Americans were surprised—well, shocked, really—to see the public manifestations of hatred in England when Margaret Thatcher died. There were images of people celebrating in the streets, tweets and blog posts gleefully predicting damnation, even the Rt. Hon. Glenda Jackson, M.P., on a verbal rampage in the House of Commons. This seemed a curiously ugly response to the death of a frail woman in her late eighties.
On the one hand, THE SCRAPBOOK was shocked, too. We are unabashed admirers of Lady Thatcher and think the question of her historic influence and distinction is long settled. But we also tend to be a little more publicly polite on this side of the Atlantic: Most Americans find the rough and tumble of the British Parliament— rude interruptions, derisive laughter, cries of “resign!”—a little disconcerting, very different from the generally sober (and slightly dull) atmosphere of Congress.
On the other hand, if you take a close look at the anti-Thatcher demonstrators, you would find yourself, as THE SCRAPBOOK was, oddly comforted. This was hardly a ground- swell of British public opinion; in fact, quite the opposite. The great majority of Britons seemed appropriately saddened, certainly respectful, even nostalgic. Margaret Thatcher’s political opponents, with one or two exceptions, gave the lady her due, graciously acknowledging her importance to modern Britain. By contrast, the demonstrators—bearded anarchists, earnest cranks, what used to be called juvenile delinquents—reminded THE SCRAPBOOK of Lady Thatcher’s remark that the character and language of her most violent critics ssured her she was doing the right thing. It is probably true that the I-hate-Thatcher spectacles were evidence of change in British life: When the other “controversial” prime minister of the past century died—that would be David Lloyd George in 1945—such public demonstrations of bumptiousness and malice would have been inconceivable. But trends in public manners evolve, and wax and wane. Go back another century, to 1830, and the greatest British hero of the time, the Duke of Wellington, was physically attacked in public, and his house in London besieged by a mob, because of his politics.
Wellington, of course, was known as the Iron Duke. From the Iron Duke to the Iron Lady, there will always be mud at the feet of giants.