Maggie, Paris, and Looking at the Past

When Thatcher died, the nation reacted.  To some it was an atrocious reaction.  To others, it was justified.  There were brilliantly-written articles about the nature of poverty, about feminism, about politics, about power, about how Britian has changed. 

But I’ve not seen any article like Gemma’s.  We were eating brunch, and she told me about how she saw the link between Margaret Thatcher and Paris Brown, and the hairs on my arms stood up.  I knew this post would be good.  I was right.  It asks difficult questions about how we judge others, how we judge people’s pasts with little reference to our own, and how, during the aftermath of Thatcher’s demise, so many of us avoided the real questions. 

It’s smart, challenging and incisive.  Just as we like it.  Over to you, Gemma: 

So, in case you missed it, Margaret Thatcher died recently.  I won’t blame you if your eyes have glazed over at this point and you’re ready to scroll down the peachy pages looking for shots of Emmi, Stella, or your favourite AOP. (What am I saying? It’s impossible to pick a favourite AOP.  I should have said ‘scroll down in the vain hope of narrowing down your favourite AOP’)  But bear with me.  This piece isn’t really about Margaret Thatcher, and whether she left a broken state or precious legacy.  It’s about how we look at the past.

In her (very good, as per) article about Mrs Thatcher and the whole situation, Caitlin Moran said ‘It’s an odd thing — being told to mourn. Being told to feel sad. Being .’  I can see her point, however my discomfort with the post-iron-lady-passing world was not being told to feel sad, but being told to feel euphoric.  ‘Thatcher Death Parties’ popped up across the nation.  My Twitter feed was full of vitriol, friends who I know to be educated, inquisitive, compassionate women were suddenly bandying round the ‘c’ word to describe her when I’d never ever heard it on their lips before.  And worst of all, it felt as if you were suddenly kicked into the camp of the very far Right, politically speaking, if you didn’t join in spitting venom about what she did when she was here, and jubilation that she was gone. It was that which seemed most bizarre to me, that which I just couldn’t get my head around. 

Suddenly I wasn’t allowed to describe myself as ‘fundamentally a socialist, but I do love frocks,’ because I didn’t have a Very Strong Opinion about MT, and further, that said Very Strong Opinion was that it was a Very Good Thing she was gone.  The death of an 80-year-old is not something to have a party about.  The end of Thatcherism as a concept, positive action on the housing crisis which can be linked to her time in office, a cohesive society pulled together and led from the top down by a dynamic government taking responsibility for nation-wide, entrenched issues? That’s something worth a party.  But that kind of change won’t magically appear after an is-it-a-state-funeral for an old lady.  A shift like that takes less twitter grandstanding and more ground roots action.  It takes less complacency and more constructive discussion.  It takes less finger pointing and more lending a hand. I was tempted to head along to one of the celebrations that day to ask how many revellers had actually voted in the last election.

Which brings me to what triggered this post in the first place.  On the same day that Margaret Thatcher died, a 17-year-old, a mix of chutzpah, fake tan and misplaced bravado, was giving a Clinton-esque speech in a press conference in Kent.  I’m talking about Paris Brown, the girl who was chosen to be the nation’s first Youth Crime Commissioner and who was pressured into standing down after her twitter history, showing tweets which were homophobic, racist, and potentially referenced drugs, came to light. I’m not, in any way, defending these kinds of views or statements.  But I do think Paris Brown having to leave her role due to ill-judged, throwaway comments she made from when she was 13 or 14, was the wrong outcome from a situation which could have been turned around. 

I have clear, very clear memories of when I was at a public speaking competition when  I was 14.  My friend D, who was 15 at the time, sent me a note during a heartfelt speech from another competitor who was talking about the pressure placed on young girls by magazines.  The note said ‘Sigh… only fat girls talk about body image issues.’  D is now a GP, and we’ve had myriad, myriad discussions about the exact topic she skewered in that note.  D gives speeches at schools about body image issues.  I don’t think she can remember sending me that note. 

