On Saturday, thousands of people pitched up in Trafalgar Square to revel in the death of Margaret Thatcher. Anarchists had been planning a party to celebrate the Iron Lady's death for over a decade – or at least ever since the first news came through that she had grown “frail”. With newspapers comparing the security measures for the Baroness's funeral this Wednesday to those of the Olympics, I figured I should head along to see whether the police would be using the revellers for baton practice.
Taking refuge from the rain in a nearby pub, I spoke to a number of veteran anarchists. Everyone was quick to state that the event wasn’t in any way a "political protest" and that it had no agenda, but was simply a celebration of Thatcher’s death – a spontaneous expression of joy for anyone who lived through her reign and those who have borne the brunt of her legacy ever since. And, despite the media portrayal, they were all equally adamant that the demonstration was not an anarchist event.
They were right. Miners, print-workers, nurses, disabled lobby groups, students and trade unionists hired coaches to descend upon London for the party. There's never been a member of British government as widely despised as Thatcher, and the street-parties throughout Britain that have greeted her death are the first instance of the traditionally deferent UK population celebrating – en masse – the death of a public figure. So, as morbid and arguably distasteful as that is, it made Saturday a historic event – one that'll receive at least a passing mention whenever the "MARGARET THATCHERS DEAD LOL" photo is whipped out to embarrass us 200 years from now.
Ian Bone (above, left), founder of anarchist group Class War, is one of those who've been calling for this party to happen since 1994. He could barely contain his excitement at what he feels Thatcher’s death signifies for the future of British politics: “The most amazing thing is just how shocked the establishment’s reaction has been to the hatred expressed against Thatcher. For once, there have been normal working class people on the news and quoted in the 'papers articulating their anger against a symbol of government.
"It’s the largest popular outpouring of hatred against a political figure in the history of England and it’s interesting to see that even papers like the Daily Mirror are now reflecting popular opinion in a non-partisan manner," Bone continued. "There’s a definite sense among the powers-that-be that ‘something nasty is stirring in the woodshed’, and that’s really got them shitting themselves for the future. Now people have been truly empowered to vent hatred against their rulers, it makes the rulers' position a lot less assured.”
Another of the anarchist old-guard, Martin, was equally enthused: “As soon as the news of Thatcher’s death came through, my phone started ringing. People already had "Ding! Dong! The Witch is Dead” as their mobile phone ring-tones and the air was buzzing with talk about Trafalgar Square. Anyone coming out with the wet-arsed line about it being 'distasteful to celebrate the death of anyone' is just a fucking moron. Would they have said that about Hitler, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein or any other leader who's caused their country misery and death? They’re just closet Tories, or people whose parents benefitted from Thatcher’s policies.”
Another anarchist raged: “Just consider the thousands made homeless with housing bills. That includes a lot of the servicemen who fought for her; those who died from hypothermia following the privatisation of utilities and their subsequent rises in cost. Think about the inhabitants of pit villages economically decimated after the miners' strike, plunging generations to come into a cycle of unemployment, crime and drug addiction. There's an endless list of victims and casualties of that stinking cunt’s policies."
It's a sentiment I can only agree with, as my own father contracted MRSA following a hospital visit, dying shortly after; a direct result of Thatcher turning over hospital cleaning to the private sector in 1983 as an ‘experiment’ in outsourcing and the detriment to hospital hygiene her policy wreaked.
The anarchist I had been speaking to continued: “Her claim that there was 'no such thing as society' has its legacy in the very ‘broken Britain’ Cameron and her descendants in politics now rail against. Spiralling rent, no social housing, absurdly low wages with no unions to protect workers from being exploited, the closure of schools and hospitals… Anarchists want to smash the state, but that’s because we want to see the destruction of the class system and the removal of power from those who uphold it. Thatcher did her best to smash the part of society that’s made up of those who don't benefit from capitalism and the class structure. To a great extent she succeeded – and we’re still living with the fallout of that today."
In the run-up to Saturday's celebration, the press ran stories about the 50,000 football fans supposedly flocking to Trafalgar Square after Millwall and Wigan's FA Cup match and claimed that Millwall fans (conveniently, football's scariest fans) had "threatened to confront the anti-Thatcher protesters". Besides the laughably transparent scaremongering, the right-wing media's futile attempts to put people off coming actually had the opposite effect. If it wasn't for the array of stories about the party, there would probably have only been a couple of hundred anarchists turning up. The Mail and their bed-buddies did a better job of promoting an anarchist event than any anarchist group ever could.
As it turned out, the heavy rain kept many away, but there were still a good 1,000 [Editorial Update: the guardian reported the crowd around three thousand at it's peak, but it looked more like 1,000 to the VICE staff who were present] or so dancing, singing and rejoicing around the square. The police wisely took a hands-off approach, being screamed out of the pub with a chorus of “fuck off” every time they tried to saunter in.
As one carouser in a “I Still Hate Thatcher” T-shirt put it, “Even with the pissing rain, thousands have turned up to fill Trafalgar Square and celebrate Thatcher's death. No one’s been nicked and we’re all still here enjoying a drink, so it’s us who’ve won and it’s a day everyone here will remember forever. Even though not much more has happened than people popping some champagne corks, I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to the bitch.”
The anarchist professor Chris Knight, fresh from his mid-week appearance on Daybreak, turned up with a Thatcher effigy and began to stake Maggie as she lay in her cardboard coffin, presumably just to make sure she was dead. Or because bringing a huge effigy to a televised event and destroying it in front of a crowd is a great way to draw camera focus. Either way, everyone there was into his little display of resistance.
The police tactics remained relatively hands-off until rumours that members of the press were being harassed by protesters forced the police to intervene. However, they were quickly surrounded and forced out of the square to shouts of, “Whose square? Our square!” which made those shouting seem a bit like petulant ankle-biters who'd just learned how it feels to get your own way. But at least it kept everyone happy, I suppose.
In fact, the only vague sign of trouble was when a few Millwall supporters – more in the region of five than 50,000 – fresh from their FA Cup defeat turned up to harass some of the partygoers. But, I'm guessing because they were incredibly bored and looking for something to break up the monotony of being shouted at, police swept in instantly every time to either give them a slap, arrest them or, in some cases, both.
As the evening wore on and the consistent rain began to take its toll, the crowd started to thin out and, by around 11.30PM, the bicycle sound-system made a dash from the square towards Whitehall. Around 50 or so party-goers made it through the police lines and up to Downing Street, where – what now seems to be inescapable with these sorts of things – everyone was kettled, bringing the night's celebrations to their unavoidable conclusion.
Back at the pub, Martin summed up the day, “Who knows how many thousands more would have turned up if it wasn’t for the pissing rain but you can be sure the thousands who did brave the elements will be back on the streets to oppose the latest wave of cuts the government is steam-rolling through. They may no longer be satisfied with just wanting to kick effigies of politicians about the streets of London. It may have rained on our party today but for them the stormclouds are starting to gather.”
Wednesday is Thatcher's funeral and protesters have got permission from police to line the streets along the procession so they can "turn their backs" on Hilda's casket. It'll be a larger, more diverse crowd, because the funeral won't be attended solely by people who'd rather see Maggie's head on a spike outside Parliament than on a plinth in Trafalgar Square. Remove the consensus, throw some Thatcher-lovers in alongside the Thatcher-haters, and it's much more likely the mood will shift from bonhomie to bedlam.
More Maggie stuff: