Thatcher divides in death as in life

2013-04-09 11:04
People gather during a 'party' to celebrate the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in London. (Carl Court, AFP)

People gather during a 'party' to celebrate the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in London. (Carl Court, AFP)

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David Cameron speaks about Thatcher

2013-04-09 08:54

UK Prime Minister David Cameron cut short a European trip to return to London, where he made this statement at Downing Street about Margaret Thatcher's death. Watch. WATCH

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London - Flags have been lowered to half-mast at Britain's parliament to mark the passing of Margaret Thatcher as flowers piled up at her London home - but at the other end of the political spectrum, left-wingers threw parties upon news of her death.

On the streets of London's financial district - whose power was fuelled by Thatcher's deregulation of the financial sector - many passersby on Monday reacted with sadness to the death of the 87-year-old former Conservative premier.

"It's a shame, a crying shame. She's a good woman," said Alan Whiteford, a law firm employee.

"It's a sad day," added banker Nick Daking.

At Thatcher's former home in central London, a pile of flowers was growing on the doorstep.

"The greatest British leader and a true lady," one card read. "You make Britain what it is."

'Good riddance'


But in the edgy south London neighbourhood of Brixton, sworn enemies of the ex-premier known as the Iron Lady held a street party.

Holding placards saying "Rejoice - Thatcher is dead", around 200 people gathered in the neighbourhood, a hotspot of alternative culture, and toasted her passing by drinking and dancing to hip-hop and reggae songs blaring from sound systems.

"I'm very, very pleased. She did so much damage to this country," said one man brandishing an original newspaper billboard from 1990 announcing Thatcher's resignation.

Others scrawled "Good Riddance" on the pavement.

"We've got the bunting out at home," said Clare Truscott, a woman in her 50s wearing a sparkly beret and holding a homemade sign reading "Ding dong, the witch is dead".

"I'm from the north, where there were no jobs, where the industry was rapidly disappearing, and her policies ensured it went more quickly."

Icing on the cake

Brixton was the scene of fierce riots in 1981, two years after Thatcher became prime minister.

In Scotland's biggest city Glasgow more than 300 people gathered to hold their own celebration.

Anti-capitalist campaigners shouted, "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie" as the crowd replied "dead, dead, dead" before musicians entertained the revellers.

Angela McCormick, a socialist from Glasgow, said: "I'm here for a generation that didn't have a future when they left school and didn't have jobs. I'm here for the members of my family who have been devastated by the economic policies or the economic crimes of Margaret Thatcher in the 80s in Glasgow."

Coal miners were among Thatcher's bitterest foes during her 1979-90 premiership - and for one senior mining official, marking his birthday on Monday, her death was the icing on the cake.

"I'm having a drink to it right now," David Hopper, regional secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in northeast England, told AFP with unabashed glee.

Ruined lives


"It's a marvellous day. I'm absolutely delighted. It's my 70th birthday today and it's one of the best I've had in my life."

Others on the left also hailed Thatcher's departure as a cause for celebration.

"We'll be glad to see the back of her," Judith Orr, editor of the far-left Socialist Worker weekly newspaper, told AFP.

"She ruined the lives of tens of millions of working class people in Britain.... And she rejoiced in war.

"That was one of her most disgusting moments, but there is a long list of crimes."

Rights activist Peter Tatchell described Thatcher as "extraordinary but heartless", saying she had presided over the decimation of Britain's manufacturing base and introduced "Britain's first new anti-gay law in 100 years", Section 28.

Shattered glass ceiling

Yet he conceded that as Britain's first and still only woman prime minister, she had achieved something significant.

"To her credit, she shattered the sexist glass ceiling in politics and got to the top in a man's world."

A single daffodil was placed at the feet of a statue of Thatcher outside the lower chamber of parliament, the House of Commons, with a card saying: "You were an inspiration to women".

Online reaction to Thatcher's death was just as mixed.

"A great lady," wrote Labour-supporting technology tycoon Alan Sugar. "She changed the face of British politics, created opportunity for anyone to succeed in the UK. RIP."

"May she burn in the hellfires," tweeted left-wing firebrand lawmaker George Galloway.

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