The debate about whether the Youth Crime Commissioner should be a paid position is a discussion for another forum, but my point is this.  Wouldn’t it have been better to keep Paris in that role, not just in spite of but almost because of those offensive tweets? If you want to combat racism and abusive behaviour in young people, what better way than to have someone who is intertwined in that culture, on your side?

We’d be better off asking, not is this a criminal offence, but how and why did a 14-year-old, one who seems fairly bright, and one who has now grown into a 17-year-old with at least enough gumption to apply for the position, so therefore presumably has an interest in shaping her political landscape, ever need to show bravado through tweets of that nature?  Their content wasn’t something she pulled out of a void – the influences around her, shaping her at an impressionable age, told her that these views were not just acceptable but something to brag about.

How, in the fifteen years since I was showing my own brand of bravado at 13 by fibbing to friends that I’d been selected to sing a Gwen Stefani song at assembly, did an average teen grow up so fast and so widely? I can’t help but think that Paris’ tweets say more about our society than they do about her.  I also can’t help but think that what a lot of people took umbrage to most was her tweet about being ‘horny’, and I’m convinced that this is tied back to our collective attitudes on young women and sex.  If a 14-year-old boy had tweeted about being ‘horny’, I can see it being written off as ‘well, he’s at that age.’  How often do we hear the worn out cliché that teenage boys ‘only have one thing on their minds?’  It’s a different story when it’s a girl.

Just like I would have asked the death partiers if they’d voted, I’d like to ask those who demanded Paris be removed from office whether any of them had sent a ‘ding dong the witch is dead’ tweet.  Whether the message we’re sending is ‘it’s not ok to be abusive in general, especially to minorities but specifically, in the case of one person, it’s fine.’

It’s my opinion that we don’t need to be talking about Maggie anymore.  We need to let her rest in peace.  Looking back can’t change the future.  What if we’d been passionately talking about the pressures on the average 13 to 18-year-old for the couple of weeks instead of discussing the flotilla of black cars for Mrs Thatcher’s funeral? What if we’d been helping one 17 year old girl grow past a small minded and immature world view, and at the same time, enabled that young girl to reach out to her peers?

Whatever else you can say about Margaret Thatcher, she wasn’t typical.  She wasn’t a typical politician, nor was she a typical woman.  It’s this, I think, which helped make her so divisive.  Paris Brown is typical.  If she’s the kind of typical that we don’t like, we should have kept her around and helped her to change.

Categories: Politics and Feminism
25 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted April 29, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Brilliant. Everything about this is brilliant.

    People at work have been debating both of these stories for weeks and they fall into sides depending on their political persuation. When I, who will outrightly say do not strongly swing to either side, said that I thought the debate was a little false, they were very confused. I dont spend my hours worryibg what MT did, the fact is it’s done and she was an amazing woman for standing in front of the house amd doing something. Anything to try and help.

    As for Paris, she was remorseful and wanted correct and repair. She wasn’t given the chance.

    People need to give others that chance and see them for what they are trying to acheive, alive or dead.

    L x

  2. Posted April 29, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    I may be a total non-fan of Thatcher, but I have to say when I heard she was dead I felt no need to feel anything much at all, other than a pervading sense of sadness that her legacy lives on. She was an old lady, she died, no great surprises there.

    I am surprised, however, about how many people felt cowed by these legions of ding-dongers – because I genuinely didn’t see any on my feeds. In fact, all I did see were a load of people moaning about other people ding-donging and being quite sanctimonious about letting the dead rest, which I thought was funny given that I couldn’t actually see any of these rumoured legions of ghostly anarchists. In fact, the sanctimony was the only thing that ended up pissing me off that day. She was a controversial politician, we’re allowed to have an opinion, or to not have an opinion at all, without being judged. Maybe I need to get more militant friends….


  3. Posted April 29, 2013 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Having read this post a few times now…

    “Just like I would have asked the death partiers if they’d voted, I’d like to ask those who demanded Paris be removed from office whether any of them had sent a ‘ding dong the witch is dead’ tweet. Whether the message we’re sending is ‘it’s not ok to be abusive in general, especially to minorities but specifically, in the case of one person, it’s fine.’”

