Margaret Thatcher, nil nisi mortuem and Glenn Greenwald

This demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure\’s death is not just misguided but dangerous. That one should not speak ill of the dead is arguably appropriate when a private person dies, but it is wildly inappropriate for the death of a controversial public figure, particularly one who wielded significant influence and political power. \”Respecting the grief\” of Thatcher family\’s members is appropriate if one is friends with them or attends a wake they organize, but the protocols are fundamentally different when it comes to public discourse about the person\’s life and political acts.


The point is not that you must not slag off the dead. Nor is it that politicos must only have nice things said about them.

The injunction is only that we should let the body cool and the body be placed in the grave before we start pissing on it.

It\’s a little interregnum between death and going back to the usual hatreds and politics as usual.

This is only a matter of manners of course, it\’s not actually a vital injunction about life as it must be lived nor as death must be treated. But given that it is about manners then why the fuck did the Guardian get an American to write about it? What they hell do they know?

50 thoughts on “Margaret Thatcher, nil nisi mortuem and Glenn Greenwald”

  1. Probably because all the in house Guardian journos are by now plastered from all the champagne that has been flowing.

  2. From the article:

    She played a key role not only in bringing about the first Gulf War …

    Of course, John Major was PM by then but if she did then kudos to her. A sovereign country was invaded and she didn’t abandon the principles of international law just because the invader was a near-ally.

  3. Is this an appropriate time to point out that is de mortuis nil nisi bonum? Or something like. Certainly not mortuem.

  4. In honour of which I will point out that, yes, the transition of PMs spanned Op GRANBY. But although DESERT SHIELD was started under Thatcher, the order for UK participation in DESERT STORM was given by Major.

  5. And I may add my observation. If you hated someone when they were alive, don’t go all positive in your eulogy on them. Feel free to spout your hatred and be happy that they are dead.

  6. “The injunction is only that we should let the body cool and the body be placed in the grave before we start pissing on it.”

    Why bother? What’s achieved if all the people who want to say mean things hold their tongue’s for a week? Their silence draws attention to itself and, as comment is demanded in any case, just leads to additional unwanted bullshit because the sorts of people with an opinion on this stuff (and I include myself) tend to have trouble shutting the fuck up for long.

    Perhaps in past times, when the opportunity to share an opinion beyond the pub wall, was restricted to a privileged few, you might have reasonably asked those few for this modest concession to restraint… but things are more immediate now.. and unless someone wants to declare an official point at which the gloves come off.. isn’t it more sensible to never put them on in the first place?

    Let people say what they want to say whenever they want to say it. By all means, let your own opinion of them be colored if you think they’ve jumped too soon.. but I don’t see why anyone else should feel bound within your wooly convention.

  7. “de mortuis nil nisi bonum” is just a translation from the original Greek. The Greeks and Romans (and Britons before the twentieth century) regarded it as dishonourable to speak ill of the dead who could not answer back, let alone challenge you to a duel. Greenwald seems not to understand the concept of honour.
    Having survived the 70s, I shall always be grateful to Lady Thatcher, as will millions in Russia and Eastern Europe (witness the tribute by the 21st century’s “Iron Lady” who spent most of her life in East Germany): in the brief but disproportionately interesting period that I worked in Eastern Europe and Russia I consistently found a welcoming attitude largely based on what they felt she done for them.


    A fitting reminder of what Mrs T did for Britain.

    A counter would be from Layard and Nickell:

    A miracle occurs when the facts are much
    better than might have been expected. We
    have not attempted to set up an explicit
    counterfactual situation. However, if pressed,
    we might hazard the following. Compared
    with a Callaghan/Healey government for the
    last ten years, Mrs. Thatcher has raised unemployment
    and inequality, and reduced inflation.
    Though she has raised productivity,
    the verdict on output is uncertain.
    Each reader will perform his or her own
    cost-benefit assessment. This will involve the
    record so far, the future prospects, and the
    set of value judgements used. Benefits there
    have certainly been, but there have also been
    major costs.

  9. This is, of course, completely tactical as when a Leftist public figure dies their position will reverse 100%.

  10. @ #10 ken
    Just reading through the one page that comes up is enough to see that Layard & Nickells are using suggestio falsi to push a predetermined political message that is inconsistent with the real facts.
    Firstly, inequality of wealth decreased during Mrs Thatcher’s term as Prime Minister (New Labour was the only government in my lifetime to increase it) and the reported increase in inequality of income that is habitually quoted is based on Inland Revenue data that tells us that *taxable* income for those paying higher rate tax jumped by more than 60% when Geoffrey Howe reduced the top rate of tax to 60%.
    Secondly they credit North Sea Oil with reducing inflation by 10% – that involves not just double-counting but treble-counting the effect it had through raising the £ sterling exchange rate. Imports are less than one-third of GDP so to reduce inflation by 10% it would have to had lifted the exchange by more than 30%.
    Meanwhile they ignore the impact of the rise in the £ sterling exchange rate due to North Sea Oil on unemployment. Perhaps because a rise to 30% above PPP would have decimated UK manufacturing?

  11. john77

    They are using income data – their evidence is that between 1979 and 1988, the top percentile saw post tax income rise by 73% when the income of the bottom 10% only rose 13%.

    On the inflation side, it is true that UK inflation was very persistent. But mayhap they push both these a little far.

    No one would deny that the Thatcherite reforms were probably very fruitful taken in the context of 1979-2003. It would have been better if the pain had been less and if she had achieved something in education – but I suppose that fighting the menace of the miners outweighed the idiots of the NUT. A thorough supply side reform of education would be very worthwhile. (This would in consequence mean no employment for the leadership of any of the main teaching unions)

  12. She was a problematic figure for any libertarian but, by a country mile, the most significant premier of my lifetime and her instincts, if not always her practice, favoured individual freedom more than any other PM since Churchill’s injunction to ‘set the people free’. I’d have liked more and better, but she deserves a place in the pantheon.

  13. I was amused by this Telegraph sub-headline:

    “Full story: Margaret Thatcher dies”.

    Isn’t that single sentence in itself the full story?

  14. The internet is a permanent record of public utterance.

    As John O’Farrell discovered.

    I suspect her final gift to this country will be how her death permanently exposes as human vipers some on the Left – I imagine many a socialist career will be blighted or even destroyed by incautious gloating over the coming weeks.

  15. Just for once in my life I find myself agreeing with Glenn Greenwald. Commenters on this site were happily laying into Chavez before his body was… well, before the Venezueluan state declared itself officially too incompetent to embalm him. BBC coverage of the deaths of Kim Jong Il, Saddam Hussein wasn’t that respectful.

    Now you might say Margaret Thatcher shouldn’t be compared with those people, and I think you’d be right. But many people on the left do genuinely despise her in the way that you or I might despise Saddam. They’re wrong, but that’s a political judgement. You can’t have a rule that says speak no ill of the dead before they’re buried – except really, really bad guys – because people’s opinions on that differ.

    Plus, getting outraged about this makes Galloway look like a courageous rebel, instead of an attention-seeking tosspot.

  16. The Guardian left have never stopped blaming every ill on Thatcher for 20 years, so they aren’t going to stop now. We’ll be terraforming planets light years away in 500 years, and when the government caps the number of cloned supermodels to people on benefits, they’ll still be blaming it on the legacy of Thatcher.

    It’s extraordinary just how much hold she had on the left. She was their own version of The White Witch from C.S. Lewis, someone who had used evil to gain power. The left ascribed victories to buying Rupert Murdoch, anything but analyse whether they held views that met favour with the British public.

    The success of New Labour was that they didn’t navel gaze but thought about how to win elections. And it mostly involved being not too far (at first) from Mrs Thatcher.

  17. @ #16 ken
    If you exclude capital gains and untaxed income from the start point when Capital Gains were taxed at 30% (so the taxpayer kept 70%) and investment income was taxed at 98% (so the taxpayer kept 2%) and look at after-tax income at the end-point when investment income is taxed at 60% you are bound to get numbers that distort the truth. The top decile’s reported investment income rose 110% between 1979 and 1981; its reported self-employment income rose 67% in one year from 1979 to 1980. However while total reported income for the top decile rose by 45% between 1979 and 1981, that of the bottom decile rose 105%!
    The ONS figures also adjust for household size which partially compensates for a major reason for the apparent increase in inequality of household income – a significant increase in the number of one-adult households and a concentration of single mothers in the bottom decile. If you read the ONS table carefully you will observe that child support payments are excluded from analysis of income because they are not taxable. So a significant and growing (due to the increase in the number of single mothers) item of the bottom decile’s income is excluded.
    Layard and Nickells are not even truthful in saying “after-tax” when they refer to the income which was liable to income tax net of income tax.
    Of course “after-tax” income will rise if you allow the individual to keep more than 2% of pre-tax income. This is like saying Stuart Broad has scored more runs against Pakistan than Don Bradman.


  18. “The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil.”

  19. Second attempt, since the site cropped off most of the first.

    “their evidence is that between 1979 and 1988, the top percentile saw post tax income rise by 73% when the income of the bottom 10% only rose 13%. ”

    That’s what happens when you slash punitive tax rates to sensible levels: post-tax income goes up a lot.

    But who cares, other than greedy, envious lefties?

    Under the Evil Thatcher, my sister and her husband, newly married, were able to buy a house large enough to raise a family in (at full price, not at a ‘right to buy’) on the salary of a retail worker and a dinner lady. After thirteen years of Labour you’d now need the combined salaries of two doctors or lawyers to afford the same place.

    Which, exactly, made the working class better off?

  20. Flat Eric is right. I wouldn’t mourn McRuin’s eventual demise and, at least privately, I’d hope he suffered.

  21. @Edward M Grant
    Certainly not Thatcher– long term. Having made it clear by national musters of riot police that ordinary wages would n’t rise as much as inflation, she offered something- for- nothing rises in house prices in lieu.Problem was having inflated house prices to the max, very large numbers of people were soon priced out ,especially in places like London where they might find work. Result destruction not only of the traditional British mixed economy, but of capitalism itself in this country (I exaggerate, but only slightly).
    Also I don’t get the prevalent doublespeak on Thatcher: “she changed the British way of life forever” but also ” none of what is happening is now is her fault.” Either the changes she made did n’t go very deep or they went so deep their effects are still showing. They can’t be both longlasting even permananent and shortlasting.

  22. Surreptitious Evil

    Result destruction not only of the traditional British mixed economy, but of capitalism itself in this country (I exaggerate, but only slightly).

    This is not ‘slight exaggeration’, it is total bullshit. Thatcher stopped the unquestioning state money-shovel support of the inefficient and often useless nationalised industries. On the other hand, private industry was allowed to take off because the appalling subsidised dead weight was removed from the job market and the markets for many products.

    Even BT, which is still pretty damn appalling, is much, much less appalling than it was in the early ’80s.

  23. <>

    It’d be interesting to know which rises in ordinary wages were deterred by riot police. I can remember the police being used to prevent striking miners intimidating those of their colleagues who preferred to ignore the strike call, but… And Wapping was about the print unions wanting to prevent non-print union members earning anything, but…

  24. @SE et al

    So the economy’s thriving now is it? The problem was, and still is, after destroying all those inefficient nationalised industries the angels of the private sector were supposed to swoop down and save the economy by providing growth ,made affordable at the consumer end by competition blah blah blah. But then, as now no private- sector phoenix rises from the ashes. Which lefty was it said “We’ve got the ashes.Now where’s the bloody Phoenix?” Oh yes Chris Patten.
    I repeat ,if Thatcher had such a radical effect on British society why is n’t the present mess: deindustrialisation, house price inflation, lowest housebuilds since 1920’s, post Big Bang City nest- feathering, demand-less Austerity her fault?
    (Perhaps the lack of demand’s due to lack of unions to secure wage increases to keep up with inflation and so much disappearing out of people’s bank accounts for inflated rents and mortgages? Just a thought. )

  25. @ #36 DBC Reed
    Having been called on your previous lie, you now produce a different one.
    The same ONS reference shows GDP/head growth of 31% in 11 years under Thatcher compared with 11% in 5 years under old Labour and 28% in 13 years under New Labour. That proves that the private sector did provide growth.
    Thatcher did NOT destroy the inefficient nationalised industries – she privatised some of them and introduced competition for most of those: the improvement in performance with significantly smaller workforce was dramatic.
    Housebuilding didn’t slump under Thatcher – the slump in housebuilding and the explosion of house prices occurred under New Labour. 147% rise in 13 years under New Labour
    Housing starts fell 31% between 1996-7, the last year of Conservative government and 2009-10, the last year of New Labour

  26. I was a bit surprised by the Beeb’s coverage yesterday. Sure there were clips showing dissaffection with the lady, but it did seem quite balanced.

