Revellers in George Square, Glasgow
For the past two evenings, in two different Washington D.C. bars, I have chatted to American friends about the death of Margaret Thatcher. Both times, I was approached by men who, upon hearing my British accent, felt obliged to share their thoughts: ‘She can’t have been that bad, surely?’ I’m asked. ‘Even if she was, these “death parties” and jokes about going to hell can’t be justified. It’s sick, isn’t it?’ Their questions, of course, were rhetorical. These strangers, having heard Barack Obama’s praise, already had their answers.
Scanning over opinion pieces in the British national papers, from the Daily Mail to the Independent, I’ve felt similarly chastised. I’ve been told, by Stephen Glover and Grace Dent alike, that people like me, ostensibly gloating over the death of a frail old woman, are childish, ill-informed, and mindlessly jumping on a ‘bandwagon of hate’. A handful of friends on Facebook are saying the same.
Through whichever medium, I’ve been struck by commentators’ lack of imagination. Theirs is a wanton refusal to see something deeper in a bevy of street parties years in the planning. The satirical words and/or ‘sick jokes’ that have flooded social media sites, high street walls and banners unfurled across Britain are meaningful beyond being mean.
The media not getting it isn’t new, but is particularly frustrating coming from self-proclaimed leftists. Dent’s depiction of ‘death party’ attendees as middle-class, feckless youth echo the dismissive portrayals used to delegitimise student protests, Climate Camp and the Occupy movement over recent years. Her argument that, if people really wanted to be heard, they would ‘work in politics’ is both outrageously naïve and a reflection of her own privileged perception of choice in modern Britain.
The rioters that set London ablaze in August 2011 received similar condescension. At best, a youth acknowledged as disenfranchised was presented as misguided and uncouth. At worse, they were materialistic, violent and idle. The keenness with which their actions were condemned was alarming at the time. It became deeply troubling, on reflection, following the heavy punitive sentencing and further cuts to civic facilities it facilitated.
Any attempt to categorise Thatcher death party attendees as one type of person is thoroughly wrong-headed. Among the people I know personally dusting off their grave dancing shoes are social workers, journalists, teachers, artists, students, doctors, lawyers, youth workers, ex-steel workers and numerous trades men and women. They are Scottish, Irish, English and Welsh. They are working and middle class.
This group includes both professional and volunteer public service workers who tirelessly hold the screws in place in the ‘Big Society’ Cameron and his ilk tout but refuse to fund. They are political people, who write stern letters to MPs, and go on solemn protests. And they see these parties as political statements, too.
These gleeful celebrations represent much more than simplistic macabre response to Thatcher’s abhorrent policies, viewpoints and legacy. They are in fact public, vociferous interruption and contestation of the ‘savior, leader, icon’ narrative being written by a worldwide elite.
These conspicuous, pre-planned actions prevent a dreaded alternative from materialising: While the millions who despised her sit on their hands and silently shake their heads, a state-funded, jingoistic funeral procession roles by and the history books canonise a monster.
This alternative, which remains troublingly close to reality, is the truly sickening proposition. While banal flag waving is expected and encouraged around her funeral, there is little recognition that such action is as least as political, and far more asinine than holding a ‘Maggie burn in Hell!’ placard in Trafalgar Square. Many are ashamed, not proud, of Thatcherism and its progeny, and rightfully refuse to be silent. I support their right to say: ‘Not in my name.’
These parties, as crude as the banners adorning them may be, are iconoclastic events. Their message, despite fears to the contrary is not aimed solely at Thatcher. It’s frustrating to see protesters given such little credit, as if they are unaware she was but a cog in a giant ideological machine that has only grown in influence—within and beyond her party—since her ignominious Downing Street exit. They don’t need po-faced lessons that ‘Thatcherism isn’t dead’.
It is plain to see that Conservatives tried to distance themselves from Thatcher tactically, not politically. The distain once reserved for ‘the enemy within’ is now doled out to ‘scroungers’. The death revelers know it and now—precisely because there are parties as well as wakes—everyone is talking about it.
Public celebration provides a much-needed platform for an increasingly silenced public to air their views on, at heart, political issues. It’s patronising to claim otherwise, and to overlook the broader points made. I wonder, for example, if Tony Blair is still so confident that history will judge him kindly on Iraq? First and foremost, however, collective, gleeful action shows there is such a thing as society.
Russell Brand, writing in the Guardian, reflects that Thatcher’s policy aimed and succeeded to break ‘the spell of community’. She cast new spells, of course, of individualism; of anti-immigrant rhetoric and working-class scapegoating. Through her death, those spells might be broken.
For a left that has had little to celebrate for so long, Thatcher’s death is a symbolic victory, a promise that cannot be rescinded. She was a figurehead that millions nonetheless hold responsible for years of abject misery. She became an albatross around our collective neck, and we’re exuberant to throw her off.
‘Ding, dong, the witch is dead’ is indeed a gendered slur. We would do well emphasise the line that follows instead, as an appropriate call to action for a left worn down and broken up through years of bitter disappointments: ‘Wake up – sleepy head, rub your eyes, get out of bed.’
In each public gathering there lies opportunities to unify and galvanize anti-austerity and social justice activists into mass action. Generations and fractions are coming together to share stories, effectively mourning their own, figurative loss of life under and after Thatcher. The millions born post-1990, who have been at the forefront of more recent, swiftly quashed uprisings against austerity and the state are listening, and sharing their stories, too.
Billy Bragg says: Don’t party, organise! I don’t agree that the two are mutually exclusive. There is no need to rush through the immediate opportunity: Educate! We can be grateful for, and seize the opportunity to party, and to tell everyone why.
Anti-Thatcher sentiment is vitriolic, but not thoughtless. Anger is easily dismissed as impotent rage, when those in power claim calm reasoning is needed. But, as Audre Lorde, a true feminist icon, reminds us, anger has its uses: ‘When we turn from anger we turn from insight, saying we will accept only the designs already known, deadly and safely familiar. […] My anger has meant pain to me but it has also meant survival, and before I give it up I’m going to be sure that there is something at least as powerful to replace it on the road to clarity.’
Righteous anger spurs the ‘death parties’ planned for this weekend. Smear campaigns cannot detract from that fact. I believe they can and will be productive, transformative occasions. A revolution that starts with a party? Sounds ideal to me.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill