In 1983, a Spectator piece argued that ‘the most faithful followers of the Thatcher cult are to be found within the Labour Party’. Baroness Thatcher’s passing was always going to be as much of a test for the Left as it would be a sad day for the Right. The Labour leadership knew this, and took care to craft statements and tweets which, while acknowledging the glaringly obvious political differences, praised Thatcher the woman. The party has suspended its political campaigning ahead of the local elections as a mark of respect. Ed Miliband’s tribute in particular made clear that he had no sympathy with those in his party tempted to celebrate the death of the Iron Lady. The Labour leader said:
‘The Labour Party disagreed with much of what she did and she will always remain a controversial figure. But we can disagree and also greatly respect her political achievements and her personal strength. She also defined the politics of the 1980s. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and I all grew up in a politics shaped by Lady Thatcher. We took different paths but with her as the crucial figure of that era.’
Similarly, those at the top of Miliband’s party took painstaking efforts not just to pay tribute to Thatcher, but also to urge others on the Left to be respectful. Tom Watson tweeted ‘I hope that people on the left of politics respect a family in grief today’, while Harriet Harman praised ‘a towering figure in British politics’. Further left, Owen Jones, fond as he is of calling Tories all sorts of names, reminded his followers of a piece he’d written last September in which he argued that celebrating Thatcher’s death was ‘futile’ and ‘an admittedly macabre substitute for the failure to defeat Thatcherism’.