Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Thatcher death celebration a grave mistake - pathetic, undignified and pointless

Celebrations in Derry's Bogside on Wednesday night following the burial of Margaret Thatcher
Celebrations in Derry's Bogside on Wednesday night following the burial of Margaret Thatcher

Is there any more futile gesture than dancing on someone's grave?

The despised person has gone. They are beyond all reproach or redemption now and to celebrate their passing achieves absolutely nothing. Nothing could be more pathetic, undignified and pointless.

That's why I'm dismayed at these absurd Thatcher 'death parties', the stupid T-shirts with devil horns, the sudden popularity of Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead.

Not because I'm in any way an admirer of the deceased woman. I'm not morphing into Major Buffington-Tuffington of Tunbridge Wells here, raising a shaky glass of G and T to the dear, departed heroine; I do not have a single word to say in her defence.

But I'm disturbed because the public response to Thatcher's death underlines two of the things which trouble me most about contemporary society.

First, a frightening lack of compassion and humanity, a terrible kind of smug heartlessness, which often hides behind a front of ostentatious open-mindedness and social tolerance.

We're all cool with gay marriage and free love these days, but don't you dare try to stop us from tramping the dirt down on the corpse of a dementia-addled old woman.

The second, just as dangerous and damaging, is the widespread public disconnection from politics and the way that politics itself is increasingly becoming dumbed-down and infantilised, all in the name of inclusivity and 'connecting with people'.

While the Thatcher 'death parties' may look like the radical acts of a highly politicised society, the truth is that they're anything but.

All right, a handful of people may be motivated by authentic political principle, even if they're choosing to express it in a childish, ineffectual way.

But the majority of those letting off the party-poppers were not even born when Thatcher was in power and are simply looking for a new form of mindless entertainment, because the new series of Celebrity Big Brother hasn't started yet.

Ironically enough, such parties are highly conservative and conformist, because they challenge – let alone change – precisely nothing.

Some commentators, such as the popular media philosopher A C Grayling, say that the parties are a beneficial phenomenon, because they demonstrate a new honesty, unhampered by false ideas of respect and deference.

Grayling says that "an outburst of pleasure at the departure of someone who was deeply polarising and gave expression to callous attitudes is both perfectly understandable and justifiable".

Really? An outburst of pleasure because someone old and sick has finally died? If that's how you get your kicks, AC, I feel bad for you, son.

Celebrating Thatcher's death is not a manifestation of openness, democracy and political fervour. It is the opposite: a display of political apathy, of a bored, disengaged and politically immature electorate, whose idea of direct action is waving a sparkler and raising a mug of beer with 'I Still Hate Thatcher' written on the side.

Disappointingly, these are no true revolutionaries, just passive, politically impotent people looking for a hate-figure that they can all safely despise – and all the better if she's a woman. This is the sort of thing that happens when the ruling classes treat voters as though they are bored, demanding children; they must be flattered and placated at all costs, fed soundbites and nursed along with tasty little platitudes.

Of course, if you treat people like spoilt kids, that's exactly how they will behave. Meanwhile, political debate becomes ever more reductive and impoverished: less and less about thought-through ideas and considered philosophical values, more and more about short-term goals and shallow management-speak.

The anti-Thatcher revels are also symptomatic of a society where emotion is consistently prioritised over reason. They are little more than the latest repository for the thwarted rage and petty frustrations of an infantilised electorate, who want to blame an evil mummy for all their troubles.

Thatcher herself famously said: "Don't ask me how I feel. Ask me what I think." She was right on that one, if nothing else.

Once emotional experiences starts trumping rational thought processes, and 'I think' becomes 'I feel' (or – my own favourite, beloved of a certain class of gormless, eyelash-fluttering women – "I personally feel". Oh, boke), public debate becomes a sentimental farce, where legitimacy is derived not from knowledge, or logic, but from strength of feeling.

The truth is, none of this – the empty posturing, the bitter recriminations, the self-satisfied moral righteousness – is about Margaret Thatcher. She's gone.

It's all about us. And we're performing for ourselves.

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