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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Iron Lady deserves more than the ghouls


It's hard to know which is more dismal - the spectacle of Britons celebrating former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's death, or the banning from Auckland bus stops of adverts featuring Chairman Mao performing the Gangnam Style dance.

An Auckland Transport official explained that "something which can be funny to one person can easily be offensive to another". Quite: it's called humour.

Presumably AT's next step will be to ban any advertising with a trace of humour, intentional or otherwise, rather than run the risk that someone, somewhere might be offended.

The Herald report reminded us that Mao's rule "is estimated to have caused the deaths of between 40 and 70 million people, mainly through starvation, forced labour and executions".

Why should we have to tiptoe around the memory of a despot who presided over mass murder on an almost unimaginable scale?

We were told the advert could insult the 120,000 Chinese immigrants living in the Auckland area.

Welcome to New Zealand, folks. In this country, political leaders are lampooned in various forms and forums on an almost daily basis.

Most of us regard it as part and parcel of democracy.

Of course not everyone thinks the Great Helmsman was a monster.

The report also pointed out that "his supporters say he modernised the country and built it into a world power". And as we know, you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs.

It's the nature of politics that major figures tend to be divisive, as their success and standing come at the expense of others.

Thatcher was more divisive than most, revelling in the Iron Lady persona with its disdain for consensus.

As was the case with Robert Muldoon, the most divisive New Zealand politician of modern times, her personality and political style made her appear more immoderate than she was.

But given that an old woman who hadn't played an active role in politics for 20 years had passed away, some of what happened was nauseating.

Decency and decorum were cast aside. There were street parties punctuated by the popping of corks and chants of "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie; dead, dead, dead", a London liquor outlet offered a £10 ($18) discount on champagne and various fringe dwellers and C-listers tried to out-gloat each other.

Police said 800 people participated in the celebrations; Britain's population is 63 million.

You can't blame the media for dwelling on a tiny minority's ghoulish reaction to the death of the longest serving British prime minister of the 20th century, but there are probably 800 people in the UK who'd take to the streets to demand the right to marry their garden gnomes.

And if, to paraphrase French novelist Gustave Flaubert, you can calculate the worth of an individual by the odiousness of their enemies, Thatcher was a person of some substance.

The singer Morrissey called her "barbaric, without an atom of humanity".

Draw your own conclusions about his fitness to make such a judgment from his claim that the massacre of 76 young people on Utoya Island, Norway, was "nothing" compared to what happens at certain fast food chains every day.

Renegade leftist MP George Galloway expressed the hope that Thatcher will "burn in the hellfires". Galloway described the collapse of the Soviet Union as "the biggest catastrophe of my life", reckons North Korea, the last outpost of Stalinism, has a "cohesive, pristine, innocent culture" and walked out of a debate on whether Israel should withdraw from the West Bank when he discovered his opponent was an Israeli.

Ignorance and zealotry are a toxic mix.

A reveller in Brixton who was 2 years old when Thatcher left Downing St said: "She was so particularly evil, and hated by everyone."

I lived in the UK for five years during Thatcher's prime ministership.

Like many people who didn't particularly care for her or her policies, I nevertheless preferred Thatcher to her adversaries: Argentinian fascists, Soviet bloc totalitarians and trade unionists who didn't give a damn about anyone outside their union, let alone the national interest.

If everyone hated her, how come she won three elections and was ushered out of power by her Tory colleagues rather than the electorate?

How come British politics following her departure was dominated by Tony Blair, who she regarded as her true heir?

As Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr said this week, Thatcher "produced a realignment of politics. She forced my side of politics, the social democratic parties, to think more deeply about the role and function of the state, of the public sector".

The real reason remnants of old Labour and assorted sentimentalists danced on Thatcher's grave is that she created New Labour.

- NZ Herald

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