BLOG: Is it ever right to celebrate a death?

Crawley Observer chief reporter Karen Dunn reflects on the mixed reaction to the death of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

When Margaret Thatcher was alive, there was little middle ground – you either admired her or despised her.

When she died, the majority of people claimed that middle ground – her death was definitely newsworthy but hardly unexpected given her age. The plan was to shrug, endure the momentary circus that comes with the passing of the rich and famous and move on.

But it was the people who pitched their tents either side of reasoned opinion who stole the show.

Thatcher’s death was either mourned as a world-shattering tragedy or celebrated with some of the most distasteful scenes to blight our country since the London riots.

The mourning was expected. It’s what we all do – remember and exaggerate a person’s achievements and gloss over or ignore their faults. No matter how glaring.

The over-the-top news coverage was expected, and you knew what the agenda was depending on which paper you chose to read.

From the Daily Mail’s reporting, which was akin to the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments accompanied by photos of Thatcher looking regal, to the Mirror which opted to plaster a ‘scary eyed Maggie’ picture on its front page, it all ran to type.

Even the jokes were expected. There is nothing which is out of bounds when it comes to tasteless humour, and that’s the way it should be.

What sickened the majority of people were the vile celebrations – the champagne-popping, dancing in the streets parties over the death of an old woman.

That some of those parties descended into violence wiped away any sympathy the middle-grounders may have had for the revellers.

Of course, Downing Street quickly re-instilled that sympathy by declaring the coffers could spare millions of pounds to pay for her funeral, when all around the country the mantra is “cuts, cuts and more cuts”.

Thatcher’s death has forced us to ask what has become of our country’s sense of what is right and what is downright distasteful.

Freedom of speech is one of the most powerful weapons in anyone’s arsenal and must be protected, but just because you can say something, doesn’t mean you should.

It’s true that you cannot defame the dead, but does that mean we should sacrifice common decency when some one we may have loathed dies? Aren’t there times when we should keep our mouths shut?

The time to celebrate was in 1990 when she was ousted from power, not 23 years later when a woman who was a shadow of her former self finally met the Reaper.

We belittled ourselves as a nation by celebrating her death.

When Thatcher was at the height of her powers in the 1980s, life was about money and class – you either had it or you didn’t.

And the people who opened the champagne and took to the streets to party showed no class at all.