Thatcher's death an excuse for street parties in some British towns

There are a lot of people in Great Britain who are celebrating the death of Dame Thatcher today. The Guardian reports they even had street parties in the cities of Glasgow and Briston:

Several hundred people gathered in south London on Monday evening to celebrate Margaret Thatcher's death with cans of beer, pints of milk and an impromptu street disco playing the soundtrack to her years in power.

Young and old descended on Brixton, a suburb which weathered two outbreaks of rioting during the Thatcher years. Many expressed jubilation that the leader they loved to hate was no more; others spoke of frustration that her legacy lived on.

To cheers of "Maggie Maggie Maggie, dead dead dead," posters of Thatcher were held aloft as reggae basslines pounded.

Clive Barger, a 62-year-old adult education tutor, said he had turned out to mark the passing of "one of the vilest abominations of social and economic history".

He said: "It is a moment to remember. She embodied everything that was so elitist in terms of repressing people who had nothing. She presided over a class war."

Builder Phil Lewis, 47, a veteran of the 1990 poll tax riots, said he had turned out to recall the political struggles the Thatcher years had embroiled him in. "She ripped the arsehole out of this country and we are still suffering the consequences."

Not all those attending were old enough to remember Thatcher's time in power. Jed Miller, 21, clutching a bottle of cider, said: "She was a bit before my time, but family never had anything good to say about her."

Not all were there to celebrate. Student Ray Thornton, 28, said he was there to commemorate "victims" of Thatcherism. "It is a solemn day. It is important to remember that Thatcherism isn't dead and it is important that people get out on the street and not allow the government to whitewash what she did," he said.

Unemployed Kiki Madden scrawled "you snatched my milk and our hope" on a fence and said she felt slightly guilty taking delight in Thatcher's death, "but in the end I can't deny the fact that Thatcher made me so unhappy when I was a kid. I grew up in Liverpool and all my friends' dads lost their jobs on the docks under Thatcher. It was an awful time."

Thatcher knew full well what her policies meant for many ordinary Brits and never shrank from the responsibility. By privatizing such a huge segment of the British economy and forcing industries to compete in the marketplace, she ended up destroying the coal mining industry, and severely damaging others.Change, even if it is meant to better society, often has uneven consequences. What happened to the coal miners had to happen if Great Britain was going to survive, but that doesn't lessen the misery that Thatcher's policies visited on so many.

Andrew Sullivan, who grew up a Thatcherite in England, contemplates her legacy:

And in the 1970s, you could not help but realize as a young Brit, that you were living in a decaying museum - some horrifying mixture of Eastern European grimness surrounded by the sculptured bric-a-brac of statues and buildings and edifices that spoke of an empire on which the sun had once never set. Now, in contrast, we lived on the dark side of the moon and it was made up of damp, slowly degrading concrete.

I owe my entire political obsession to the one person in British politics who refused to accept this state of affairs. You can read elsewhere the weighing of her legacy - but she definitively ended a truly poisonous, envious, inert period in Britain's history. She divided the country deeply - and still does. She divided her opponents even more deeply, which was how she kept winning elections. She made some serious mistakes - the poll tax, opposition to German unification, insisting that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist - but few doubt she altered her country permanently, re-establishing the core basics of a free society and a free economy that Britain had intellectually bequeathed to the world and yet somehow lost in its own class-ridden, envy-choked socialist detour to immiseration.

I was a teenage Thatcherite, an uber-politics nerd who loved her for her utter lack of apology for who she was. I sensed in her, as others did, a final rebuke to the collectivist, egalitarian oppression of the individual produced by socialism and the stultifying privileges and caste identities of the class system. And part of that identity - the part no one ever truly gave her credit for - was her gender. She came from a small grocer's shop in a northern town and went on to educate herself in chemistry at Oxford, and then law. To put it mildly, those were not traditional decisions for a young woman with few means in the 1950s. She married a smart businessman, reared two children and forged a political career from scratch in the most male-dominated institution imaginable: the Tory party.

Sullivan's musings are the best I've read as far as a balanced view of her prime ministership, and recalling the world-historical nature of her tenure.

Thatcher's relative success should serve as a cautionary tale for American conservatives. Be careful what you wish for. No matter how change is effected - revolutionary or evolutionary - unforeseen consequences always arise. Riding the whirlwind of history, trying to redirect the elemental forces of the economy and society, carries with it the certainty that you are not going to like all the changes wrought. This shouldn't dissuade or deter you from your goal. But it must temper your judgment in effecting change so as to minimize the damage that accompanies such overturnings. The flotsam and jetsam left behind after the storm is never completely swept away, and the shoreline will never return to its previous shape. What emerges are new realities that carry with them new challenges. This is the essence of change and has been since man crawled out of caves and built civilizations.

There has been a lively debate about whether the attitudes demonstrated by the partygoers in Brixton, Glasgow, and elsewhere are "appropriate." Thatcher was, after all, a public figure. Judgments about her policies preceded her death and will no doubt be a matter of debate in Great Britain for decades to come.

But not giving Thatcher her due as a world-historical figure is just plain ignorance. No honest assessment of her tenure could possibly be complete without referring to the remarkable transformation of her country that occurred as a result of her policies (probably saving the economy from a Greek-like default), nor her role in defeating the most powerful tyranny ever to arise on planet earth. Those are accomplshments worth celebrating beyond the personal pique of the idiots celebrating her death.

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