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Thursday, April 11, 2013 

A political Queen.

Writing about Thatcher (and politicians in general), it's easy to forget that behind the often harsh, apparently uncaring exterior, there was a real, feeling woman who clearly was capable of great kindness as well as denouncing her opponents in the strongest of terms.  One of the more myth-squashing anecdotes from yesterday's Commons and Lords sessions was Lord Butler's retelling of how a student challenged her on referring to children as "illegitimate", despite their parentage not being something they had any control over.  Thatcher responded that it was better than calling them the alternative (bastard), yet later she reflected to Butler that having thought about it, the student had been right.  Looking at the photograph taken of her in Battersea Park only last month, I was reminded of my grandmother's passing last year, who also spent her final years battling with dementia.  Regardless of what we do with our lives, at the end every single one of us dies the same way, alone.

All the more reason why we shouldn't let Thatcher be remade into what is effectively political royalty.  The way Tory MPs tried to shout down both David Winnick and Glenda Jackson yesterday may well be typical Commons behaviour which all sides are often guilty of, yet it was surely inappropriate when so many of their colleagues made tributes that went far beyond the sycophantic and instead into the most slavering hero worship.  The idea she had any role in the fall of the Soviet Union beyond her early picking out of Gorbachev is absurd, as is her much overstated love of freedom.  She believed in it for those under Communism, not so much those under authoritarian regimes that were British allies.

Fair enough, David Cameron clearly admires her deeply, and so his rhetorical flourishes can be forgiven.  Ed Miliband also acquitted himself well, making a well-judged speech that covered both the good and the bad without riling either side. It's also unclear just how much of the planning for the funeral was done by which government: we now know Operation True Blue dates back to around 2006, indicating that some sort of public remembrance was going to take place regardless of who was in power. Which would have been fine. A ceremonial funeral goes well beyond that, giving her the same status as a royal, ignoring how one of the reasons we continue to grudgingly put up with Brenda is that she has stayed resolutely above politics.

The comparison is apt, because much as any criticism of Liz is treated as being akin to a modern form of blasphemy, so it seems the likes of the Mail now want Maggie to get the same treatment. As predictable as the outrage was from the usual suspects at those not treating their heroine's death with the due amount of respect, the Mail's pursuit of those behind one such death party is incredibly petty. Splashing two days in a row on the opponents rather than celebrating Thatcher's life and legacy seems a really odd way to go about things.

Then again, perhaps the Mail thinks focusing on the beastliness of some is the only way to win over those it would normally consider its natural allies.  To judge by the ratings the tribute programmes hastily screen on Monday picked up (3 million) and the number of views news stories on the major websites have received since, Thatcher's demise and the circus that has followed since might be fascinating the politics nerds (guilty), but it doesn't seem to be transfixing many others.

And why should it?  Those born on the day she left office are now 22, while the passing of time for those older appears to have dulled both the interests and opinions of the majority.  Moreover, we can either bemoan or celebrate her legacy, but none of the mainstream political parties want to truly break with it.  The battles she fought appear to be all but over, while her main disciple is urging Ed Miliband to not so much as inch leftwards.  Looks as though, yet again, it's up to the next generation to break the spell Thatcher cast over British politics.

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"it's easy to forget that behind the often harsh, apparently uncaring exterior, there was a real, feeling woman who clearly was capable of great kindness"

Well of course. She was never going to slap the face of the hired help, real people she had to front up to every day, but she thought nothing of impoverishing some faceless drab Up North. It's the mark of successful politician that they're able to regard living, breathing human beings as a lumpen abstract concept. It's also the mark of the sociopath.

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