It was supposed to be a quiet night at the Scotia Bar in Glasgow, hearing people's poetry, reading out my latest dramatic monologue. But the place was crazy busy, exploding with noise and raucous singing. I lost count of the number of times I heard the words, The witch is dead.
It turned out that many of those toasting the demise of Margaret Thatcher had come from the celebration party in George Square, where champagne bottles were popped and people chanted Maggie Maggie Maggie, dead dead dead.
What a bizarre demonstration of humane values, to dance on the grave of a woman who has just died. She may have been hated by millions—and her policies were certainly hated by me—but she was also an ordinary person, who had family and friends. If you claim to care about people, how could you bring yourself to celebrate the death of any one of them? It's not a question of taste, as some people have said. It's a question of the most basic of values, that a human life is worth something in itself.
The cacophony of opinion about Margaret Thatcher has been deafening, even 21 years after she left government. Much has been what you'd expect, an examination of her political and cultural significance, dividing across party lines, but there has also been the usual misogyny, the visceral fear of powerful women that permeates our culture. It is, as far as I can remember, the first time a recently deceased figure has been pushed so publicly and unceremoniously into the medieval pit since the death in 2002 of the Moors Murderess, Myra Hindley, wrote Peter Stanford in The Telegraph, noting that he couldn't imagine the equally hated Tony Blair being celebrated in death as a warlock.
Comment on the web included the thought that if people didn't hold street parties when Myra Hindley died, did that mean they thought she was better than Margaret Thatcher?
It seems a preposterous idea—Myra Hindley participated in one of the most sordid crimes of the 20th century, the killing of five young people, sordid because their youth made them vulnerable, sordid because she used her femininity to entice them to their deaths. But is it so outrageous to see some kind of moral equivalence between murder and war? Is it outrageous to think that foreign dictators are not the only ones who inflict great damage on other people and that leaders of Western democracies could be tried for war crimes? Margaret Thatcher didn't get her hands dirty—her tools were rhetoric and political vision—but she was nevertheless responsible for the deaths of 323 people on the Argentine ship ARA General Belgrano during the Falklands war, by giving orders for its sinking while the ship was heading away from the exclusion zone. Her politics led to far more deaths than the Moors Murderers ever contemplated.
Thatcher's longing to be a great war leader has infected most of her successors since and infected our country with an acceptance of militarism that had begun to disappear during the draft-dodging 1960s. It's entirely appropriate that they bring out the gun-carriages for the woman who opened up the possibility of war in the British psyche after those few heady years of resistance to it. As a woman who responded with great vivacity to good looking men, she would no doubt have been gratified by the presence of 700 armed forces personnel.
Despite the costs, which will no doubt seem punitively high in the middle of recession, this overblown, militaristic pomp and ceremony is a far more fitting and dignified epitaph on behalf of all of us than people singing and dancing in the streets. You don't have to respect Thatcher's policies to object to people making petty political points out of someone's death. The people who belittle the passing of another human being are the people who dragged two British soldiers out of their car 25 years ago in Northern Ireland and beat them bloody. They're the people who taunted Saddam Hussein at the moment of his execution. That level of hatred is not what creates a warmer, more caring society.
I'm still not sure why the people in the streets in Glasgow and Liverpool and Brixton were celebrating anyway. Maggie Thatcher may have passed away but her policies are still with us. Ask the women who can no longer have their grandkids to stay because of the Bedroom Tax. Ask my friend Marion, who has cerebral palsy yet will lose her Disability Living Allowance. And above all, ask the people who watched their sons' and daughters' coffins being carried through the streets of Wootton Bassett because today's politicians want to be war leaders like Falklands Maggie.