Making Friends at Thatcher's London Death Party
Apr 9 2013
Photos by Jake Lewis and Henry Langston
People in the UK got pretty worked up about Margaret Thatcher’s death yesterday. Right wingers cited her smashing of the unions, the Falklands War and the fact that she "wasn’t for turning" as reasons to venerate her, whereas those on the political left cited her smashing of the unions, the Falklands War and the fact that she "wasn’t for turning" as reasons to get drunk and celebrate.
Back in 2004, Britain's anarcho and left-wing communities announced that there would be a party in London's Trafalgar Square on the first Saturday after Thatcher's death. It says a lot about the resentment felt for her in those sections of society that they were planning death raves in her memory almost a decade before she actually died, but the world's changed since then. The internet tends to catalyze public feeling into action a lot more rapidly than it did even 9 years ago and, sure enough, people weren't going to wait six days to show the world just how happy they were that she'd died.
Trafalgar Square was quiet last night. There is still a party planned for this Saturday, but we heard that, in Brixton, a bunch of people had decided to hold a street party in her name. I headed down to Windrush Square to check out the anti-wake.
Thatcher hammered the working class, so the working class decided to get hammered on the news on her death.
If you were expecting a party which mourned somebody’s life and revelled in their death to have a mean-spirited feel to it, as I did, you would be surprised. The atmosphere was weirdly alive.
Maybe it was just the guy in the pirate hat, living it up with a cigar and slumming it with a can of Carlsberg Export, but Windrush Square felt like one of the more obscure stages of a music festival.
The only woman with anything nice to say was Venice here, who said, “you have to big her up for being the first female world leader, she had great shoulder pads and I like the way she did voice training to make herself even more hardcore.”
However, it was a kind of half-hearted admiration, because she also said, “She was in power for my entire conscious childhood. I’ve been waiting all my life for her to die.” When I asked her why loads of people really like her, she said there are, “a lot of dickheads. Yeah, Sun readers. Fucking idiots who are sold bullshit capitalist bullshit. We’re all a product of our environment."
The macabre glee at least had some authenticity about it, which is more than can be said for this scarf wearer's commitment to Rastafarianism.
People were even crediting the relatively nice weather to Thatcher's demise, as if we should ritually sacrifice a Tory every year to help bring on the spring.
Then these guys turned up with their banner, which ruined the vibe for a couple of people, who thought it was kind of sexist. Still, the guys holding it are in that band Fat White Family, so at least the event had some celebrity endorsement.
Then the drug dealers turned up and a pizza joint was marketing a "Thatcher's Gone!" special, showing an entrepreneurial spirit Maggie surely would have been proud of.
This guy wasn't on the make, though. He was giving out free milk, which was a brilliant visual gag about Thatcher's first nickname, the "milk snatcher". I wonder if some ironist is currently trying to give back the Falklands, or rehang the hammer and sickle in the Kremlin.
Ted here said, "For many of us this is an opportunity to revisit our opposition from when we were younger and say, 'Actually, in the passage of time, we won, because this person has died.'" I asked if that really meant they had won, or if really it just meant that they had outlived her. Isn't there actually a lingering sense of futility, given that her legacy is still pretty much alive and kicking today? "No, you're right. Sad face," he replied.
Most people I talked to agreed that Thatcherism was still a live political reality, but were pretty happy to have her death as a source of comfort. Who says there's no such thing as society?
These guys said they'd only been allowed out by their parents thanks to Thatcher's death, which might read like a shit joke about how young they look, but they told me as much. Being out on a school night was "a silver lining", said Tom on the left. Rudi on the right admitted to feeling "a bit out of place here. I don’t agree with the stuff she did but I don’t really agree with celebrating her death," he smiled, in between swigs of Kronenbourg.
Apart from those guys, nobody really gave a shit about the Mail photographers who were milling about, compiling fodder for this article. Every successfully completed skank added another furrow to the brow of Middle England.
I felt a bit stupid asking people jumping around to Crass if what they were doing was a bit... er... what's the word? Vulgar. One guy just shrugged and said, "Yeah, it probably is. So what?" Another guy told me, "We had to pass this large iron stool. You must allow us, after 30 years of Thatcherism, a little moment of glee." For others, it was a necessary antidote to all the eulogising and beatification we’re going to see in our newspapers and on our TV screens over the next month.
In 2013, class war looks like a mobile phone advert. How can anyone find this vulgar?
I mean, frown all you want, but have you ever seen a happier photo than this? I didn't wanna kill the vibe by telling them that the street they were partying on was slap bang in the middle of a process of gentrification.
After a while, some people climbed on to the roof of the cinema next to the square where the party was taking place. Thatcher died from a stroke in her suite at the Ritz. Here we were toasting her death outside the Ritzy. One of Thatcher's triumphs was beating Argentina in the Falklands War. The cinema was in the middle of an Argentine film festival. It was all really poetic. So someone rearranged the listings to read:
"MARGARET THATCHERS DEAD
After a while, someone scrambled up on to the ledge to spell out a more right-on message.
Eventually, people felt that the occasion of Thatcher's death was a good time to block the road. I never get why ruining the commute home of some graveyard shift workers makes a good political statement, but there you go. The police turned up to kettle and shove everyone and arrest a few people, and at that point you tend to understand that the party's over.
Off into the night I went satisfied that, if nothing else, I had born witness to a small chapter of the social history of Britain, even if a lot of the people celebrating were middle class and are far more used to pulling Bitcoins out of mines than lumps of coal. One of the people who didn't fit into that category told me he thought that Thatcher, "hated the poor and her successors hate the poor and we hate her. Our hatred is the only hope for the future. Her hatred is the shit of the past."
Despite news coming through of similar street parties in Bristol, Belfast, Liverpool and Glasgow, there was a sense of futility that, even from beyond the grave, Thatcher's ideas will probably have more impact on the body-politic of this country than those of the people at the party. That said, how often do you get to have a party like this on a Monday night?
In 2010, that winter's anarchic student protests were the catalyst for 2011's Indian summer of rioting and looting in the UK. Last night's celebrations, celebrations in which arrests were made, petrol bombs thrown and police hospitalized, might not be a precursor to something similar, but things aren't getting any better for anyone under Tory rule. I guess we'll have to wait and see if this was a one-night-stand with anger-fuelled revelry, or if Britain still holds a candle for civil unrest.
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