Margaret Thatcher is getting her revenge on the Nancy men who mocked her in life, and who continue to throw rocks at her in death. Her reputation as “the Iron Lady” who towered over a plastic age is secure, and she’s getting a funeral that her girlhood idol Winston Churchill got before her. Big Ben, the famous clock that towers over Parliament, chiming the quarter-hour since 1859, will fall silent during the obsequies just as it did for Sir Winston nearly five decades ago.
This has put Thatcher critics in a froth of toxic bile, as the accolades continue to pour in from all over the world. Civility is always scarce in politics it is, after all, a contact sport but some of the rage in Old Blimey moves close to the edge of the charts.
A cartoon in The Guardian, a leading newspaper of the left, depicted the Iron Lady descending into hell; the front page of the Socialist Worker headlined her death with the single word “Rejoice”; and a movie marquee in the tough neighborhood of Brixton paid its respects with the message “Margaret Thatchers Dead LOL,” for “laugh out loud.” The BBC called the song “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead” tasteless and offensive, but it had risen to No. 2 on the charts so the BBC played it to mark her death, anyway.
Sally Bercow, the wife of John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons, announced that she would not accompany her husband to the funeral Wednesday at St. Paul’s Cathedral. It wasn’t clear whether she was making a feminist point or she was just eager to throw a brickbat at a womanly better. Or maybe she was just throwing a fit of wifely pique.
“As Commons speaker, John will be attending the funeral,” she said, “and rightly so. But I’m not obliged to participate in my husband’s public life last time I looked this was the 21st century. John holds public office and an important position, not me.”
Colleagues in the Commons rallied around her husband, as everyone usually will when a spouse makes a public spectacle. Said one fellow member: “John Bercow handled it brilliantly. He got just the right tone. As for Sally, as the old saying goes, ‘She wants to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.’”
Some of the “protests” of the honors for Mrs. Thatcher are reminiscent of the tasteless stunts of the Westboro Baptist Church, so called, at soldiers’ funerals in America. There’s a tradition in Britain, where good manners are otherwise prized, of mixing Bronx cheers (as they’re called here) with accolades for prime ministers. They wouldn’t do that for the queen or senior royals, says Robert Worcester, an American who founded Mori, one of Britain’s leading polling firms. Rude posters and placards are expected outside St. Paul’s during the funeral. “Good riddance” will be among the kindest sentiments.
There’s considerable affection for Mrs. Thatcher throughout England, but memories are short and the misery she inherited and largely put right are mostly forgotten, particularly among trade unionists. Mr. Worcester of Mori observes that it isn’t likely, for example, that a Navy ship would be named for Mrs. Thatcher, more out of fear than custom. “Shipbuilders would put down their tools rather than honor a woman many trade unionists blame for taking their unions out of politics.”
Robert McGeehan of the Institute for the Study of the Americas, a London think tank, observes that there was no public celebration of the death of Richard Nixon, though he was equally reviled on the stinky left. “This really shows the dissimilarity between the two countries,” he told The Associated Press. He couldn’t recall “anything remotely resembling the really crude approach we’ve seen here. There is a class ingredient here we simply don’t have in America. They like to perpetuate this. The bitterness goes from father to son.”
But not only in England. There’s no scarcity of pique and envy in America, too. Some critics on the left are trying to turn the Iron Lady into something made of lesser mettle. She wasn’t really all that tough, and there was a liberal hiding among her convictions, gasping for air, writes Matt Latimer, briefly a speechwriter for George W. Bush, in The Washington Post. There’s “something troubling in the Republican celebration of her political intransigence, and it is not just the fact that it’s largely a myth.”
There’s something frightening about a tough woman with courage and conviction, when all about her the Nancy men are trembling in their Gucci loafers. That “intransigence” might be expected of the men, too.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.