    I completely agree that being mean isn’t very nice however you do it… however I’m not sure I agree that being jubilant over the death of a controversial political figure who had a enormous impact on our personal history means that you should check yourself before you denounce racist behaviour? Please tell me if I’m reading this wrong…! I do agree that the internet/tabloid culture we have means that witch-hunting is something that happens now, and I don’t like it any more than the next person, but I think parallels like this are dangerous ones to draw.

    I totally take the point about the bloodthirsty public outcry in both these cases being socially worrying, but in essence (I believe) the issue is different at root.


    • Posted April 29, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      (PS. love you Gemma, great post)

      Come on commenters!

      • Posted April 29, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

        I think (think!) she meant that it’s not justified to party in the streets over Margaret Thatcher’s death if you don’t put your “care” for British society/politics into action in the polls – and then similarly, that pulling someone up on previous racist comments is unjustified if you yourself have made a racist or homophobic comment in the past too.

        But maybe I’m reading it wrong too!

        • Posted April 29, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

          I would definitely agree with that sentiment. I think we’ve got quite lazy about politics, and it’s easy to parrot what everyone else is saying online but not necessarily follow it up by finding out how to improve the situation and then getting off your chuff and voting.


    • Gemma C-S
      Posted April 29, 2013 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      I don’t think I was clear enough here… what I actually meant there was that people were (rightly) upset about the way that Paris tweeted – what she said and how she said it, but that I felt some of us were given a ‘free pass’ on saying abusive things about Thatcher, eg Thatcher was a C… So I was saying that people were being inconsistent in what they denounced. Does that make sense? xx

      • Posted April 29, 2013 at 10:10 am | Permalink

        But what constituted a “free pass”? Being able to say these things online without…what, legal action or personal, career consequences like Paris Brown faced? Should there have been consequences for the people who said these things? Is it really a free pass in fact – who actually is the authority saying that these opinions are ok, who (apart from our peers) are endorsing them? They are questionable, disrespectful things to say. BUT they are an (ugly but still) expression of dissatisfaction at a difficult political time and we are still fortunate to live in a society where we are allowed to say them.

        It would be lovely to have everyone sensitively and politely self-censor when somebody has passed away, but we all knew this would happen when she died – I’m pretty sure Thatcher herself would have predicted it. I’m not for a second endorsing the more extreme reactions, I think some of the language used was gross, and there is definitely this horrible trend at the moment of delighting in others’ demise which is vile vile vile, but I’m interested to know how you take away people’s right to say these things and avoid taking away freedom of speech.


  4. Posted April 29, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    P I definitely saw a lot of crowing and the behaviour Gem describes. One good friend had a big outburst at me for retweeting a third sector article in which a former labour MP said that despite being politically averse to her she felt her twenty something daughter benefitted from growing up at a time when the two heads of state were female (a sentiment I share having grown up in the same climate). I also stand by my view that Mrs T was hated far more than a man who made the same decisions would have been – and I think that’s why the language used around her death (whether ‘ding dong’ or c*nt or bitch) was particularly an issue.

    • Posted April 29, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      Just to clarify the ‘benefitting’ bit – again this wasn’t a comment on political policies, more on societal impact of women being in power and not just ‘decoration’.

    • Posted April 29, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      This makes me sad …. there’s such a fine line between inspiring political debate (which Thatcher dying did, which was ace) and slamming people simply because they don’t think in exactly the same way you do.


      • Posted April 29, 2013 at 9:25 am | Permalink

        It was sad. Especially as with this particular friend we can usually have wonderful debates about most things.

        I also know for certain that some people I know will have a similar response when the queen dies (having seen their reaction to the jubilee celebrations and their ‘disgust’ at both her and the privilege of monarchy – this particular pair are both white, male & straight so I did point out that they were also born into a type of privilege).

