Margaret Thatcher's death evokes polarized reaction

As the international community learned of former U.K. prime minister Margaret Thatcher's death, a mixed reaction began to emerge, recalling the tenacious and strong-willed woman who led the country from 1979 to 1990.

British politician had strong admirers, equally vocal opponents

Britain's Iron Lady

11 years ago
Duration 2:59
Featured VideoMemorable moments and quotes from the unwavering Maggie Thatcher

As the international community learned of Margaret Thatcher's death, a mixed reaction began to emerge recalling the tenacious and strong-willed prime minister who led the country from 1979 to 1990.

Not everyone was mourning the death of the Iron Lady, who accumulated many opponents during her political reign, culminating in a failed assassination attempt by the Irish Republican Army in 1984.

Thatcher was as polarizing in death as in life, said CBC's John Northcott, who was rounding up online reaction to Thatcher's death.

'Tramp the dirt down'

Online, some people started organizing parties to celebrate her death, he said. One online site invoked one of Thatcher's quotes, saying, "This lady's not returning" and asked, "How are you celebrating?"

Several hours after news of Thatcher's death surfaced, Daily Telegraph editor Tony Gallagher tweeted the site was closing comments on all of their stories about Thatcher: "Even our address to email tributes is filled with abuse."

After the monarchy announced Monday that Thatcher will receive a ceremonial funeral with military honours at St. Paul's Cathedral in the coming days, many posted on Twitter complaining about the decision, using the hashtag #nostatefuneral. An online petition calling for Thatcher's state funeral to be privatized, in keeping with her policies, amassed more than 33,000 signatures before it was closed.

'I think it's quite likely that when Margaret Thatcher reaches the pearly gates, the[African National Congress]will boycott the occasion.' —Dali Tambo, son of former ANC president
  • "Thatcher described Nelson Mandela as a 'terrorist.' I was there. I saw her lips move. May she burn in the hellfires," tweeted British MP George Galloway. Two hours earlier, he sent out the controversial tweet apparently referring to an Elvis Costello song, Tramp the dirt down.
  • "She did make war on a lot of people in Britain, and I don't think it helped our society," Tony Benn, a 1970s' labour minister and Thatcher's political opponent, said in a Reuters report.
  • "What she did to the mining industry was unforgivable," Chris Kitchen, secretary for the National Union of Mineworkers, told Sky News. "My sympathy goes out to the family, as obviously, it’s a bereavement. But [after] the disservice she did to the country, I won’t be shedding any tears."

  • "Hmmm. Margaret Thatcher dies. Think I will stay off Twitter until all the 'tributes' are over," tweeted Labour councillor Tina Bourne. "Ditto! Chin chin," she then tweeted, responding to someone’s picture of a bottle of champagne to celebrate Thatcher’s death. She later said, "it was a crass insensitive thing to tweet, and I should know better."

  • "Margaret Thatcher did great hurt to the Irish and British people during her time as British prime minister," wrote Gerry Adams, president of the Irish party Sinn Féin, in a statement on the party's website. "Working class communities were devastated in Britain because of her policies. Her role in international affairs was equally belligerent … Here in Ireland her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering. She embraced censorship, collusion and the killing of citizens by covert operations … Thatcher will be especially remembered for her shameful role during the epic hunger strikes of 1980 and '81. Her Irish policy failed miserably."
  • "My gut reaction now is what it was at the time when she said my father [former African National Congress president Oliver Tambo] was the leader of a terrorist [organization]. I don't think she ever got it that every day she opposed sanctions, more people were dying, and that the best thing for the assets she wanted to protect was democracy," said Dali Tambo in a report by the Guardian. "Many lives were lost. It's a shame that we could never call her one of the champions of the liberation struggle. Normally we say that when one of us goes, the ANC ancestors will meet them at the pearly gates and give them a standing ovation. I think it's quite likely that when Margaret Thatcher reaches the pearly gates, the ANC will boycott the occasion."
  • "She created today's housing crisis. She created the banking crisis. And she created the benefit crisis. It was her government that started putting people on incapacity benefit rather than register them as unemployed because the Britain she inherited was broadly full employment. She decided when she wrote off our manufacturing industry that she could live with two or three million unemployed, and the benefits bill, the legacy of that, we are struggling with today. In actual fact, every real problem we face today is the legacy of the fact that she was fundamentally wrong," former mayor of London Ken Livingstone told the Guardian.
  • "Margaret [Thatcher] marked British and European political life. Despite political differences, initially she was a committed European," tweeted Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament.

