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Understanding why Margaret Thatcher was a divisive figure

April 10, 2013

Some people seem to have trouble understanding why Margaret Thatcher was a divisive figure, disliked and hate by many.

This graphic may help illustrate the point.

Thatcher unemployment II

During her time as Prime Minister unemployment in the United Kingdom grew from less than 6% to 12%.Unemployment remained above 10% for 6 years.
In Northern England the unemployment rate was much higher.

Take a moment to imagine the social impact of that unemployment.

Is it any wonder there were protests, strikes and riots?
Is it any wonder why some would prefer she not be canonised in death?

The reaction worldwide from commentators has been interesting to follow.
Bernard Keane’s observation on Twitter was one of the better ones I saw.

Thatcher Bernard KeaneSomehow I doubt many of Thatcher’s cheerleaders on the right would agree, despite its accuracy with the ALP achieving reform through tax cuts and the Accord with unions.

The Thatcher years had a clear impact on the arts.  While her government slashed arts funding her leadership providing material for comedians, inspiration for movies, and fuel for songs (more here), depicting and criticising the social impact of her policies.

Billy Bragg said in 2009 “Whenever I’m asked to name my greatest inspiration, I always answer `Margaret Thatcher.'”

I asked my Facebook and Twitter friends which movies they thought best demonstrate the impact of Thatcherism on Britain. The responses ranged from Billy Elliott and The Full Monty, to the underrated Brassed Off and anything made during the period by Ken Loach. One friend highlighted Ken Loach’s “Riff Raff” extolling it as “funny, distressing – and deeply political.”

In the hours following her death anti-Thatcher sentiment has seen Ding Dong the Witch is Dead soar in the UK iTunes chart. While many will consider it tasteless, there is some irony in that its rise in the charts is a clear demonstration of capitalism at work, while many of those who purchased the song would be strident socialists.

Finally if you haven’t already it’s worth reading Russell Brand’s thoughts on Thatcher’s passing. As a friend of his noted:
“I thought I’d be overjoyed, but really it’s just … another one bites the dust …”

RIP Maggie.
I hope those who were hurt by your policies can likewise find peace.
I hope that your impact on the UK and the world will be remembered honestly and accurately.

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