    • Zan
      Posted April 29, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      I totally agree with you too on the way people react/reacted – I don’t think there’d have been as much vitriol had she been a man. And I think that became painfully clear after she died. I also think there’s a bit of a warped perception that she made decisions in isolation. She did after all, like any Prime Minister, have a cabinet and a parliment to answer to. Sometimes you’d think there was no other politicians around at the time she was PM. And I feel this despite also being (as Penny put it) a ‘non-fan’.

  5. Posted April 29, 2013 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Wow, what a post!

    I saw many sides of the response to Margaret Thatcher’s death on my facebook and twitter feeds, although no-one quite partying. I feel that while I plan to dance my socks off on the night that David Cameron is no longer in power (fingers crossed… and I don’t even live in the UK anymore!), I’d never have that same reaction to someone’s death. Yes, it’s good to celebrate when you believe a transition has occurred that will make your country or the world a better place, but that’s not what happened when Maggie died.

    And as for the Paris Brown affair, I find it frustrating that we don’t encourage people to explain how they’ve evolved from their previous beliefs and understandings of the world. I was once very religious (not that this is, in itself, a bad thing), and this was coupled with some strong beliefs about the world – some of which I’m incredibly ashamed of now. People grow-up and their thoughts evolve – it’s not a bad thing!

  6. Zan
    Posted April 29, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    I think the whole Paris Brown thing was massively overblown. After all, if I was judged now by all the stupid things I did/said when I was 13/14, then I’m pretty sure no one would want to know me! While I’m not condoning the nature of her tweets at all, the gap between 13/14 and 17 is huge. She knows it was wrong and she apologised but I felt too that there was a bit of ‘witchhunt’ about the whole thing.

    • Posted April 29, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      Interesting that *both* the examples here are overwhelmingly violent public reactions towards women in the public eye, regardless of what you thought of either of them, it is a bit scary. No wonder they call it a witch-hunt.

      (I definitely haven’t been out dancing under a full moon lately, just in case anyone reading is sharpening a stake)


      • Gemma C-S
        Posted April 29, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        and that’s EXACTLY why I’ve drawn a parrallel between the two…

  7. Fee
    Posted April 29, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    My main issue was people doing the ‘ding dong’ thing whilst making comparisons to fascist dictators who had caused mass genocide. If you’re going to proclaim joy at someone’s death because of their actions by all means do but at least be clear on what those actions were.

  8. Posted April 29, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s one thing to express an opinion about someone who died, and another to be jubilant about their demise. It’s perfectly OK to say you disliked her policies and how she changed Britain as much as it’s perfectly OK to say you liked her policies and how she changed Britain. But it’s not really morally OK (or in any way constructive) to celebrate jubilantly someone’s death. But I will stand up for anyone to express themselves freely, no matter how awful, silly or abhorrent their views are. We have a legal system to deal with this when it gets out of hand, e.g. inciting terrorism, discrimination, etc… After all, if you can’t hear them, how can you communicate together?

    Most of the stories I read about people in communities who were negatively affected by Thatcherism were quite powerful. I read about one ex-mining village who used the event as an excuse for everyone to get back together and feel like a community again. Someone said they met someone they thought they’d never see again, another person said how lovely it was to feel that sense of togetherness again (by simply having a get-together). They weren’t having a silly celebratory street party because they knew that those Thatcherist policies and ideologies were still very much alive. And after all, it was just an old lady dying. And their community was still suffering from unemployment, ill health and deprivation, very much legacies of the demise of the industry.

    I get so frustrated when people express political opinions but fail to exercise their vote. It seems more people got involved in the Thatcher / Paris Brown debate on social media than vote in local & general elections, or in the police commissioner elections. That to me is what’s important. Proper, meaningful engagement in ‘the system’ through voting, debate and protest (can I mention how much I wish I’d been on the Beekeepers’ march on Parliament last week? That’s what I’m talking about!).

  9. Posted April 29, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    This is such an amazing post and fantastic discussion, I wish I had time to properly join in. All I would say is that my main concern is the way that in both cases I don’t think a man in the same situation would have got the same response, and that seems like a huge issue to me. There’s an element of discrediting women no matter what they do or how they behave here.

