Thatcher: A response to Twitter vitriol

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 8 April 2013 in Diary
Tweeters beware, now is really not the time for ill-informed political abuse

Regardless of your political views, there’s no denying Margaret Thatcher was a global political icon. An individual who revolutionised British politics.

Undoubtedly, the Iron Lady made many foes during her time in Parliament. Controversial policies, such as the poll tax and her opposition to any closer integration with Europe, meant the mere utterance of her name has nowadays become divisive. It’s not uncommon to hear even schoolchildren debating over how her policies affected their families.

As the news broke about the death of the UK’s longest serving prime minister, inevitably, there was celebration among some individuals on that notorious forum of dubious political comment, Twitter. Some influential tweeters seemed to delight in the death of the 87-year-old woman, excited by the official end of an era.

Mike Kennedy, a Liverpool FC blogger, proclaimed that “Thatcher is dead. My father-in-law is setting off fireworks in celebration. He bought them in 1989. Kept them in his shed waiting for today.” The manager of an Oddbins Wine Merchants’ outlet has been lambasted for tweeting “If for any reason, anyone feels like celebrating anything we have Taittinger available at £10 less than usual at £29. Just saying...” Many sent out group invites to ‘Thatcher is dead’ parties, whilst others made jokes about her dementia and ill health in her later years. However, it was the news that the National Union of Students had cheered upon discovering her death truly shocked me.

Another tweet which I saw, begs a very important question. “As someone born in Yorkshire, to a working class family... explain to me why I should mourn the death of Margaret Thatcher?” asked @CateFitzmaurice.

On a purely political level, coming from a humble background, a state education and championing the idea of the right to buy, it could be argued that Thatcher was an icon of equality. Of course, there is much contention on this topic, but many have suggested she created a “middle-class Britain”, in which opportunities and wealth accumulation were available to more.

Additionally, one cannot deny that Thatcher, as a female politician in a political environment not yet influenced by the need for political correctness, female quotas and with sexism still very much present, not only becoming prime minister but gaining the overwhelming support of the nation in 1983, suggests that she was able to smash the glass ceiling and pave way for the next generation of female politicians. A feat for which people from all classes, backgrounds and political parties, should be grateful.

Of course, feelings of anger, having accumulated in particular socio-economic groups and regions due to the policies of the Thatcher government, will prevail. Undoubtedly, unhappy memories and strong political viewpoints will blur people’s judgment on this day.

If we wish to answer the aforementioned tweeted question from a different light, however, we should now look at it from a moral perspective. First, can one ever justify celebrating the death of an 87-year-old woman who has recently died of a stroke? With the removal of the political context, one would of course say that to cheer at the death of a mother, a grandmother and of a woman who has faced ill health for many years would, under all accounts, be categorically wrong.

The reaction of some tweeters and of the NUS has appalled me.  Of course politics has the ability to inspire, the ability to anger and the ability to change lives, but certain attitudes are inexcusable. Aristotle may have said that we are all “political animals”, but perhaps we should leave the inhuman behaviour to the zoo that is Westminster, and accept that the celebration of a death is not a laughing matter.

Tags: Margaret Thatcher, Twitter

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