BARONESS THATCHER, THEY
There probably aren’t
two figures as far apart as Margaret Thatcher and Hugo Chavez.
But editorializing on Margaret Thatcher’s passing no doubt would
be different from doing so on Chavez’s passing – something that
was done in this space a few weeks ago.
The headline writers couldn’t help themselves almost. The
Iron Lady is dead, they say. But those who are old enough to
remember would recall Mrs. Thatcher as the diminutive lady who
visited this country to ceremonially declare open the Victoria
Dam, and then the Mahaweli Centre in the eighties.
She may also be remembered for her bouffant coiffure. Other
than that, the politically conversant would associate her with
J. R. Jayewardene, the late Iron Gent of Sri Lanka, who said he
could not make a man a woman and a woman a man -- but could do
Margaret Thatcher, no disrespect intended, was sometimes
thought of as woman made man in Great Britain. Writers cannot
say enough about the male enchantment with her ‘machismo’; there
were enough cliches about her being the only man in her Cabinet,
which of course was the original wag’s line attached to the
world’s first woman Premier, Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
The irony about the Iron Lady is that the news of her death
has prompted polarized reactions that for a brief two days at
least brought back the anxieties of the most divisive age in
Britain in recent memory. Her good relations with J. R.
Jayewardene were kindred - but those two ages, that of Thatcher
and JRJ in history, would be remembered for similar reasons in
the two countries.
In Britain, they remember Thatcher as the person that changed
British values irrevocably. Nothing is the same in Britain any
more after Thatcher, they say. Nothing is the same after J. R.
Jayewardene as well, and for much the same reasons.
Thatcher was insensitive to the poverty she spawned with her
‘reforms’, and the social polarizations that ensued as a result.
J. R. Jayewardene was in her first carbon copy, though the
Economist famously had J. R. first and then Thatcher and Reagan
in that order, featuring the triumvirate as the harbingers of
the global strike back of the untrammeled forces of Capital. In
Brixton therefore it is not surprising that they are chugging
beer and whenever possible cheering on with the bubbly to
celebrate Thatcher’s death to chants of ‘Maggie Maggie Maggie,
dead, dead, dead.’
But what is the Iron Lady’s legacy then, is it all dark as
some writers in the Guardian (UK) have claimed, or is there
anything redeeming? There probably is. She privatized the state
behemoths in Britain too, and therefore, as a result, it is easy
as it is now to get a telephone from Sri Lanka Telecom, for a
Londoner to get it from a private service provider such as
Vodaphone! This certainly had not been the case before her.
So what Thatcher did primarily was to dismantle the
romanticized narrative about the left-leaning welfare state. A
good healthy dose of capitalism in other words, brought Britain
up to scratch and the Thatcher-Regan blowback capitalism
certainly had its heady moments.
But the duo – trio if JRJ is to be counted - also presided
over the excesses, and the deterioration of the new economic
ethos to the point at which neo-liberalism threatens all
humanity, though that might sound hyperbolic.
In the main, it is hard for humane people to agree with all
that Thatcher did. We could all write a bit about the spectacle
she made - her gender defined leadership image, and the
resultant drama. That is why in part the newspapers are full of
news of her demise, including this one.
But in the main while the passing of a past friend of Sri
Lanka is noted with some almost nostalgic sadness, the fact that
with her that era of polarizing insensitivity is getting a wee
bit more behind us is an uplifting thought, though anybody’s
death and therefore certainly Margaret Thatcher’s death
diminishes us. Undoubtedly, after the tumult of her years, she
would and should Rest In Peace.