Margaret Thatcher

Guest writer Phil Scraton with a piece on the death of Margaret Thatcher

For years I anticipated my emotions and reaction to the day of Margaret Thatcher's death. I remember being in Liverpool's Royal Court at an Elvis Costello gig, knocked out by his Tramp the Dirt Down ...

But this was at the height of the ferocious ideological and political activation of the "New Right" agenda: the relentless "clampdown" on welfare; the destruction of trade unionism; the gerrymandering of boundaries; the war crime that was the sinking of the Belgrano; the war on the poor; the privatization of social housing; the determination to use the police to put down the uprisings of those in our inner cities, particularly the criminalization of our Black communities fighting institutionalized racism; the engineered confrontation against the miners as a lesson to strong unions and the exploitation of apartheid's coal to undermine the true price of working the seams; the callous shedding of responsibility for the deaths of 10 Republican prisoners in the H Blocks; the poll tax; the acceptance of the deceit that was Hillsborough; the courting of Rupert Murdoch, Ronald Reagan, and Chile's Pinochet in equal measure; the attempted destruction of the National Health Service and public broadcasting; the reaffirmation of a class-based, tiered system of education; and the anti-gay section/clause 28 of 1988.

In an essay in the edited collection entitled Law, Order and the Authoritarian State, I discussed the transformation of reactionary "law 'n' order rhetoric" into regulatory reality, noting that the "many right-wing voluntary pressure groups and advisory organizations set up in the mid-1970s as the political and intellectual backbone of the New Right had found a champion in Margaret Thatcher." In its emergence and consolidation, Thatcherism was the outcome of a longer-term political, economic, and ideological project derived in the bitter memory of the 1974 defeat of the Heath Government. As Stuart Hall eloquently argued in his 1980 pamphlet, Drifting into a Law and Order Society, it progressed a "deep and decisive movement towards a more disciplinary authoritarian kind of society." "Authoritarian populism," reflected a "regression towards stone-age morality," initiating and sustaining a "blind spasm of control."

In November 1984, at the height of the coal dispute, Thatcher set her sights on the "enemies within" with missionary zeal, locating the targets to be eliminated on a spectrum ranging from "the terrorist gangs within our borders and the terrorist states which arm them" to "the hard Left, operating inside our system, conspiring to use union power and the apparatus of local government to break, defy, and subvert the laws." The "mantle," she railed, had "fallen" to her party "to conserve the very principle of parliamentary democracy and the rule of law itself." This unrelenting program reversed the great postwar socioeconomic advances and caused irreversible damage to the fabric of social democracy, at so many levels.

So, what were my reactions upon hearing that Thatcher had died? Joy? Satisfaction? No. Celebrating her death demeans us as the flip side of celebrating her life. This is precisely the polarization she sought to achieve, one that succeeded in mobilizing support for her neoconservatism, the free-market dogma of Hayek. It succeeded in gaining middle- and working-class support for policies across the board that reinforced the privilege of a two-thirds society -- marginal inclusivity through marginalizing the claimant, the migrant, the foreign national, the "single mother," the "terrorist," the trade unionist, the feminist, the antiracist. In naming and targeting the "enemies within," she set "us," the insiders, against "them," the outsiders.

Thatcher, however, did not achieve her objectives, and over-personalizing Thatcherism grants all involved -- in her governments, the state, its institutions, in private corporations (including the banks), in the media, in local politics, in divided communities, all who supported and reproduced the political, economic, and ideological programs associated with New Right dogma, and what came after, including New Labour -- a form of amnesty for their complicity and their personal advantage.

Having observed the slow, personal suffering of this aged woman, her diminishing mind and frail body, I neither want to accommodate the vengefulness she sowed, nor give her followers the opportunity to point judgmental fingers as I tramp the dirt down and dance on her grave. Nothing would have given her and her ideologues greater pleasure. While detesting her legacy with an anger that will burn in me forever, as a "moment" in time I am indifferent to her passing. Yes, the painful memories have been revitalized, not by her death, but by the spiteful agenda of a government of class privilege whose neoconservative objectives are taking Thatcherism's legacy to a new level. We must address the present.

Phil Scraton is professor, Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, School of Law, Queen's University, Belfast, Ireland (email:


  1. Great piece. Maybe I shouldn't have hit the dance floor. Being wrong to speak ill of the dead and all politically correctness with all the trimmings of public image consulting.

    I highlighted the first paragragh and the last, it certainly covered most of what she set out to achieve with upmost ruthlessness. Lets not forget this, ever.

    Basically, she was the game changer on the style of government we have today especially when you have a wee sneaky peak at these governmental parties offering executive, effective, efficient leadership. All in one breath too. Ask yourself where? For whom? Business is politics, politics is business.

    Sustainability is another lovely positive word thrown about these days by the spin doctors, the length and breath of the world.

    For example, the initial word "sustainability" is usually accompanied by numerous lovely words all focusing on the UK governments sustainability development programme 1996, and the N. Ireland "first steps towards sustainability 2006" programme. The only hard fact via the labour and tory sustainable strategy governmental policy was the word alone. Everything has become unsustainable. Even trying to acquire bloody debt.

    It will be an extremely long time before Thatcherism is eradicated, even diluted. It seems to suit, the political elite, to adapt this strategy of privatisation and misery at the expense of the majority for the benefit of the few.

    Reading the book "Chavs, the demonization of the working class" generally took me to another level of how I could feel about anyone as rotten as her. As a general rule, I have been too naïve in the past to give folk the benefit of the doubt.

    However,there are few, in this world, I could say that I truly could hate. So, I am more than wiling to put my dance floor antics behind me now, maybe it was unwise, its done, she is done, the time has passed,the prospect of her legacy which truly is scary going forth.

    Nothing would give me more pleasure than forgetting about this woman. You may rule that out, the media will exploit her death to the core for a long time to come. A silly dancing session never cost me nothing. What did she cost people like me?

    Lifelong learning eh? USA here we come.

  2. Have to admit I admire Phil,s restraint, but in thinking about it I love the thought of that bastard dying slowly and hopefully painfully ,not to much though to have her filled with enough painkillers to make her forget her callous attitude to the plebs and their daily struggle to survive ,"market forces at work my dear" they said something similar about the genocide here resulting from the great hunger, she allowed very brave men to die on hunger strike and she gave the order for the sinking of the general Belgrano which was sailing outside her declared 200 mile exclusion zone and away from the Malvinas resulting in many deaths of innocent kids,so Phil in thinking about her death it makes me very happy the witch is dead now if we could bury Thatcherism with the bastard I,d be delighted.

  3. This is a good piece from Phil.

    While not a fan of Mary Lou or her party she is cutting the tripe out of Brian Hayes and his Thatcherite economics on Prime Time at the minute.

  4. The world's a better place without her Marty, it's hard to think of anything good she brought to it. I recall an uncle who lives and works in London saying years back that history won't be kind to her. Despite all the fawning going on at present I still reckon that's how it will go down. It's little wonder people are celebrating her demise no matter how the political classes here may describe it as unbecoming. She was and is genuinely hated and hatred for her won't stop just because she's dead.

    On the issue of the Belgrano it was nothing short of a war crime under the Geneva Convention and being personally ordered by Thatcher this makes her a war criminal. Closer to home the events in Gibraltar in '88 also would have necessitated the direct sanction of the PM herself, as the SAS cannot operate outside Britain without such explicit sanction. She is therefore PERSONALLY responsible for the deaths of Dan McCann, Mairead Farrell, and Sean Savage - Also a war crime, again making her a war criminal who should have been prosecuted as such. Rumour has it that she personally ordered the assassination of Gerry Harte, his brother Martin and Brian Mullin later the same year outside Omagh town in revenge for the Ballygawley bus bomb. I often think of Martin Harte and others like him such as Martin McCaughey, young men taken in the prime of their youths who could have lived an ordinary life in different circumstances, talented lads both with their hands and on the football field. They had a lot to offer our community but were denied the future that should have been theirs by birthright thanks to the policies pursued by Margaret Thatcher. And then there are those who suggest she's worthy of forgiveness? To forgive someone they first have to be sorry and that's something that was well beyond her remit. To hell with her.