Argentina's government offered no official reaction, but scores of Argentinians posted criticisms of her on Twitter, blaming her for the deaths of 649 Argentine troops during the South Atlantic conflict. Some 255 British military personnel and three Falkland Islanders also died.

Online calls for respect

Many online called for a respectful tone — regardless of how people felt about her politics.

  • "The Labour Party disagreed with much of what she did and she will always remain a controversial figure," said Edward Miliband, the leader of the Labour party and the opposition. "But we can disagree and also greatly respect her political achievements and personal strength."
  • "Let us not kid ourselves, she was a very divisive figure," said Bernard Ingham, Thatcher's press secretary for her entire term. "She was a real toughie. She was a patriot with a great love for this country, and she raised the standing of Britain abroad."

  • "The ANC was on the receiving end of her policy in terms of refusing to recognize the ANC as the representatives of South Africans and her failure to isolate apartheid after it had been described as a crime against humanity. However, we acknowledge that she was one of the strong leaders in Britain and Europe to an extent that some of her policies dominate discourse in the public service structures of the world," wrote ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu in a statement.

  • "Margaret Thatcher was a truly remarkable, [galvanizing] figure — did not share her politics but admired her determination and tenacity," tweeted Bob Rae, Liberal MP for Toronto-Centre.

Allies send condolences

Queen Elizabeth issued a statement saying she was sad to hear the news and plans to send a private message to Thatcher's family. Many other international leaders joined her in sending their condolences.

'The world has lost a giant among leaders.' —Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper
  • "It was with great sadness that I learned of Lady Thatcher’s death. We have lost a great leader, a great prime minister, and a great Briton," tweeted David Cameron, prime minister of the United Kingdom. "Lady Thatcher didn't just lead our country, she saved our country." He announced Parliament would be called Wednesday for a special tribute session.
  • "The world has lost a giant among leaders," wrote Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a statement. "Lady Thatcher's leadership in time of conflict and during the generous peace she helped bring forth, was an example to the world. As a result, millions now live with the dignity and freedom that she envisioned for them, during the darkest moments of the post-war years … Laureen and I join all Canadians in saluting the proud life and legacy of Lady Thatcher."
  • "The world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend," wrote U.S. President Barack Obama in a statement. "We carry on the work to which she dedicated her life — free peoples standing together, determined to write our own destiny."
  • "She was a lady with a great personality … She was very important in the history of Great Britain," former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien told CBC News by phone. Chrétien said he had the opportunity to work with Thatcher while he was Canada's minister of justice, and met her several times while he was prime minister. Although she had very strong political views, he said, she could be a very pleasant person and "quite charming in private."

  • "Some Canadians were unconvinced by her approach, but in a series of visits to Canada she won many friends here," Brian Mulroney, who served as Canada's prime minister for six years while Thatcher was in office, said in a statement. "But her final visit in 1988 she was recognized as the founder of modern Conservatism, a leader who had dragged her country from the brink of economic and social crisis, and a beacon of principled leadership to the world."

  • "Lady Thatcher, fearless champion of liberty, stood up for captive nations, helped free world win the Cold War. Deserves statue in Poland," tweeted Radosław Sikorski, Poland's foreign affairs minister.

