Post-Thatcher Britain? Pretty Much the Same as Thatcher Britain

April 18, 2013 12:20 pm

My weigh in on the media’s coverage of the death of Margaret Thatcher: my reaction to the reactions. 


Whatever you think about Thatcher, old women, strokes, strikes, Tories, the dead; your view was probably echoed thousands of times across the internet last week. At lunchtime on Monday, the web experienced an almost instantaneous sea-change as people uploading pictures of their soups and sandwiches were suddenly drowned out by the swaths of people expressing sorrow, cheer, voicing disgust, advertising party venues, publicising condolences, moralistically chiding cheerer’s and shouting chiders down from high horses. ‘Shouldn’t we remember what she did in the Falklands?’ ‘Can we get Hefner to number 1 this week?’ ‘This isn’t a victory, let’s be perfectly clear, boys and girls …’ Margaret Thatcher cropped

Social media became a verbal riot. In half an hour, my Facebook feed was transformed from the usual continuous drone of cat pictures and football results to political essays abound, expostulating about the reactions of both right and left. Monday’s Twitterverse confirmed that, as we were all aware, Maggie polarized opinion, leaving no one on the fence. I can’t help feeling like die-hard Thatcherites who are also big fans of Frank Turner and Irvine Welsh must have spent the day in quite the emotional pickle, wrestling with an inner beast. (Although in my opinion, that must be how they spend most of their lives. Can an extreme exercise in doublethink such as singing along to Pulp’s Different Class whilst concurrently harbouring a mistrust of welfare-recipients stem from anything other than deep-seated confusion? David Cameron can’t listen to Morrissey and live with himself simultaneously, CAN HE!?) But that dichotomy is for another time.

We have no control over what is said on the internet. So naturally, sitting at our computers, like we do all day, we are exposed to an uncensored and un-policed view of what people have to say. Especially in the aftermath of an event as emotionally evocative as the death of the Iron Lady. The reaction on the internet, varied and discursive as it was, was a lot less troubling than the coverage that has since graced our ears and screens for the past week from official news outlets. The television, and the papers. The professional correspondents, and politicos. Even the satirists. Watching news (the local, the national, the rolling; the Newsnight extended edition; the specialist Question Time, etc …) as I – masochist that I am – am wont to do of 5 consecutive evenings, I was a little disturbed. Not by the lack of debate, but the nature of the debate which did take place.

The news did not erase the fact that she was divisive, or that her policies hurt people. Insults or disrespect were not what I was hoping for, anyway. Given that I felt uneasy watching the celebrations taking place after Osama bin Laden was killed, I knew I could not join the revelers in Brixton. Such action would make me an unparalleled hypocrite, and probably not a very nice person. Given that I disapproved of the way the Americans denied Bin Laden the correct Muslim funeral, I’m wondering whether it’s even okay for me to condemn the expensive, sappy vom-fest that tomorrow most probably will be. (But I can’t help a little bit of me hoping that someone throws an egg … or a carton of milk …) No, I didn’t feel like there was any attempt by the media to paint her as something she wasn’t.

However, there were a few moments of news coverage in the aftermath of Thatcher’s death that I found very disconcerting, and very telling. One was David Cameron’s speeches on the subject, first outside Downing St, and then a couple of days later in the House of Commons. His choking up at the phrase ‘she didn’t just lead this country, she saved it.’ His visible, full-bodied wince as he admitted that ‘she … divided opinion.’ His fairy-tale reference to the Prime Ministerial post as ‘the greatest position in the land.’ His waxen forehead, reflecting the weak sun as it bowed in sorrow and grief … his pudgy finger subtly and yet oh so obviously wiping back a tear from his soulless eyes … But I’m getting carried away. Whatever, it was the most histrionic bum-lick of a speech I have ever witnessed outside of the Academy Awards. Ken Livingstone is labelled ‘absurd’ on Newsnight for harking back to the banking regulations of the 70s, and yet Davey C’s theatrics go unchecked and un-mocked?

MagThatchLeft wing ideology has lost a lot of credibility in the last 30 years; since Thatcher’s rule, ‘unionization’,‘tight regulation’, and ‘high taxation’ are seen as buzzwords for political suicide. And the media is playing the exactly same game as the politicians. For journalists reporting on the Lady’s demise, the detrimental cultural impact of her ideology (of emphasising the individual at the expense of the collective; of making everybody into a salesman of themselves) seemed to be topics to avoid, for fear of bias. Linking her radical deregulation of the City to the 2008 crash seemed to be considered taboo territory. Thatcher’s steadfast and unwavering approach appears to have left everyone in her shadow feeling the need to appease her slightly. Shirley Williams desperately trying to make it apparent that she respected Thatcher as a woman, did nothing for her Socialist Democratic Party whatsoever, and the sight of it made me squirm almost as much as she did in that Newsnight chair.

While the coverage of the Lady herself may have been reasonably fair and not too airbrushed, it was an odd post-Thatcher world the media coverage showed us. One where there seems to be an unwritten rule that we cannot question the goodness of markets and money. One in which broadcasting voxpops of people who clearly weren’t alive under Thatcher’s government shouting ‘She’s a witch, I’m glad she’s dead’ constitutes an uncontroversial and newsworthy representation of left wing opinion, but for informed commentators, uttering the word ‘socialism’ gets you the verbal backhand, and the label ‘absurd’.
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