09 April 2013

The Difference Between Relief and Joy #thatcher

Lots of people are celebrating the death of Margaret Thatcher which is pretty crass. I've lost my mum and it doesn't matter how grown-up and independent you are when you lose your mum; it hurts. I can't imagine how it feels to be Thatcher's children knowing that people are throwing street parties in celebration of your loss.

But I can understand why there are some people feeling very relieved right now.

Someone ruined my childhood. I'm nearly 34, haven't seen her for 23 years, but I still have nightmares about her. Co-incidentally the last time I saw her was the same year Thatcher left office.

For 23 years she hasn't been able to hurt me. But she still holds power over me.

When the Panorama about Winterbourne View aired my Twitter timeline filled with people saying "I'm going to go to sleep tonight hearing those screams." You know whose screams I heard that night? My own. Once again I was 6 years old and crying and begging for the torment to stop.

Like I say: I haven't seen or heard from her in 23 years. I have no idea if she's alive or not. Once or twice I've tried Googling her the morning after the nightmare before; but haven't been able to find that out.

If I were to stumble across an obituary for her I wouldn't celebrate the fact that she's dead. I wouldn't celebrate the grief of her family: Her family did nothing to hurt me. But I would feel a rush of relief and safety, even though she hasn't been in a position to cause me harm since 1990. I obviously can't be sure of this; but I strongly suspect that the frequency of nightmares about her will lessen dramatically.

I didn't really understand the harm Thatcher caused during her years in office: She became PM 2 weeks before I was born, and I was 11 when she left office. On both sides of my family I come from very working class backgrounds. I knew that Thatcher was bad because I heard it so many times from the people around me; but I didn't understand why.

Now I'm old enough to understand the number of lives Thatcher ruined; and how she ruined them. I understand how her policies continue to ruin lives: Just look at the number of homeless people because she sold council housing and failed to build new properties to replace them. I understand the anger of the survivors of Hillsborough and the anger of the relatives of the deceased.

Thatcher has been out of office since October 1990: Three months after I last saw the woman who made the 80s hell for me. Since 1990 Thatcher hasn't had the power to continue to ruin those peoples' lives.

But I can also understand the psychological harm she caused to her victims. And I can understand why her victims might feel relieved that the woman who caused them so much pain can no longer do so. Though out of office, 87, extremely frail and in a position to hurt nobody; the psychological bond of the damage she caused hung over her victims' heads.

Her victims will never be entirely free from the pain she caused them, but I can understand why that pain has lessened slightly this week. A few of the strings holding that history over her victims heads have been broken.

Everyone who suffered because of her actions has a right to feel relief this week. But no-one has the right to celebrate that a family is in mourning. To do so makes you no better than her when she praised people responsible for mass killings. And given that she caused so much pain; do you really want to stoop to her level? Really?

Don't Hate, Donate is a brilliant idea. Instead of sinking to Thatcher's level and celebrating death; why not donate to a cause that supports her victims?


  1. I wonder whether some people appearing to celebrate are actually expressing relief. To admit to feeling relief that someone who has caused you so much pain is gone means admitting that you were a victim once (or still are, if you have no problem with the word victim (I don't)). A lot of people still carry the idea that that is shameful, or that being treated as being that expendable is something that only happens to other people. I'm sure some people are genuinely celebrating, but with many who use the same words I sense so much fragility behind it that really I think they're just covering up the way they feel with a joke.

    I'm not celebrating, but I won't condemn people whose motives for expressing their lack of sorry are unclear.

    Wonderful link, thank you for posting it.

  2. I think it makes a difference whether there are fulsome tributes being paid to the person who has died, as there have been lots of with Thatcher, with most of her political right crowing about how she saved the country, how she rescued the economy, how she made this country the wonderful place it is today and so on. It must be particularly galling to hear people shout about how wonderful she was when you were on the receiving end of police violence or your livelihood was destroyed. If she had died in obscurity, the celebrations would be as muted as the tributes and mourning. As it is, the tributes are far more voluble, most of her opponents have resisted the temptation to celebrate. The debate about celebrating Thatcher's death was had after the Billy Elliot musical included a scene of precisely that happening, so her children surely know this will happen and can avoid the papers or reports that mention it. Nobody's shoving it under their noses and nobody's "celebrating the grief of their family" - the family don't factor into it.

    I suffered abuse as a child as well (in a special boarding school, mostly from 1989-90 although I was there until 1993) and if the headmaster or either of the two thugs under him die, it's likely to be in far greater obscurity than Thatcher (particularly as there is no longer an active forum for old boys) but if I come across anyone saying they were great teachers and their loss leaves a huge hole or some such nonsense, I'll tell the truth as I saw it and call the men child abusers. (A lot of people, particularly those who were given the space to bully with impunity for years, thought the school was great.) If people call that celebrating, so be it. Then again, I'd prefer that they were exposed in life.