Margaret Thatcher the Iron Lady

Margaret Thatcher’s death this week received a stern warning from politicians that celebrating it would be “wrong and in bad taste”. The 87-year-old former Prime Minister was a ‘divisive leader’ to say the least, playing a key role not only in bringing about the first Gulf War; denouncing Nelson Mandela and his ANC as “terrorists”; destroying trade unions; while others argue she repaired Britain’s broken international reputation. Unsurprisingly, a widespread backlash has since ensued from both political figures and the voting public. Yet within two weeks, there has been a rather stark contradiction from the same notables issuing these ‘bad taste’ warnings.

Both Chancellor George Osborne and the current Prime Minister David Cameron were thought to have been ‘exploiting’ the deaths of six children killed in a house fire in Derby, by their parents Mick and Mairead Philpott. Within hours of the guilty verdict being read, Mr Osborne questioned why the taxpayer should pay for benefit “lifestyles” such as those of the child killer. Instead of deeming the remark “in bad taste”, Mr Cameron backed the Chancellor’s comments, insisting that the case did raise “wider questions” about the welfare system and saying society had to consider what “signals” benefits sent.

The Prime Minister said: “I think what George Osborne said was absolutely right. He said that Mr Philpott was the one to blame for his crimes and he should be held responsible. But what the Chancellor went on to say is that we should ask some wider questions about our welfare system, how much it costs and the signals it sends. And we do want to make clear that welfare is there to help people who work hard and should not be there as a sort of life choice. I think that is entirely legitimate.”

So why is it right to make political capital from the deaths of six children, but condemn remarks against an ambiguous political public figure? Guardian columnist and associate editor Seumas Milne was immediately put on the ‘naughty list’ by blogger Steve Hynd, along with a host of other notable leftists for expressing their views in the aftermath of Thatcher’s death. Milne referred to his 2012 article about the Iron Lady, in which he described her as “the most socially destructive British politician of our times”, while the Conservatives denounced the Liberal Democrats for not suspending their Leicester City Council election campaign after her death.

Hunger strikes in Northern IrelandConservative deputy county council leader Byron Rhodes said: “It’s sad and disrespectful. She was the greatest Prime Minister of our lifetime and she changed the face of British politics.” Even the usually politically-inclined BBC coverage was accused of being “disrespectful” by Tory politicians. The news channel aired a live interview with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who said “working-class communities in Ireland were devastated by Thatcherism…her draconian policies prolonged the war here, she is most famously remembered for the 1980s hunger strikes.”

Many critics spoke out against the interview, describing the decision to air his words as “disrespectful” given the IRA attempted to kill Lady Thatcher. Tory MP Ben Wallace said: “I think it’s disrespectful to give such a significant amount of coverage to a man who belongs to an organisation which tried to murder her.” There seems to be a timescale in terms of the Thatcher debate in which certain opinions are permitted to be expressed while other ‘negative’ comments are deemed impertinent.

Yet was there any sensitivity shown towards the Philpott case? Within two hours of Mick Philpott being handed down a life sentence for the manslaughter of his six children, the Chancellor said: “It’s right we ask questions as a Government, a society and as taxpayers, why we are subsidising lifestyles like [Philpott’s]. It does need to be handled.”

Philpott children

A Daily Mail article following the comments said that Mick Philpott “embodies everything that is wrong with the welfare state” and described how he allegedly treated his children as “cash cows” to generate a £60,000 a year income from benefits. The article emblazoned with a photograph of Philpott and the six young victims, hones in on the Philpotts’ desire for a “bigger house”. While there is no justification for Philpott’s behaviour, there is a time and a place to “cash-in” on the affair for political gain.

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls subsequently launched a scathing attack on what he called the “cynical, nasty and divisive” way Mr Osborne linked the Philpott case with the broader issue of state benefits. Mr Balls said the “desperate” Chancellor had offended millions of hard-working people and was playing politics with a tragic case for his own political gain.

The double-standards seem to reflect the type of person targeted. Tellingly, few people have trouble understanding the need for balanced commentary when the political leaders disliked by the west pass away. For instance, the Guardian reported upon the death last month of Hugo Chavez: “To the millions who detested him as a thug and charlatan, it will be occasion to bid, vocally or discreetly, good riddance.” No one used the grounds that it was disrespectful to the ability of the Chavez family or the rest of the Philpott family to mourn in peace unlike Thatcher.

As the Guardian’s civil liberties columnist Glenn Greenwald writes about the “misapplied death etiquette”: “There’s something distinctively creepy – in a Roman sort of way – about this mandated ritual that our political leaders must be heralded and consecrated as saints upon death… If anything, it becomes more compelling to commemorate those bad acts upon death as the only antidote against a society erecting a false and jingoistically self-serving history.”

