Margaret Thatcher is a frail 86 year old woman. The ultimate Big Beast of politics may not be with us for long, But with a new film coming out celebrating her life, Her last act may well echo her Premiership: long, drawn out and a disaster for the Left.
I loathe Thatcherism. I revile the damage it did to this country from which we have never fully recovered. Communities were torn apart by its worst ravages. A generation who lived in the forgotten areas of Britain lost their jobs and never worked again, their children were abandoned in under-resourced schools, parked in portakabins with decades old textbooks. Their elderly parents suffered as the NHS was battered by Tory indifference.
There is a sense of inevitability about the hype surrounding The Iron Lady. Tories are already goading Socialists into saying stupid things about Thatcher. In part they do this because they do genuinely worship her. There may never be another Tory leader that gives them quite as much of what they want. They know that. That’s why her passing from political life, as much as her eventual passing is an occasion not of solemnity for some, but of garment-wrenching anguish.
But however formidable a politician Thatcher was, she didn’t act alone. I loathe Thatcherism, but Thatcher is just one person. I won’t mourn her when she goes, but Thatcher’s death won’t change her legacy. It’s the death of the Thatcherite ideology I will celebrate, and we ain’t there yet.
There are many on the left who don’t agree. When the time comes, I don’t ask them not to be cheered by the end of an era.
But Labour are supposed to be the party of the many, not the few. That means we must be a party who understand and exercise empathy. We need to understand that for the majority of the unengaged public, the death of an elderly former Prime Minister is not a cause for celebration. We need to see that a snarling, public celebration is off-putting to them. It confirms the stereotypes the Tories feed them about the left. It makes us look weird, detached from the decorum that normal people instinctively understand should accompany the death of a public figure.
One of life’s ironies is that the only power that Thatcher has left is in the gift of the Left to deny her. If we allow the solemn passing of a once great enemy, we have the opportunity not only to hasten a victory over Thatcherism, but to do so with the dignity that victory deserves.
And if we don’t, we hand Thatcher one last PR victory over us. And for what? What will we have gained? To many in the country, we will look as nasty as those Tories burning effigies of Barack Obama. We’ll have had a nice time doing it, but is the hangover of one last victory handed from us to them worth the reckless drunkeness of the night before?
This matters. It matters more than the short moment of catharsis that these public celebrations would bring. Labour members at every level need to be spending every single moment, every ounce of our energy, every bit of our fight on securing a Labour victory at the next election and destroying any hopes the Tories to make this a Thatcherite century.
This January, when people talk about The Iron Lady, instead of allowing it to rile us, we should politely suggest they try Boys from the Black Stuff as well if they’re interested in the history of the 80s.
When Thatcher dies, I will stay at home, quietly sipping a whisky, and listening to Elvis Costello in my own private moment of reflection. When Thatcherism dies, that’s when I’ll be throwing the biggest street party London has ever known. To hasten the latter, I urge you all to join me in the former. As someone who lived through the difficulty of a striking parent, who was educated in a school that leaked every time it rained, and another whose boiler broke every February half term, whose family – though far from the worst effected – remember the Thatcher years with a shudder, I urge you not to give her or the Tories the last laugh.
This post originally appeared on Labour List.