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.