  • Falkland Islands lawmaker Mike Summers said Thatcher was "one of very few political leaders who could have mounted the expedition she mounted in 1982 to restore our freedom, and from a Falkland Islands perspective she will be forever remembered for that."

  • "She was a pioneering leader for her contribution to peace and security, particularly at the height of the Cold War.  She was also a great model as the first woman prime minister of the United Kingdom, who not only demonstrated her leadership but has given such great hope for many women for equality, gender equality in Parliament," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a statement. "We will owe a great deal to her leadership. I hope that her leadership will inspire many people around the world for peace and security and human rights."

  • "Thatcher was an extraordinary politician who was a staunch defender of freedom, a powerful advocate of NATO and the transatlantic bond. She strongly supported NATO values and principles, believed in a strong defence and played a leading role in ending the Cold War," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in a statement.

  • "RIP Margaret Thatcher, one of the great leaders of the 20th century," tweeted U.S. Senator John McCain.
  • "Dad said Thatcher would change name of country, depending on who she wanted to sit next to at summits: UK next to US, England next to Canada," tweeted Ben Mulroney, son of former prime minister Brian Mulroney

Celebrities show mixed reactions

British celebrities also took to their Twitter accounts to express condolences for the passing of Thatcher, in some cases, creating confusion for their fan base.

  • "Margaret Thatcher was to me a figure of awe for her personal strength and grit," said Meryl Streep, the actress who played Thatcher in the 2011 movie The Iron Lady. "Her hard-nosed fiscal measures took a toll on the poor, and her hands-off approach to financial regulation led to great wealth for others," read a statement on the actress's website. "To have withstood the special hatred and ridicule, unprecedented in my opinion, leveled in our time at a public figure who was not a mass murderer; and to have managed to keep her convictions attached to fervent ideals and ideas —wrongheaded or misguided as we might see them now — without corruption. I see that as evidence of some kind of greatness, worthy for the argument of history to settle."
  • "RIP Baroness Thatcher .x," tweeted Harry Styles of British pop group One Direction. The tweet confused many of Styles's young followers who responded with: "is he your friend," "who's that?" and "may he rest in peace."
  • "Thinking of our 1st Lady of girl power, Margaret Thatcher, a green grocer's daughter who taught me anything is possible," tweeted a former member of the Spice Girls band, Geri Halliwell.
  • Salman Rushdie, author of the Booker Prize-winning novel Midnight's Children, said he disagreed with Thatcher's politics, but was grateful for her support when he was forced into hiding in 1989 after Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for his death. "She … offered protection for me when I needed it," Rushdie said. He had mocked her before 1989, naming one character "Margaret Torture" in his novel The Satanic Verses and at times using unprintable language when referring to her. But when the book led to accusations of anti-Muslim blasphemy and to Khomeini's fatwa calling for his death, Thatcher's government gave Rushdie round-the-clock security.
  • "Margaret Thatcher was the most divisive and destructive Prime Minister of modern times," said director Ken Loach according to a Guardian report. "Mass unemployment, factory closrues, communities destroyed — this is her legacy. She was a fighter and her enemy was the British working class ... How should we honour her? Let's privatize her funeral. Put it out to competitive tender and accept the cheapest bid. It's what she would have wanted."

  • "Brave, divisive, formidable, tough, stubborn, dominant & domineering, Margaret Thatcher bestrode the world like a political colossus. RIP," tweeted Brit and CNN talkshow host Piers Morgan.
  • British comedian Ricky Gervais tried to clear up some hashtag confusion on Twitter: "Some people are in a frenzy over the hashtag #nowthatchersdead. It's 'Now Thatcher's dead'. Not, 'Now that Cher's dead' JustSayin'."


  • An earlier version of this story said incorrectly that Margaret Thatcher had led the United Kingdom from 1970 to 1990. In fact, she was prime minister from 1979 to 1990.
    Apr 11, 2013 1:42 PM ET

With files from The Associated Press