Gruesome rumours regarding Margaret Thatcher’s alleged imminent demise swept Twitter today. It was something of an unpleasant spectacle, quite why someone would think it amusing to fake a news report stating that anyone was hours from death is beyond me. Almost as bad was the inevitable gloating, invoking the usual clichés of dancing on her grave and worse. What struck me, is that much of the sentiment eagerly anticipating her death and the celebrations that would follow, came from precisely the same people who have been professing so much outrage about the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. There seemed to me to be more than a little dissonance between on the one hand, people working themselves up into states of apoplexy about the killing of the leader of a known terrorist organisation and on the other, positively wishing for a nasty, painful and protracted death of an eighty-five year old woman in frail health, who was as well as being a democratically elected leader, was a mother and grandmother.
I don’t hold with the dehumanization of anyone. Whilst I can’t bring myself to feel grief-stricken over the death of Osama Bin Laden, I can see that perhaps America had legitimate grounds for his execution, there are nonetheless some moral issues to consider here. Fr Lombardi struck entirely the right note when he said that
“faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices but reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us before God and before man, and hopes and commits himself so that no event be an opportunity for further growth of hatred, but for peace.”
We are all created with equal dignity and worth, emotive hyperbole only serves to dehumanize us, thereby justifying acts of violence, and just as Osama Bin Laden was a father, Margaret Thatcher is a mother and grandmother, the difference being that like her or loathe her, Margaret Thatcher did not set out with the aim of wantonly killing swathes of non-combatants, nor was she filmed laughing and celebrating the slaughter of thousands of innocent people. I am well aware that some people might argue that her government had precisely the same effect, however the difference is Maggie was the democratically elected prime minister of this country, voted for by the vast majority. She did not order or sanction the wholesale slaughter of innocent civilians, British troops were not asked to indiscriminately kill vast swathes of population. Whatever Margaret Thatcher did was to act in what she believed to be in the best interests of this country. I don’t think one can accuse her or Denis, of being motivated by self-interest, book deals, publicity stunts or freebies.
Which brings me to the main point, namely state funerals. The question of whether or not a state funeral would be appropriate was mooted. My answer was initially no. It seems to me that either all former British prime ministers should be accorded a state funeral, or none of them should. I then wondered whether or not Margaret Thatcher should be given a state funeral simply on the basis that she was the first female ever to reach the highest echelons of power.
I’ve come to the conclusion that every single former British Prime Minister who has served at least two terms should be accorded some sort of public funeral as should a prime minister who dies whilst in office. Even Blair, whose actions I find indefensible and who frankly makes my blood boil. By public funeral I’m not talking of a royal affair with gun carriages, 21 gun salutes, or any sort of lying in state. I think, in the case of Margaret Thatcher any sort of lying in state, would be of more detriment than of benefit and this would probably apply to most prime ministers We are not talking about venerating the relics of a holy saint, or according former prime ministers a holy and hallowed status, but I think it is only right and proper that the state holds some kind of public ceremony as a mark of respect for the office itself, for our traditions of freedom and democracy and in thanks-giving for those prime ministers who have, often to the detriment of their own personal health, dedicated a prolonged period of time to acting in what they believe to be the best interests of the country. Particularly when, in the cases of Thatcher, Blair and even John Major, they have been democratically elected by the vast majority of the country. Why not give the office of prime-minister the respect it deserves? It was morally indefensible that democracy was snubbed by the omission of two former serving prime ministers at the royal wedding.
Let history and God be their judge and let us be grateful that we do live in a country that will permit us to wear t-shirts hastening and celebrating the demise of a grandmother riddled with Alzheimer’s.