When Margaret Thatcher died earlier this week the media went into a predictable frenzy. Many spoke of how Thatcher “saved” Britain, while others eagerly put aside the usual convention of not speaking ill of the dead.
It’s a convention that probably doesn’t apply in the case of a public figure whose legacy affects almost every aspect of our public lives, not just in the UK but here in New Zealand (remember that Rogernomics was the bastard child of Thatcherism), and an uncritical appraisal of such a dominating figure is best avoided.
The Churchill tributes were of course inevitable, even if Sir Winston Churchill’s greatest achievement was to show unflinching resolve in opposing the Nazis, while Thatcher’s government helped to prop up fascistic regimes around the world, such as Pinochet’s Chile and South Africa’s apartheid system; and although she beat Argentina in a war over a few rocks, Maggie’s most enduring war was waged against her own people.
Some have taken the opportunity afforded by the death to denounce the evils of Thatcherism, and many who suffered from the effects of Thatcher’s savage policies have vowed to dance on her grave. Some are quietly praying that she rots in hell; others not so quietly.
Wishing ill upon the dead seems such a futile exercise, unless one actually believes there is an afterlife, and that some man in flowing robes will judge our lives’ achievements, and reward or punish us accordingly. I am an atheist, so condemning the soul of Thatcher seems especially pointless.
So rather than condemn the dead, I have chosen to focus on the things we can all accept. Left and right may be bitterly divided on Thatcher’s legacy, but surely we can all agree on some things.
We can all agree, for example, that Thatcher’s reforms changed the entire British nation. Changed it in a way that left it profoundly, um, changed.
And while many people questioned her humanity, nobody can deny that ultimately she was a human being. In a sense this was her greatest achievement: losing so much of her humanity, while still remaining a member of the human race. That she was homo sapiens means we are entitled to draw comparisons to the likes of Mozart, Lincoln and Mandela, because they too were members of the human race.
And who could deny that she had hair? Or eyes? Doesn’t that mean she was just like us?