    On the MT issue, I don’t agree in any way at all with 99% of MT’s politics, but that doesn’t mean I wanted her dead. I want her policies and legacies gone, the fact that she’s gone and her legacy lives on is actually more depressing to me. That said, I wasn’t alive for a lot of Thatcher’s reign, thus I am one step removed from the pain and anger at what she did.

    K x

  10. Chirsty
    Posted April 29, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Bloody hell this is good Gem.

    As an aside: a key part of the post of Youth Crime Commissioner was reaching out via social media. The recruiters knew this before and during the hire. Can anyone seriously say that no one in a decision-making position looked back on Paris’s tweet history before hiring her? Seriously??

    I’ve worked in recruitment. I recruit in my current role. I just can’t believe they didn’t. And they hired her anyway. Which suggests that they either: a) thought she was perfectly capable of doing the job regardless and it might in fact, as you say, be a great opportunity to empower the youth community which they then sadly never followed up on.

    Or b) were waiting for, wanting and hoping for it to come out. In exactly the sensationalistic way it did. And fed her to the lions for publicity (not saying she was an innocent party but…) – Would the post of Youth Crime Commissioner have featured on many people’s radars if it hadn’t?

    • Anita
      Posted April 29, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      I think this is a really, really good point Chirsty. In today’s social media age, everyone knows that you have to consider someone’s digital footprint… And it is indeed fascinating that so many people hadn’t heard of a Youth Crime Commissioner until all of this happened (I hadn’t, and I consider myself reasonably well informed -well, I read the Metro ;) )

      As for the Maggie Thatcher thing, I too found people’s attitudes rather distasteful, but I think it’s key to remember that we are a much younger demographic than the people who really remember her rule (I think I’m probably an ‘older’ AOW reader at 32 and even I barely remember a lot of it). I was talking to an older colleague at work and, while not exactly jubilant about her death, he was certainly very vitriolic about her time in power. He was from a working class mining family, his dad was out on strike for years when he was a teenager, miners’ kids didn’t get free school meals so he went hungry for a long time, his friend’s dad killed himself because of not being able to provide for his family… It definitely wasn’t Billy Elliot. After listening to him talk I definitely understood a lot more about why people felt the way they did about her.

      Oh and btw -your writing is beyond fabulous, Gemma (as indeed are you). Totally see why the hairs on Anna’s arms stood up.

      • Posted April 29, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

        You’re definitely right about it being generational Anita but I still don’t understand with regards the mining strikes why she is held solely responsible. It was Scargill who called a strike without a ballot, against the wishes of many miners. Yes she made closures but the mines would have closed sooner or later anyway as it wasn’t sustainable sadly, and while the kids school meals is indeed indictful that was a cabinet decision.

  11. Rach M
    Posted April 29, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Wow, what a piece. Brilliantly written, Gemma. I would also say I’m a non-fan of MT, but the death parties stuff, the ‘what kind of mother/woman was she?’ and all the references to witches and bitches depressed me. A man in this position wouldn’t have had the same reaction…and so much of that is rooted in the language of insulting women.

    Really stunning piece, I’m going to be thinking about this for ages. Xx

  12. Posted May 4, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    I’ve come back to this as I read but had no time to comment. It pretty much echoes everything I was thinking – particularly that I felt that maybe those putting lots of energy into death parties could instead put that energy into changing the parts of her legacy that remain and they hate. Having said that many of the people I knew who were jubilant had been personally impacted be policies under her government.

    I also find it odd that many of this things Major brought in were attributed to Thatcher too. He went further on some things than I think she might have done. It was a really skewed debate on both extremes and I think if everyone could have taken a step back there was a much more interesting debate to be had. Particularly if they stepped away from saying her policies made her less of a woman (though interestingly the Falklands War saw her peak in responses from male voters who saw that action as decisive and manly). Major was perceived as more feminine and more popular with female voters. But that could lead to a debate on what these so called male and female attributes are and how we got to a place where they were culturally acceptable.

    I appear to have thrown all my thoughts at this post. I apologise.

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