ve cancelled my cable television, and the freeview box I’m inheriting from my aunt isn’t yet hooked up.) As Owen Jones wrote two years ago, it’s now going to be like the death of Diana all over again, combined with an eight-week-long Conservative Party Conference. And as I say, I used to have to leave the room, in a complete lather…
I heard the news and immediately went to Facebook, where people are crowing and pasting up pictures of the Wicked Witch of the West and saying Tramp the Dirt Down and so on… A couple of people are saying we mustn’t celebrate a death, and someone says that’s sanctimonious, and others are saying we must dance in the streets. I don’t feel sanctimonious; just very, very peculiar. I’ve clearly internalised something or other.
Her family will be grieving now. They’ll have been going through something like what I am, with the Alzheimers; though of course Mrs Thatcher found conditions at the Ritz most congenial for hers, where we were offered two choices: one nursing home near me and the kids, and another an hour and a half away. No choice of room, and a lot of institutional strangeness and unfamiliarity, which has made it hard for her to settle in, and so on.
But you can’t start going into knock-on effects, because Lady Thatcher would never have been forced to try and manage her own squalor on her own, and there is nothing to be gained by rehearsing the many and great advantages of being rich, which my aunt was never going to be, and it’s not so many generations since people were put in workhouses. She’s in a good, clean, pleasant enough place where the staff are young, cheerful and kind, and she’s gained about 7kg since January just through being fed enough.
And then you think, who’s mourning? Mark Thatcher! God, remember all that? Loan shark, tax dodger, racketeer, vapid playboy – since denied residence in both Monaco and the USA because of his role in the attempted coup of Equatorial Guinea, for which he was both fined and given a suspended prison sentence – so no more coups for you, young man – and evidently he wasn’t exactly moving to be nearer the Ritz to look after his mum. Well, I suppose even he is human and grieving.
So let Mark Thatcher’s children, who are ’being educated in the USA’, mourn their highly influential grandmother, who after all pulled all the strings she could in favour of her family. That’s the meritocracy in action. ‘It’s faaamily, innit’.
The poet monk John Lydgate, of whom Thatcher almost certainly had never heard, wrote in the 15th century:
Odyous of olde been comparisonis,
And of comparisonis engendyrd is haterede.
He was right. And Martin Luther King also said, in the same book as above:
Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.
So enough of that.
But look at that face at the top! We know it too well, we can’t really see it. But it made me jump today. I hope when I’m 85 years old and on my uppers I look kinder, more well-intentioned, at least. If at some point Margaret Thatcher had come to me in real need of some kind – it’s hard to conjure up a scenario, but let’s try – I like to think I would have helped her. It’s just what you do. I’d also have wanted to say, ‘Yes, of course I will. But if you still needed it, you shouldn’t have broken it. Now go sit on the quiet step till I tell you to move.’
I mean, look at that face. All the compassion of Care in the Community, the social conscience of the miners’ strike, the generosity of trickle-down theory – ‘let’s just take what we want, and we’ll tell everyone else the leftovers are as good as a feast’ – and the imaginary thinking behind the defining, apocryphal, saying – ‘There is no such thing as society’ – that she never even said.
The harshness. The stridency. The inflexibility, the rightness, the refusal to listen.
Look at that face. No curiosity about people, about anything really. There never was. Just bags of certainty, and loadsamoney. Well, she did what grandparents have been saying for generations, she stuck like that.
And that’s the crux. Nothing can undo any of it. The council homes are not only sold off, they’re owned in swathes by the sons of the very Tory grandees who changed the law to make it happen. The people who should have been living in them, and their children, are being penalised for needing a place to live at all. Even the local authorities that built them never got the money.
Thatcher’s project was cemented by Blair and his Blairite Blairism, and now these milksop posh-boy wannabes clinging to her neck bow. Cameron with his uni project of the Big Society, about as useless, ill-informed and unkind as Care in the Community before it. Atos, killing the people Care in the Community didn’t reach. Clegg the Milksnatcher with his lies to the students. Gove. Osborne, so thick he named himself after a rich, thick, snobbish, emotionally abusive boor from Thackeray. Iain Duncan Smith; I remember it being said in the eighties that Thatcher’s lot didn’t know the price of a pint of milk, and these guys are her heirs in that, certainly. They’ll be the ones truly mourning her now, they are her true children. And, like the squabbling children of any rich tyrant, they’ll also be strutting a bit, being the favourite, angling for the inheritance, dodging the tax on it…
No, Thatcher being dead doesn’t mean anything, unless it means wall-to-wall unwatchable telly and possibly a state funeral. (The public mood being what it is, the government will probably only realise the folly of that and deprive us of the chance for action.) We’ll all have to listen to weeks of sentimental claptrap and that cast-iron bosom in blue clothing will be all over the place.
It certainly doesn’t mean we’re all going to wake up and find it was all a dream, and none of it ever really happened. That’s what I eventually realised I was wishing, after hearing the news today. Nothing can make any of it go away. Thatcher’s dead and it’s making me depressed.