Punks on Thatcher

Punks on Thatcher

by digby

When I heard about Margaret Thatcher passing on, my first thought was to play this song. But then I saw that Dave Weigel had already assembled a compendium of anti-Thatcher music of the period. So boo, he beat me to it. Let's just say it was a fertile period in British music.

I saw them open for The Clash in San Francisco in the early 80s and ruefully observed that American pop culture of the time seemed to be so utterly apolitical, despite a raging recession and a still fairly active left. There was no energy in it compared to the Brits.

Our 80s punks just didn't hold a candle to the punk scene I first saw in England in the 1970s. And it went nuclear upon the election of Margaret Thatcher. Not that she wasn't popular, but unlike our similar Reagan worship in the states, there was a very active cultural and political opposition to Thatcherism.

Even the mainstream had something to say: 

Not that it made much of a difference. Thatcher was in full control. I happened to be in London when she went to war in the Falklands and you would have thought she was Queen Elizabeth the first fighting off the Spanish Armada. I've seen some flag waving in my day -- we Americans are damned good at it --- but nothing like what the British can bring to bear when they're on a martial tear.

Anyway, I'm not going to go on about Thatcherism on the day she died. Let's just say her legacy lives on today (and on) and leave it at that.

Update: Oh God, Richard Quest on CNN is going on and on about her flirting with Ronald Reagan. This is going to be a long day.

Update II:  Greenwald objects to the notion of speaking no ill of the dead and makes a very salient observation:

To demand that all of that [history] be ignored in the face of one-sided requiems to her nobility and greatness is a bit bullying and tyrannical, not to mention warped. As David Wearing put it this morning in satirizing these speak-no-ill-of-the-deceased moralists: "People praising Thatcher's legacy should show some respect for her victims. Tasteless." Tellingly, few people have trouble understanding the need for balanced commentary when the political leaders disliked by the west pass away. Here, for instance, was what the Guardian reported upon the death last month of Hugo Chavez:

To the millions who detested him as a thug and charlatan, it will be occasion to bid, vocally or discreetly, good riddance."

Nobody, at least that I know of, objected to that observation on the ground that it was disrespectful to the ability of the Chavez family to mourn in peace. Any such objections would have been invalid. It was perfectly justified to note that, particularly as the Guardian also explained that "to the millions who revered him – a third of the country, according to some polls – a messiah has fallen, and their grief will be visceral." Chavez was indeed a divisive and controversial figure, and it would have been reckless to conceal that fact out of some misplaced deference to the grief of his family and supporters. He was a political and historical figure and the need to accurately portray his legacy and prevent misleading hagiography easily outweighed precepts of death etiquette that prevail when a private person dies.

Exactly the same is true of Thatcher.


I have always had a general rule not to say too much at all on the occasion of a political opponent's death and I won't break it now. But the fact is that a politician is not a private person and his or her legacy is open for debate whether alive or dead. That's the name of the game and all these sanctimonious demands that everyone should be mindful of the family's grief are dodges. And I doubt that anyone would be more dismissive of such demands that Margaret Thatcher. She was anything but a squish.