Sat, Apr 13, 2013 - Page 9 News List

The battle for Thatcher’s legacy

The politicized debate about how to remember former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher is a contest over Britain’s present and future

By Jonathan Freedland  /  The Guardian, LONDON

For those demanding such treatment the hope, surely, is that if Thatcher is commemorated like that, then so too will be Thatcherism. In the US it has become harder to attack Reaganism, partly because of that intense week of mourning for Reagan. There is no reason why the same process could not happen here.

Especially because the opposition are, inadvertently perhaps, colluding in it. Determined not to be slammed as lacking decorum and good taste, the Labour party moved fast to button its lip, senior figures taking to Twitter to instruct all supporters to “respond with dignity.” From the leader on down, the party’s statements have expressed nothing but respect, even if qualified by an unspecified reference to “disagreement.”

The trouble is, that has left the loudest dissent to the likes of MP George Galloway and the idiots who put out a banner declaring: “The Bitch is Dead.” Nothing could have delighted the right more, their papers clearing space to condemn every last Thatcher-loathing placard or tweet. Such outbursts confirmed their thesis: that Thatcher spoke for the whole nation, those who disagree confined to the wild and lunatic fringes. (Any fact which might shatter that illusion — such as the low ratings for the Thatcher tributes on TV — has been deemed too inconvenient to get much of a mention.)

Through that lens, even the archive images of past battles have looked different: the faces of Thatcher’s adversaries Arthur Scargill (former president of the UK’s National Union of Mineworkers), trade unionist Brenda Dean, former Labour MP Michael Foot and others suddenly appearing archaic and eccentric, as irrelevant and unrepresentative as the current crop of Brixton demonstrators — even though they were nothing of the sort. However, by the silence of the mainstream left — broken only by respectful, nuanced tributes — the impression goes unchallenged.

This is how history gets rewritten, the winners presented as inevitable and incontestable, those who opposed them deluded and doomed. It did not feel like that at the time. Back then, it felt as if Britain was divided fairly evenly.

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