Argentina’s farewell to Margaret Thatcher

Reactions to her death quickly turned from the personal to the political.

 

On 11 April 2013, we were informed that Margaret Thatcher had passed away at the age of 87. In the city of Buenos Aires, my new home of one month, the news wasn’t greeted by carnivals, street parties or funfair. On the other hand, it certainly did not go unnoticed. It is true that for many, she continues to symbolize the loss of the Falkland Islands, 649 Argentine soldiers and a sense of national pride. Some people, especially those who have direct links to a Falklands veteran, viewed her as a tyrannical dictator akin to the likes of Stalin or Hitler. To others she was cast the part of a "baddie" in a story which sees Argentina the victims against an intransigent tyrant. In both cases her death was accompanied by a strong to mild sense of justice. Young people especially, who seem more politically engaged here than in the UK, often participating in political protests in the capital city, had little or no problem broadcasting this point of view.

In the days following her death, social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter were hosts to a handful of barely censored results, such as "Good Riddance!", which explicitly conveyed the feeling that  the "Iron Lady" will not be missed in this part of the world. To add to matters, her passing closely followed the Malvinas War Memorial Day on 2 April on which Argentines gathered to remember the veterans of the war as well as the determination of civilians who had offered time and resources to further the war effort. For some, the Memorial Day, celebrated only three weeks ago, heightened emotion surrounding Thatcher’s death and the desire to see the Falklands restored to Argentina.

On the other hand, there are many Argentines who believe that the demise of the junta military dictatorship, which Thatcher opposed, led to the first signs of democracy in Argentina. In 1983 the junta military dictatorship commanded by General Galtieri, surrendered power a year after war ended. They seem grateful to Thatcher for her courage in deploying the British Army to face General Galtieri, who was removed from power within days of the start of the war. It is safe to say that I have not encountered many people who harbour a deep-seated hatred towards her or expressed unashamed joy at the news. Even on the radio stations no more than a few moderate, predictable comments were made about her character and a questionable song or two played in her "honour" including "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead". Over the following days it became apparent that, to the man in the street, Margaret Thatcher herself did not pose the problem but rather the wrongful ownership of the Falklands to which she is inextricably linked. As such, reactions to her death quickly turned from the personal to the political. "Las Malvinas son Argentinas" (The Falklands belong to Argentina) was the sentiment that was renewed daily - one which the government began to propagate anew.

Equally, there are Argentines who reacted with indifference to the news and to whom Margaret Thatcher represents nothing other than a difficult period in history and a futile on-going conflict. Their perspective is that the islands have caused so many problems at this point that it is about time they became a separate, self-governing entity with ties to neither country. Other people I have spoken to seem to express more antipathy towards Britain and her people rather than Margaret Thatcher.

It is interesting is that the Argentine government has not as yet issued an official statement or expressed their sympathies to Thatcher’s family. The foreign secretary, Hector Timerman, has recently asserted that the decision of Thatcher’s children not to invite the Argentine president was an unnecessary provocation at a time when "the family should have sought to ensure peace". Nevertheless, the government’s response to this seemed to suggest a nonchalant lack of desire to be invited in the first place. While some politicians refused to comment directly on her death, perhaps wishing to remain diplomatic, several newspapers here including those known to be heavily censored by the government did not avoid printing explicit headlines such as "The Iron Lady sunk" and "Galtieri awaits her in hell". The latter refers to General Galtieri, thus illustrating how some Argentines attribute equal blame to both the contemporary Argentine military leader and the British prime minister. Politicians continue to debate the approach and subsequent methods President Cristina Kirchner and her administration are adopting to address the Falklands issue (in terms of speech content and dialogue with David Cameron). However, they do agree unequivocally on the message to be conveyed to Argentines and the rest of the world: serious talks are required to return the Falklands back to their rightful owners. 

 

Margaret Thatcher meets personnel aboard the HMS Antrim in 1983. Photograph: Getty Images
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Copeland must be Labour's final warning

Unison's general secretary says Jeremy Corbyn is a friend - but must also take responsibility for turning the party's prospects around. 

No one objective could argue that last night’s by-election results were good for Labour.

Whilst it was undoubtedly pleasing to see serial fibber Paul Nuttall and his Trumpian politics put in their place in Stoke, this was never a seat where the result should have been in doubt. 

But to lose Copeland – held by Labour for 83 years – to a party that has inflicted seven years of painful spending cuts on our country, and is damaging the NHS, is disastrous.

Last autumn, I said that Labour had never been farther from government in my lifetime. Five months on the party hasn’t moved an inch closer to Downing Street.

These results do not imply a party headed for victory. Copeland is indicative of a party sliding towards irrelevance. Worse still, Labour faces an irrelevance felt most keenly by those it was founded to represent.

There will be those who seek to place sole blame for this calamity at the door of Jeremy Corbyn. They would be wrong to do so. 

The problems that Labour has in working-class communities across the country did not start with Corbyn’s leadership. They have existed for decades, with successive governments failing to support them or even hear their calls for change. Now these communities are increasingly finding outlets for their understandable discontent.

During the 2015 election, I knocked on doors on a large council estate in Edmonton – similar to the one I grew up on. Most people were surprised to see us. The last time they’d seen Labour canvassers was back in 1997. Perhaps less surprisingly, the most common response was why would any of them bother voting Labour.

As a party we have forgotten our roots, and have arrogantly assumed that our core support would stay loyal because it has nowhere else to go. The party is now paying the price for that complacency. It can no longer ignore what it’s being told on the doorstep, in workplaces, at ballot boxes and in opinion polls.

Unison backed Corbyn in two successive leadership elections because our members believed – and I believe – he can offer a meaningful and positive change in our politics, challenging the austerity that has ravaged our public services. He is a friend of mine, and a friend of our union. He has our support, because his agenda is our agenda.

Yet friendship and support should never stand in the way of candour. True friends don’t let friends lose lifelong Labour seats and pretend everything is OK. Corbyn is the leader of the Labour party, so while he should not be held solely responsible for Labour’s downturn, he must now take responsibility for turning things around.

That means working with the best talents from across the party to rebuild Labour in our communities and in Parliament. That means striving for real unity – not just the absence of open dissent. That means less debate about rule changes and more action on real changes in our economy and our society.

Our public servants and public services need an end to spending cuts, a change that can only be delivered by a Labour government. 

For too many in the Labour party the aim is to win the debate and seize the perceived moral high ground – none of which appears to be winning the party public support. 

But elections aren’t won by telling people they’re ignorant, muddle-headed or naive. Those at the sharp end – in particular the millions of public service employees losing their jobs or facing repeated real-terms pay cuts – cannot afford for the party to be so aloof.

Because if you’re a homecare worker earning less than the minimum wage with no respite in sight, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

If you’re a nurse working in a hospital that’s constantly trying to do more with less, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

And if you’re a teaching assistant, social worker or local government administrator you desperately need an end to austerity, and an end to this divisive government.

That can only happen through a Labour party that’s winning elections. That has always been the position of the union movement, and the Labour party as its parliamentary wing. 

While there are many ways in which we can change society and our communities for the better, the only way to make lasting change is to win elections, and seize power for working people.

That is, and must always be, the Labour party’s cause. Let Copeland be our final warning, not the latest signpost on the road to decline.

Dave Prentis is Unison's general secretary.