LONDON (Reuters) - Controversial in life, ex-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher continued to divide the nation in death, with sombre plans for a funeral and eulogies rejected by some in favour of celebrations and parties.
As Britain buzzed with the news on Monday afternoon that the “Iron Lady” had died, not everyone was in mourning.
In Brixton, south London - the scene of fierce rioting in the 1980s, blamed on deep social divisions as well as racial tensions - a hastily convened party was gathering pace.
“Thatcher herself, she represents so much of what people hate about what has happened to Britain in the last 20, 30 years,” said 40-year-old graphic designer Ben Windsor, standing next to a man holding a poster with a crude Thatcher cartoon and the words ‘rejoice rejoice’.
As policeman watched on, others arrived clutching cans of lager and bottles of wine and shouting ‘she’s dead!’
By early evening, a quickly rising 199,000 people had “liked” the isthatcherdeadyet.co.uk website, which had been updated with a large block-capital “Yes.”
The site encouraged visitors to party and provided a soundtrack.
“Margaret Thatcher’s dead. This lady’s not returning,” said the site. The phrase is a play on words of Thatcher’s famous remark ‘The lady’s not for turning’, which she said in a speech in 1980 at a political conference to those in her own Conservative party who were urging her to moderate her radical, right-wing polices.
Those policies, credited by some with modernising Britain, alienated many, who saw her as a destroyer of jobs and traditional industries.
The vitriolic words being hurled 23 years since she stepped down as prime minister showed that many had not forgiven and forgotten.
“Best news I have had all year,” said one commentator on social website Facebook, who said he was a former miner.
A bottle of milk was placed on the doorstep of Thatcher’s home in Belgravia, a reference to her policy of scrapping free milk for primary school children while head of education in the 1970s, a move which earned her the moniker “Thatcher the milk snatcher.”
A Twitter feed with the hashtag #nowthatchersdead attracted a swift stream of dubious jokes, celebrations and recriminations, as well as some confused fans of the U.S. singer and actress Cher who had misread the tag.
Trade unionists tweeted that they were heading to the pub, while others said they were chilling champagne and asked “where the party” was.
Fliers have appeared around in London in recent days declaring that there would be a party in Trafalgar Square, a traditional centre for celebrations and protests in the capital, on the Saturday following her death.
An attempt to get Ella Fitzgerald’s version of ‘The Witch is Dead’ to chart was the subject of another Facebook campaign on Monday.
Another anti-tribute features in popular musical Billy Elliot, set during the 1980s mining strike. The song contains the words ‘Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher, we all celebrate today ‘cos it’s one day closer to your death’.
The musical is currently running in London.
“She wanted to crush the trade unions, the working class movement; she didn’t finish us off but that was what her aim was,” said Judith Orr, the editor of left-wing newspaper Socialist Worker.
“I‘m glad to see the back of her.”
Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien, Sarah Young and Paul Sandle; Editing by Peter Graff and Jon Hemming