I hadn't thought of writing anything about this, but over the last couple of days others have shown themselves interested in what I might have to say - as if normblog were a national newspaper, which it isn't. I have, in the past, made it plain that I was no fan of the late Mrs Thatcher, though with one area of exception. What I feel impelled to say by some of the press and internet discussion of the last few days, however, is pretty much independent of all that.
(1) In a civilized society people owe a duty of respect to the dying, the recently deceased and the bereaved. It is a simple duty of humanity. Each of us faces his or her own death sooner or later, and routine as this is, it is also - each time - a minor tragedy: a whole life, a whole inner world, gone. Whatever differences we may have with another person, whatever dislikes, we should be able to see the irreparable loss involved and mark it appropriately. There may be exceptions to this norm - for mass murderers and the like - but they are few, and should not include democratically elected politicians within one's own community, however much they may have been hated by their opponents.
(2) This duty of respect does not extend to having to speak respectfully or uncritically of a recently deceased individual's political or other public record. Why should it? A person's death is typically the time when his or her life is written about and assessed most actively. Some of the assessments are positive and no one asks that these should be toned down or made neutral. There is, equally, no reason for negative, or disparaging, even damning, judgements of the same record to be avoided. It is a political or other reputation and legacy that is being judged, and it would be 'stacking the deck' of public discussion to regard the expression of positive viewpoints about the life of the deceased as legitimate but critical opinions as out of order.
(3) To publicly rejoice at the death of a democratic political opponent, talk of dancing on her grave, hold street parties for the occasion, and so forth, is contemptible. It says more about the morality inspiring those who engage in such activities than it does about the object of them. Consider that one day it will be you who are dying, and whatever you have done or failed to do in your life, you will deserve the love of those who feel it for you and something better than cruel glee from those who don't.
(4) For, notice that Margaret Thatcher was not still prime minister on the day she died. Her death wasn't instrumental in ending her period of power. So joy in seeing the back of her in that sense doesn't come into it. The day she stepped down as PM is already more than two decades behind us - a day on which many, including me, were delighted to see her go. But the power she wielded and what she wielded it for can't possibly justify the rejoicing now.
(5) And notice, too, that Thatcher's political legacy, the continuing influence of what she did in office, is not altered one way or another by her death. It will continue to make its way in the world, as also to be opposed there, for a good while yet. The expression of public enjoyment has no possible justification, therefore, on these grounds either.
(6) No, when Margaret Thatcher died she was an old and ill woman, with people around her who cared about her. To take pleasure at this is an inhumanity that does no credit to those who so indulge themselves. They forget the simplest and most enduring of human truths for an ugly temporary pleasure.