Margaret Thatcher's passing was never going to be a quiet one; first woman Prime Minister and one of only two to change the country since 1945. Both remarkable and controversial, I can understand why some will not be moved to mourn. The barefaced glee that some have shown over her death is disturbing, though they qualify that her legacy is the object of protest – Thatcherism, not the person they call Witch and Bitch. 'Sticks and stones', she would likely reply.
Such reactions bring to mind another leader: Cleopatra VII. Though she was reared as a goddess (and Margaret as a grammar school girl) both of them sought to restore what they perceived to be national decline, both of their downfalls were dramatic and both stirred strong emotions in life and continue to do so after death, their presence remaining in our collective consciousness. Cleopatra's extraordinary afterlife makes you wonder how Margaret's will unfold. Will great poets put words in her mouth? What will she become synonymous with? What will her name be lent to?
In the test of time, Margaret would want to be assessed on merit alone and I can imagine Cleopatra, and indeed all of us, desiring the same. Cleopatra's misfortune was that her enemies had the last word. Margaret may yet share in that, but both have had and will have to endure the notion that a powerful woman is unseemly, an offensive display of immodest ambition, a repudiation of so-called 'femanine' qualities (in a word 'unnatural'), making her both fascinating and a reason in itself to be hated, regardless of her record. Wondering how Margaret can be hated as a person whilst her legacy remains untouched, Cristina Odone argues that such misogyny is the root cause of it.
Bidisha is one of many women who reject Margaret for her policies and dismissal of sisterhood, but she also notes that "Thatcher was no worse than many of the men before her, or since, or now. It disturbs me that she is held up and bashed with especial hatred, base insults and grotesque mockery while male public figures far more loathsome are treated more respectfully." Judged by our own standards, Cleopatra may be favourably compared against her contemporaries, but her enemies explained away her success by twisting her authority into shameless temptation. Will Margaret's opponents wind up reducing her into another femme fatale?
With no memory either of Britain before Margaret or of her in power, I am in a poor position to judge. But as it is impossible not to form an opinion about her, here is mine. She won many battles, but lost her war. She 'freed' us from the state, but failed to remake us as hard-working, thrifty, self-reliant and morally upright Victorians, in short – like her father. He was a pillar of Society. She didn't believe in it. I reject that, along with the soulless materialism and excessive individualism that has become associated with Thatcherism, but remember too that they were not, at heart, what she was about.