If you’ve been anywhere near the Internet, a television or even just another human being over the last three to four hours, you might have heard the news that Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister and unwavering crusader for neoconservative politics, has died. Don’t worry, though – she passed away doing what she did best: distracting and dividing the Left.
Blanket coverage of her death has already begun – as I write this, five of the ten top stories on the BBC News website concern Thatcher’s demise, and the Twitter servers seem close to breaking point with the 140-character emotional frenzy currently exploding from the fingers of keyboard warriors everywhere.
My personal feelings about this boil down to two points:
1. Thatcher might be dead, but Thatcherism isn’t. Why celebrate when her ideology and actions live on in the current government?
2. Thatcher died after a long period of illness and dementia, which is awful no matter who you are. Those of you proud of standing up for humanity and the frail should think twice about rejoicing over death.
Today, the Disability Living Allowance replacement scheme comes into practice throughout Britain. DLA will, from today, be replaced by a scheme facilitated by Atos. Atos is a private company which has been the subject of an incredible amount of controversy, none of which is unwarranted. Since benefits assessments began begin contracted out to the company, the Atos assessment process has found numerous disabled and seriously ill people fit to work. UK government figures reveal that after being declared fit for work, 1,300 claimants died. Stories from families and MPs speak of individuals undergoing intense anxiety, depression and becoming suicidal after having benefits cut due to the flawed ATOS system. This is the company that the coalition feels is worthy to assess fragile lives.
Last Monday, an enormous package of benefits cuts hit across the UK, including the now-notorious bedroom tax, which stands to evict over 650,000 people from their homes. Ian Duncan Smith claimed last week that £53 a week of benefits is ample for existence – real stories, and a 500,000-strong signature petition that calls on IDS to prove it, speak otherwise.
Margaret Thatcher’s death is not symbolic of anything. ‘Scrounger’ rhetoric, divide-and-rule tactics, and the unrelenting rightward march of David Cameron’s government, send a loud and clear message that Thatcherism is alive and well. All that this obsession with a woman’s death does is to distract the country even more from the problems it faces. Thatcher would have been overjoyed to see that she has obscured coverage of the benefits cuts and rise of Atos. She would have loved to read what my Facebook news feed has become today: a back-and-forth argument between those who think we should all leave work, get drunk and have a party, and those that think that maybe this isn’t the best way to deal with a human being’s death, and probably won’t accomplish anything either. There is nothing that strengthens conservatism more than being able to portray the Left as a bunch of infighting, factional, uncaring militants.
There are deaths in this country happening as I write as a result of the coalition’s welfare policies. There is immense suffering, suppression of political dissent, and demonisation of those less fortunate. If the left-wing reaction to Thatcher’s death becomes known as a grim celebration rather than an opportunity for further mobilisation against the policies she inspired, and if those who preach empathy and defence of the vulnerable hold up their pitchforks and glorify the death of a woman with dementia – then I think it is probably time to re-examine just who exactly holds the moral high ground here, and what it is we are even fighting for.