Coffee House

Margaret Thatcher: How the Left responded to her death

8 April 2013

In 1983, a Spectator piece argued that ‘the most faithful followers of the Thatcher cult are to be found within the Labour Party’. Baroness Thatcher’s passing was always going to be as much of a test for the Left as it would be a sad day for the Right. The Labour leadership knew this, and took care to craft statements and tweets which, while acknowledging the glaringly obvious political differences, praised Thatcher the woman. The party has suspended its political campaigning ahead of the local elections as a mark of respect. Ed Miliband’s tribute in particular made clear that he had no sympathy with those in his party tempted to celebrate the death of the Iron Lady. The Labour leader said:

‘The Labour Party disagreed with much of what she did and she will always remain a controversial figure. But we can disagree and also greatly respect her political achievements and her personal strength. She also defined the politics of the 1980s. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and I all grew up in a politics shaped by Lady Thatcher. We took different paths but with her as the crucial figure of that era.’

Similarly, those at the top of Miliband’s party took painstaking efforts not just to pay tribute to Thatcher, but also to urge others on the Left to be respectful. Tom Watson tweeted ‘I hope that people on the left of politics respect a family in grief today’, while Harriet Harman praised ‘a towering figure in British politics’. Further left, Owen Jones, fond as he is of calling Tories all sorts of names, reminded his followers of a piece he’d written last September in which he argued that celebrating Thatcher’s death was ‘futile’ and ‘an admittedly macabre substitute for the failure to defeat Thatcherism’. Those who have taken a different line – the handful of NUS delegates who were heard cheering the news (later scolded by their president), and Labour MP Ian Lavery, who said ‘no tears from me nor the mining communities destroyed by MT’ – have been small voices in the outpouring of condolences and praise from the Left. The focus of the majority of left wing responses was on keeping a lid on unpleasant comments to stop any outrage stories.


But as James noted earlier, Thatcher did have an immense impact on the way the Labour party managed its politics. Miliband gave a nod to this, saying:

‘She reshaped the politics of a whole generation… She moved the centre ground of British politics and was a huge figure on the world stage.’

Many in Labour wish that centre ground shift had never happened: it led to the rise of Tony Blair, who also said today that she was one of the few leaders who was able to ‘change not only the political landscape of their country but of the world’, adding that ‘some of the changes she made in Britain were, in certain respects at least, retained by the 1997 Labour government, and came to be implemented by governments around the world’. Blair is happy to be seen as one of those ‘faithful followers of the Thatcher cult’, while many others in his party show themselves to be avid devotees through their fixation with the former Prime Minister, expressing as much hatred as her most ardent supporters express admiration. But the party has largely had the dignity to realise that today is a day to keep as quiet as possible.

P.S. While Labour has strived to maintain a respectful front today, it’s a shame the same can’t be said of others, especially those who seem rather too young to really remember the Iron Lady in power. A journey through social media this afternoon does not encourage a great deal of faith in human nature.

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  • kyalami

    The interview with Neil Kinnock showed him to be staggeringly ill-spirited. It said a lot about him, nothing about her.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    No doubt the corridors of the BBC will, once again, be strewn with empty champagne bottles.

    • Richard Armbach

      I understand there is a big celebration party in Brixton this eve. They are coming in from all over.

      • Fergus Pickering

        Yeah sure. I don’t suppose you are old enough to have been alive and compos mentis in the 1970s when Britain was the joke of the world. I used to teach Germans and French people. We were ‘the sick man of Europe’.Our government was in the hands of Union bosses,one of which we now know was taking Russian money. The rubbish piled up in the streets. The dead remained unburied. The hospitals were run at the whim of the porters. The filthy railways were on strike AGAIN. Nothing worked. That was BEFORE the Iron L:ady.

  • judyk113

    Livingstone’s statement is being featured prominently in The Guardian (no surprise there, then) and is really extraordinary. Especially as just a few weeks he was gushing his face off over the death of the elected dictator Chavez. Here’s the tendentious rubbish he spouted about Margaret Thatcher, which further justifies why Andrew Gilligan described him as “the most prolific liar in public life in a generation”:

    She created today’s housing crisis. She created the banking crisis. And she created the benefits crisis. It was her government that started putting people on incapacity benefit rather than register them as unemployed because the Britain she inherited was broadly full employment. She decided when she wrote off our manufacturing industry that she could live with two or three million unemployed, and the benefits bill, the legacy of that, we are struggling with today. In actual fact, every real problem we face today is the legacy of the fact that she was fundamentally wrong.

    Thank heavens this lying, self-serving hypocrite of a tax-dodger didn’t get elected as London’s Mayor last year. But he did top the poll for Labour’s National Executive. Tells you what you really need to know about today’s Labour Party.

    • telemachus

      Ken is yesterday’s man and he shows it
      Today is the day to salute the leader who always looked to the future

    • Barakzai

      Surely you can’t mean Ken “I have never knowingly told a lie’ Livingstone?

  • Sally Forth

    It’s not just Coffee House where comments have been closed. The Telegraph has been inundated with abusive messages. The sad thing is, these people really think that they’re making a political comment about Margaret Thatcher and can’t see that they’re actually making a very public character statement about themselves.

    • Makroon

      Exactly, they reveal themselves.
      Actually, much to his credit, Gordon Brown gave a rather nice tribute.

  • Hookeslaw

    By definition the social media is the playground of the mental inebriate.

  • Hugh Janus

    I hope Miliband will immediately disown the hugely disrespectful and thoroughly nasty comments from his pals and paymasters on the left. To think that some in our country have sunk to such a low level….

  • darwins beard

    I really do not understand those who are not old enough to have lived under mrs Thatcher to say comments like this “Thatcher has died.Her legacy lives on.Sympathies for her family, and to all the families who suffered because of her leadership” Laurie Penny.

    I know Penny bashing is easy because she sets herself up for it but does someone like her who’s parents must have done well enough under Baroness Thatcher to pay for her private education and Oxford really understand what she is saying?

    As for George Galloway “tramp on the dirt” who could be surprised at the dictator, terrorist and rape apologist trying to cash in on some extra face time.


      That happened when Labour took control of Education.

      • Makroon

        Very true, a decade of relentless propaganda.
        But don’t forget Oxford always repudiated Margaret Thatcher,
        voted to not resist Nazism and all manner of other silliness.

    • Andy

      Penny is a stupid woman. As you say parents were rich enough for her to enjoy her private education (Brighton College) and Oxford (Wadham College). But what does she know anyway ? She was born in September 1986. And she is another one who has never done anything – staff writer ‘One in Four’, Morning Star, New Statesman and that Fascist rag The Guardian. Be nice if she did a real days work.

      As to Galloway everything you say is true. He is just scum.

  • lindaoutofafrica46

    Margaret Beckett and Ken Livingstone were both extremely disrespectful today, the day of her death, during a Sky News interview. Could there remarks not have waited for another day? What a shame. They are both old enough to know better!!

    • Andy

      What did you expect ? Both of them are merely scum.

    • Hookeslaw

      Lets hope we can all have our say when Livingstone goes. Indeed lets not wait.

  • telemachus

    And the most important

    Shadow chancellor
    Ed Balls tweeted: ‘Very sad to hear of the death of Margaret Thatcher. Our
    first woman PM, she was the one who truly ‘broke the mould’ of British

    And the most august(Gordon)

    She will be
    remembered not only for being Britain’s first female prime minister and holding
    the office for 11 years, but also for the determination and resilience with
    which she carried out all her duties throughout her public life. Even those who
    disagreed with her never doubted the strength of her convictions and her
    unwavering belief in Britain’s destiny in the world.

    • John Jefferson Burns

      Gordon Brown has it correct about her unwavering belief in Britain’s destiny.

      Kissinger had a good turn of phrase.

      “She was a leader of strong convictions, great leadership abilities and extraordinary personality,” Kissinger said. “She was a woman who [knew that] a leader needed to have strong convictions because the public had no way of orienting itself unless its leadership, its leaders gave it the real push. She didn’t think it was her job to find the middle ground.”

      • telemachus

        Kissinger was the only man who got her to change her mind
        She wanted to Keep Hong Kong until Henry assembled a group of advisers to show her the best way for Britain
        Two veritable giants

        • Emulous

          The two greats who moulded Britain in the twentieth century Margaret Thatcher and Clem Attlee both energetically saw through their vision and changed us for ever.
          Clem gave us social cohesiveness and respect. Margaret gave us the wherewithal to pay for it.
          May they both rest in peace.

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