It’s an indication of how touchy Conservatives are over Thatcher and her legacy that they get so upset at crude Twitter jokes wishing ill on the Iron Lady and T-Shirts saying that the wearer will be dancing on her grave when she finally dies. If I was a Tory, and confident of my views, I would just laugh it off and put it down to the impotence of my opponent that they have to resort to schlock merchandising to score political points. But most of them aren’t that confident. They are defensive because they know they are sitting on top of a house of cards.
That said, I do think the T-shirts aren’t exactly the greatest idea. It’s always good to get wild-eyed, foam-flecked, Tory mouth-breathers upset, but I’m more interested in what the T-shirts say about the left and our political culture.
We need to be honest. Thatcher and her cronies may have lost the argument, but they won the war. Her years in power were ones of successive victories, be it the miners strike, the privatization of public utilities, the war on organised labour, the step by step emasculation of local government, and the (unnecessary) transformation of the Labour Party into New Labour.
Her ideas dominate contemporary political discourse. The majority of the press claim to be in thrall to her and her ideas. The nasty, ‘me-first’ ideology that she believed in and made the object of her policies is in evidence all around us, both in the political sphere or our personal lives. The great political scandals of our time, parliamentary expenses, phone-hacking and most importantly the lie that the economic crisis was one of public spending and not of unregulated international capitalism can all trace their histories back to the time that Thatcher was in power.
Thatcher was and is an embodiment of an idea, just like a king or queen are an embodiment of the idea of monarchy. She was the public representative of a set of an intellectual project to take Britain in a radically different direction.
So when Thatcher dies, nothing will actually change, as her ideas will of course remain. Her final demise, which in political terms was over 20 years ago in any case (and did her leaving office really change anything?), won’t be a victory, or anything to celebrate. It won’t tip the balance in favour of the left. It won’t reverse a single one of the changes she made to Britain. It will merely be a frail old woman passing away, a woman who once dominated public life succumbing to the indignities that will eventually take us all.
The people wearing these T-shirts and tweeting about how they are looking forward to her passing are tacitly acknowledging that they have no other response. Many of the ‘death to Thatcher’ mini-controversies over the last couple of years or so have involved Labour councillors and trade union bureaucrats. People who have singularly failed to challenge and stop the Thatcherite agenda and in the case of councillors people are tasked with managing the local spending cuts that Thatcherite ideologues demand of them. The only gesture of defiance they are left with is wishing one woman dead. The gesture of defiance is a gesture of utter impotence.
Personally I cannot see why anyone would want to dance on her grave, metaphorically or literally.
If and when someone like Tony Benn or Dennis Skinner dies, will there be public rejoicing in the right-wing press? No. Were Tory MPs queueing up to gloat when Tony Benn left Parliament? No. (Quite the opposite in fact.) Were they crowing when Eric Heffer died? No. They didn’t need to. The ideas that these people represented and represent have been beaten and therefore the fate of their proponents mattered, and will not matter, a jot to the right.
They will go through the motions of “mourning a political titan, however much I may have disagreed with them” and will promptly forget them and start wondering about what they are having for dinner.
I think I’ll do the same when Thatcher dies. Seeing if I can remember if I ate that last meatfeast pizza in the freezer or not.
You can be sure I won’t be celebrating though. There won’t be anything to celebrate.