As a footnote to my post on Margaret Thatcher, I wanted to draw attention to some responses to the special sitting of Parliament and the state funeral in her memory.
A number of Labour MPs boycotted the House of Commons (and I wondered whether Liberal Democrats Leader and Deputy PM Nick Clegg was speaking through clenched teeth). Alastair Campbell, rightly, said that MPs should debate Thatcher’s legacy, “not just pay tribute”.
Two certainly did.
(Via Shiraz Socialist)
More power to them.
Writing in The Guardian, Professor Jacqueline Rose says of the obsequies:
The last thing we need is a moment of frozen and rapt attention in which the nation is required to forget how awful the world has become for so many people and to suspend its judgment.
Much is being made of the fact that The Queen is attending the service in St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s the first time she has been to a Prime Ministerial funeral since Winston Churchill’s in 1965.
I’m thinking of the meanings of the phrase “pay tribute” in this context, and the way, as Rose argues, the full ceremonial and coercive panoply of state patriotism and unity is being deployed to mark Margaret Thatcher.
In democratic polities, the absent place is always that of the monarch. (Let’s gloss over, for the moment, the fact that in the political formation Tom Nairn dubs “Ukania”, alluding to Robert Musil, is an imperial monarchy.) If the people are sovereign, the symbolic representation of the figure of sovereignty is an empty one. I’m drawing here on the thought of Ernst Kantorowicz in The King’s Two Bodies – for more on the political philosophy of sovereignty, see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Medieval states, particularly England, evolved a political theology which saw the King as having both a human and a symbolic body, the latter not subject to death (hence – “the King is dead, long live the King”). When the King was publicly represented as such, crowned, sceptred, anointed, his human body was displaced by his symbolic body. No doubt Christian thought and particularly the then nascent theory of transubstantiation was at work here.
It’s characteristic of neo-liberalism, more than an ideology, but a form of governing, that there can be no alternative. Margaret Thatcher proclaimed that, and claimed as her legacy the acquiescence by New Labour in its precepts. Neo-liberalism seeks to be sovereign, to disallow any exception to its will.
Lying in state in Parliament, attended by the Queen, celebrated in St Paul’s, the late Baroness Thatcher is the tutelary deity of neo-liberalism, a symbolisation of its sovereign rule.
So the funeral, and the tribute paid, to Margaret Thatcher is about very much more than the passing of a particular political figure.
Update: In much of the discussion of Margaret Thatcher’s death and legacy, as well as in response to this post, controversy over ‘neo-liberalism’ has been aired. Here’s my stab at defining the concept.