Margaret Thatcher (13 October 1925–8 April 2013): A Non-Eulogy

In accordance with MT’s insistence that no eulogy be delivered at her funeral, I composed the following.

The word “evil” is one that rarely features in my vocabulary, laden as it is with theological overtones from which I would normally make every effort to distance myself. I am, nonetheless, tempted to apply it to Margaret Thatcher, the woman whose destructive and (literally) anti-social policies did devastating and probably irreparable damage to my home country and contributed to making it a place where I could no longer imagine a life or a future for myself.

Millions of people though did not have the opportunity to leave and continue to live with the appalling consequences of her years of misrule. Thatcher began the dismantling of public health care and public education that has continued apace under her successors, Blair and Cameron (between whom I see little or no ideological difference). She tried — with more limited success — to undermine the very possibility of a vibrant and critical intellectual culture in Britain through her successive assaults on universities (fortunately, thought is more resilient than the institutions in which it is housed). She destroyed the protections and safeguards that working people in Britain had won through years of hard fought struggle. Her decimation of the British mining industry wrecked communities and blighted lives and futures. At the same time, her privatization of public utilities was accompanied by massive extensions of police powers, restrictions on public protest and a range of discriminatory legislation, including the overtly racist Nationality Act of 1981 and the notorious Section 28 of the Local Government Act of 1988, which which sought to prohibit schools from ‘promoting’ homosexuality through the use of teaching materials that presented it as acceptable.

She sacrificed the lives of British servicemen and civilians in the Falklands war, a conflict waged largely to boost her domestic popularity. She publicly avowed her friendship for dictator’s like Chile’s Augusto Pinochet and her support for the racist apartheid regime in South Africa (describing Nelson Mandela as a “terrorist”). Her policies in Northern Ireland, including her reprehensible handling of the 1980 and 1981 hunger strikes, made her hated among the nationalist community there and set back the possibility of a peaceful settlement until long after she had left power.

Above and beyond all this, she created and fostered an ethos of greed, banal self-interest and spiteful, petty parochialism that continues to poison public life in Britain to this day. For all of these reasons, I rejoice in her death and, circumstances permitting, would gladly have joined the protesters at her funeral in London earlier today. It should not be forgotten, however, that the blighted political landscape of present-day Britain is largely a product of her years in office and that her devastatingly misguided policies have become the taken for granted idioms of mainstream British electoral politics. It would be a terrible waste then if the anger re-ignited by her death (and by the indefensible use of public funds to defray her funeral expenses) were to burn itself out on this one occasion. The same anger is needed now and in the future to fight her continuing legacy.

Written by: Prof. Stuart McLean

Originally published at 18/04/2013.

This is a revised edition of Prof. Stuart McLean’s original piece with photos added after.