    But they’ve obviously heeded Mr W, because the lunchtime news today was replete with films of street parties showing people dancing with delight and bagpipes playing.

    Fair enough, but I wonder if they’ll show clips of the necklacing of opponents of the Umkhonto we Sizwe when Mandela dies?

  27. I wonder if they[apostrophe]ll show clips of the necklacing of opponents of the Umkhonto we Sizwe when Mandela dies?

    I don’t know why they would. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the first necklace murder was committed in 1985, at which time Nelson Mandela had been in prison for 23 years.

    It would be fair to show the clips when Winnie Mandela dies.

  28. @John 77#37
    Very interesting and so reasonable in tone! Truly (ahem)it is nice to see some facts and figures. However the question remains :if Thatcher’s influence was “transformative” and “changed British politics forever “should n’t she take some share of the blame for the present mess,after all she had no effective opposition from the Labour Party who agreed with her that i) unions cause inflation ii)parties stay in power by keeping those house prices rising (inflation but good inflation- snigger)?

  29. DBC-

    Margaret Hilda Thatcher has not been Prime Minister for 23 years. The “transformative” refers to the change from the post-war consensus. That that was transformative is not actually incompatible with her not necessarily being responsible for everything today. Because we’ve had 23 years and four different prime ministers since then, one of whom was the vilest creature to inhabit the office since Lloyd George (and would probably have outdone the old Welsh methodist bastard in terms of vileness if he had had a similar chance to stuff millions of men into uniforms and ship them off to be blown to smithereens).

  30. @ DBC Reed
    Yes, it *is* reasonable to call a bare-faced lie a lie: I am glad that you recognise this.
    Maybe you will reconsider “after all she had no effective opposition from the Labour Party” – the Labour Party that orchestrated riots against the Community Charge, a one-day general strike (called a “day of protest” to get round the law against illegal strikes), sit-ins, protest marches …
    I never said that Mrs Thatcher changed British politics forever. I do not recall her saying the unions per se cause inflation and she preserved the “closed shop” for Equity. The release of the odd million council houses into the owner-occupied sector almost certainly restrained house price inflation. Property prices rise faster under Labour because property is regarded as an inflation-proof haven for savings (but in the case of office property also because the combination of inflated demand for office buildings for the thousands of new civil service jobs created by every Labour government and planning restrictions creates a shortage pushing up rents and capital values).
    Why should Mrs Thatcher take the blame for the actions of her political opponents?
    Do you blame Jack Kennedy for Watergate?

  31. sackcloth and ashes

    ‘BBC coverage of the deaths of Kim Jong Il, Saddam Hussein wasn’t that respectful’

    And why the fuck should it have been in either case?

    Unless you’re assuming that (1) presiding over a mass famine and (2) gassing the Kurds are minor misdemeanours compared to upsetting the great and good of Hampstead.

  32. given that it is about manners then why the fuck did the Guardian get an American to write about it? What they hell do they know?

    I think that’s my cue to grab my crotch and burp.

    I am a Thatcher fan, though. I don’t know much about what she accomplished, but whatever it was, it seems to have filled the Left with rage, so it must have been good.

  33. So Much For Subtlety

    PaulB – “I don[apostrophe]t know why they would.”

    Because his wife did it in his name while leading his Party. And he did precisely nothing to stop them. All he had to do was to say, from prison, that they shouldn[apostrophe]t do it. He did not.

    Nor did he kick her out for having done it. He did so because she was sleeping around. She was let back in after a decent interval.

  34. @john 77Interested that the Labour Party” orchestrated riots “over the Poll Tax.Did n’t know Neil Kinnock had it in him! Please give a verifiable third party source for this contention.(Like artsy types have to do.)
    BTW This rather implies that protest over the Poll tax was uncalled for. Even the most ardent Maggie fans tend to feel that she had, by this time, lost–whatever- her judgment? her self restraint? the moderating influence of others?
    @ian b
    I think you are being too hard on John Major ,who beset by Conservative bastards was still able to come up with the cones hotline.

  35. his wife did it in his name while leading his Party.

    Nelson Mandela’s wife was not the leader of the ANC, nor was she one of a leadership group. The ANC leadership did say that necklacings were wrong.

    All he had to do was to say, from prison, that they shouldn[apostrophe]t do it. He did not.

    How do you know what he knew and what he had to say about it? He was in prison.

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