Therefore, it’s a question over who is worth grieving – according to political needs. The bottom line is that the Conservatives still hold up Thatcher as their trailblazer; as Mr Cameron expressed “Thatcher made Britain great again”, while Chavez and Philpott are just instruments of the ‘terrible welfare state’ or ‘evils of Communism’.


About suswatibasu

Suswati Basu is a writer, journalist, producer and feminist activist residing in London. She has written for the Guardian, Huffington Post and the F-Word blogs, and has worked for various media outlets such as the BBC, Channel 4 and for ITV News/ITN. She currently works as a senior intelligence expert.

6 responses »

  1. Well said! And even more distasteful is the decision (and precisely whose decision I’m still not exactly sure) to spend millions on what is, in all but name, a state funeral. Truly disgusting!

  2. suswatibasu says:

    Yes, he’s not the only one. Labour MP Graham Stringer said her funeral should be funded by private business as a “beautiful symbol of her premiership”.

  3. Hecuba says:

    Cynical Conservative male politicians are exploiting Margaret Thatcher just as these male Tory politicians exploited Baroness Thatcher when she was Prime Minister. Do not forget Lord Heseltine was one of a number of powerful male Tory Ministers who successfully plotted to oust Baronness Thatcher as leader, because she was apparently no longer useful to the male controlled Conservative party.

    Tory male politicians have no qualms whatsoever about exploiting violent male and murderer Mick Philpott because ‘the end justifies the means’ because Torie males’ mantra is ‘you can’t do this but we can do that.’

    Left-wing males too are exploiting Baroness Thatcher because these males are engaged in demonising ‘Margaret Thatcher the woman’ not ‘Margaret Thatcher and her Tory party’s policies.’ These left-wing male women-haters are as bad as their counterparts – Tory male ministers because women are expendable and I did not read any sexualised insults directed at convicted murderer Mick Philpot. Fact he is a biological male was considered irrelevant because he was portrayed as ‘yet another deviant male’ whose actions were those of an individual not part of a continuum of pandemic male violence against women and children. Remember ‘welfare’ is supposedly responsible for Philpott’s choice and agency in deliberately murdering children he had merely fathered.

    When Ronald Reagan died left-wing males did not utter vile sexualised insults concerning Reagan the man but instead rightly focused on criticising Reagan’s right-wing policies. But of course Baroness Thatcher was a woman and because her sex is female this means male misogynists focus on her sex not her politics and the politics of powerful male conservatives. Baroness Thatcher was not able to enact her policies alone despite fact she was Prime Minister because her male Tory Ministers were the ones who held the real power and these self same men decided to oust Margaret Thatcher when she was viewed as no longer useful to the male controlled Conservative party.

    It is all about men and their struggles with other males to gain political power and women are merely pawns to be used and then discarded by men.

    Malestream media too is colluding with hypocrite David Cameron and his male cronies by creating a ‘mythical female icon.’ Ask yourselves why despite malestream media claiming it is politically neutral and does not engage in political propaganda. Malestream media is ‘telling porkies again!’

    Re-writing his story to suit mens’ political ends is not new but what is new is malestream’s effusive collusion with these lies.

    Baroness Thatcher should have been accorded a private funeral not a pseudo state funeral which will increase Britain’s debt. But never mind more draconian policies will be put in place by Cameron and his male cronies which will once again target disadvantaged women and men because the £10m has to be found from somewhere and it is much easier to punish disadvantaged women and men than to hold corporate institutions to account for evading corporation tax. Not forgetting Cameron’s Tory government gave white wealthy men a tax break because these males are supposedly the ones ‘who are working and deserve to be given rewards!’ Our government is not a Coalition rather it is Tory governed with the Lib/dems colluding with their Tory masters in the vain hope of gaining a smidgen of real power. In your dreams Lib/dems!

    Doubtless when an ex male Prime Minister dies and this conveniently occurs during his party’s term in government there will be another ‘pseudo State Funeral’ honouring the mythical achievements of this male because this will be another excellent opportunity to engage in political propaganda. Oh but it will be enacted very tastefully because the government in power will be honouring the mythical achievements of this male prime minister.

    Political? Of course not – David Cameron and his male cronies are not hypocrites they are merely playing by mens’ political rules which is to exploit and demonise disadvantaged women and men whilst promoting their own fascist agendas.

    • suswatibasu says:

      Yes I absolutely agree and this point was highlighted in the BBC coverage of Thatcher after her death when the old Tory boy’s club said: “On the outside she was the Iron Lady, on the inside she was just a woman” – as opposed to what? They created a dichotomy of her by distinguishing her in both male and female terms. In that way they could essentially blame parts of her failures on one side as a ‘flawed woman’ while attribute her successes through her ‘male’ side. No other politician has ever been addressed according to how powerful they were because it’s a ‘given’ with male politicians. But then I’m sure that Obama will also be referred to his racial ethnicity rather than his ability just as Thatcher has been referred to with her gender.

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