    As I said the world's a better place without her, a little less evil exists in our midst now she's gone to eternal damnation, hopefully to reside amongst the grand pantheon of killers who went before her - Pinochet, Suharto, Pol Pot and the rest. She killed, like them, because she could whereas others did so because they were faced with no other choice and acted ultimately in self-defence. There's no comparison to my mind. There was a sickness in that woman but thank God that sickness is now gone with her rotten soul. She won't be missed

  5. Strange that Mackers considering her party go along with them everywhere else.
    This was a fantastic piece about Thatcher. Never felt anything for her either except indifference.

  6. The best thing about her dying is that everyone is reminding everyone of what a horrible person she was. The people who mourn her (in the media, I've met none in person yet) seem to be almost all either apologetic or conditional about it.

    That said, no doubt the Tories will muster a few tens of thousands to line the funeral route. Should be an interesting mix of old age pensioners, young fogey, squaddies wives and Boris Johnsonesque hooray henrys.


  7. Nuala,

    we know the script off by heart at this point. If SF got in they would be no different from Labour. Rather than prevent the assult by austerity SF would be claiming credit for having made it less severe. It is a typical reformist agenda. The worst thing is that it is not even left reformism but as has been pointed out by Organised Rage elsewhere, it is driven by a rightist social democracy.

  8. Anthony I agree with Micks statement that q$£ are driven by a"rightist social democracy" but also they are driven by a desire for power which like the dog chasing the car down the street,no real thought given to what they would actually do if the achieved their aims.

  9. Iain Dale said on Twitter last night that he had said a quiet farewell to Thatcher whos body was kept in state in ST Marys Chapel in the house of Commons-

    Did the lady turn at the end-

  10. Don't know if she turned? I just know I was turned from early morning her face flashing across every news and tales of her goodness and greatness on every broadcast .
    Mother Thresa seemed to be over shadowed by the Iron Lady's compassion but given that M T street cred has also plummeted maybe Thatcher was not the only plaster Saint to abuse the poor.

  11. She's being cremated for a second time, that is today, the British official one.

    She is were she belongs, in the depths.

  12. What about the Welsh miners slogan ' the lady's not for returning' or our own Gael Force Artists, Thatcher was the Criminal'

  13. Very interesting piece in the Irish News this morning from Peter Mandelson.
    He states the day he was appointed secretary of state Thatcher approached him and said, ' I've got one thing to say to you, my boy you can trust the Irish, they are all liar'
    Trusted Scap though!

  14. Fuck it - a spade is a spade...she's dead and good riddance and fuck away off to all those who cry foul at speaking ill of the dead or showing respect to her siblings who are no better than the bitch ever was.....we speak ill of the dead (ESPECIALLY THOSE WE DISLIKED IN LIFE) all the time....maybe it was a complete fucker who dreamt up that pithy expression as they realised that people were gong to be talking about them after they died and it most likely wasn't going to be praising them for their deeds which sort of implies that they knew what a cunt they'd been!!!!

  15. Thatcher and the IRA
    Duration: 1 hour

    A documentary examining Margaret Thatcher's strategy of dealing with the IRA, revealing a complex picture of a woman, fiercely combative in public, yet behind the scenes, was secretly dealing with those who tried to kill her.

    Thursday 3rd April..

    (If anyone overseas wants to watch it.. BBC NI can be watched live on here)