On April 17, Britain will honor Margaret Thatcher with full military honors, in a ceremonial funeral service attended by the Queen and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh. But within hours of the news that the former Prime Minister had passed away from a stroke on April 8, parts of the country began celebrations that for many had been years, if not decades, in the making.
As one of the most divisive and polarizing leaders in British political history – from her controversial closure of coal mines to the introduction of a poll tax and the push for privatization – it is no surprise that even in death she continues to divide the country.
Take, for exmample, an infamous single-serving website which asked “Is Thatcher Dead Yet?” On Monday, after nearly three years of telling visitors “Not Yet,” the site featured the word “YES” in big, bold capital letters, adding, “The lady’s not returning”. The sites creators Antonio Lulic and Jared Earle also asked readers: “How are you celebrating?”
Mainly it appears, with champagne and cake. Several impromptu street parties popped up around the U.K. as people cheered and handed out ‘Maggie death cake’. In Brixton in South London, the site of 1981 race riots that were among the worst of Thatcher’s term in office, hundreds gathered shouting: “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, dead, dead, dead!” The Daily Mirror reports that others shouted: “Free milk for all,” in reference to her policy of ending milk subsidies for school children.
The level of vitriol against Thatcher is especially strong in northern parts of the U.K., where many working-class people remember her as the politician who destroyed the British manufacturing industry. An estimated 300 people gathered in George Square in Glasgow, Scotland, where crowds were reportedly singing “so long, the witch is dead.” A Facebook campaign has even been set up in the wake of her death to make the song ‘Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead’ from the Wizard of Oz soundtrack number one on the U.K. charts. Marc Almond, one of the people behind the campaign, responded to criticisms of inappropriateness on Twitter:
Many prominent political figures have called for Thatcher’s opponents to show some respect in the wake of her death. British Labour MP Tom Watson tweeted: “I hope that people on the left of politics respect a family in grief today.” Self-declared Thatcherites such as former Conservative MP Louise Mensch hit out at the many celebrating her death on Twitter: “Pygmies of the left so predictably embarrassing yourselves, know this: not a one of your leaders will ever be globally mourned like her.”
For many of those angered by Thatcher’s more controversial policies, however, the Iron Lady can never be forgiven. Writing in the Daily Beast, the singer Morrissey of the band The Smiths described her as a figure “without an atom of humanity.” (The author of the song “Margaret on the Guillotine” was never much of a fan.) Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, another dissenting voice, said, “Every real problem we face today is the legacy of the fact she was fundamentally wrong.”
Though some politicians are campaigning to have the late prime minister granted a full state funeral, Thatcher reportedly vetoed the possibility over fears it would provoke a divisive debate in parliament. As both her supporters and detractors have noted, the Iron Lady was a politician who never cared much about being popular.