So. Farewell then Margaret Thatcher.
Britain’s longest-serving Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool in the early 1800s died on Monday 8 April. And in death, as in life, she polarised the nation.
Many of today’s political generation rushed to pay tribute. David Cameron went so far as to say that “she didn’t just lead our country, she saved our country”, and George Osborne added, “Her determination is our generation’s inspiration.” Even Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband felt moved to “greatly respect her political achievements and her personal strength”.
Her contemporary political opponents had little good to say of her. Although Lord (Neil) Kinnock paid tribute to her “great distinction … as the first woman to become leader of a major UK political party and Prime Minister”, Ken Livingstone characterised her legacy as “all the great problems we face today”, while former Labour MP and National Union of Mineworkers official Kim Howells commented that she was “despised in many many homes across the coalfields of Britain”.
Interestingly, some of her own colleagues in government were less effusive than you might have thought. Lord (Michael) Heseltine gave a polite message expressing sorrow and sending condolences to her children. Lord (Geoffrey) Howe said that “it does come as quite a shock”. Lord (Douglas) Hurd paid a rather back-handed compliment by saying that she “went on and on and on until through sheer exhaustion and exasperation others gave her most of what she wanted”.
The popular reaction appears to have been very similarly divided. The most newsworthy marking of her death appears to have been the spate of Thatcher parties, rapidly condemned by many politicians. And it now seems that the song “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead” from The Wizard of Oz is likely to be one of the week’s best sellers on iTunes.
Bad taste? Yes. A valid expression of feeling about an intransigent leader who never appeared to relent from her political decisions, no matter what the cost? Well, how many of those who danced and who downloaded can actually remember the Thatcher years isn’t altogether clear. But there’s no denying that millions who can remember them feel they have good cause not to do so with affection.
Besides, is it really good taste to hold a ceremonial funeral with military honours for a Prime Minister whom half the country loathed so passionately?