The Deaths of Margaret Thatcher: Between Spectre and Event



Given that a revenant is always called upon to come and to come back, the thinking of the specter, contrary to what good sense leads us to believe, signals toward the future. It is a thinking of the past, a legacy that can come only from that which has not yet arrived—from the arrivant itself.


Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx (p.245, note 39).




Derrida works with a few concepts in Specters of Marx which will become important here, in an article which will attempt to fathom the deaths – to borrow the term (again from Derrida) – of Margaret Thatcher. Conjuration, Event, and Spectre (and Derrida distinguishes spectre from spirit, a concept which might be highlighted by the invocation of a certain spirit, such as the obitural spirit of Hunter S. Thompson, for example…).

First, conjuration; conjuring, to conjure. There are the senses in this word of conjuring away and conjuring up, and they are necessarily linked; inextricable, even. One cannot proceed without the other, not in this political climate at least; to try to conjure away Thatcherism – and that’s what right-minded, left-thinking critics have been trying to do since Stuart Hall gave us the word – is, now, necessarily also to conjure it up. To conjure up its spectre that is haunting all subsequent governmental policy; that haunts in, through, and by Thatcher’s children, bearing the signs of inheritance in the deepest sense (‘being-with specters[:] a politics of memory, of inheritance and of generations’ – ibid. p.xviii). In this way, the deaths of Thatcher – from her exeunt from office to passing from life – are, and have always been, spectral. As we know, a spectre haunts – a spectre is haunting the UK – and that spectre is Thatcherism. It’s not a legacy, it’s the demonic: a spectrality.

Second, the event of Thatcher was change in the political scene, but change in the most conservative sense, so we won’t evoke Alain Badiou, but Derrida’s thesis on the ghostly again. This is the event as the ‘question of the ghost […] the event itself, a first time is a last time. Altogether other. Staging for the end of history. Let us call it a hauntology’ (p.10). Derrida is here citing Francis Fukuyama who uses Hegel’s phrase, ‘the end of history’, to beckon in the capitalist-liberalist utopia in the early 1990s; the best of all possible worlds. But of course it wasn’t, and Fukuyama has even reneged somewhat since. But Thatcher didn’t, hasn’t, would never; she claimed her greatest achievement was Tony Blair and New Labour, that is, to have (re)made the opposition in her own image, to have changed their minds so as to have conserved her mind-set. The event of Thatcher is the question of the ghost – the real enemy within – the question of what she created, and what has been retained; a true hauntology: Thatcherism; its definition.

And last, the spectre itself: it comes and comes back. When Thatcher ‘personified’ the country – calling its workers, its people, the enemy within, and getting their blood on her hands, as well as the crew of the Belgrano’s (its sinking being an act of murder the legality of which is still in contention); in nailing the coffin of industry shut; in teaing with Augusto Pinochet and denouncing Nelson Mandela; and in looking on as reaction to stringent sus laws (stop and search) and the homophobic attitude that led to Section 28 boiled over into riotous eruptions – it was as a spectre that she did. She did not personify the spirit of the country, of its people, of its society; she did not even believe there was such a thing, and the ghost of that disbelief is its bloated simulacrum, the ‘big Society’: inflation.

These are the spectres that live on after Thatcher is buried, and they are the hatchet that won’t be buried with her. Official Britain might not find the jubilation at Thatcher’s passing tasteful, but that indicates little more than differences between home and foreign policy. The deaths of Margaret Thatcher are the haunting melodies that have been with us for years: from the music of Crass, Elvis Costello, Smiley Culture, Billy Bragg, to that of Morrissey, Mogwai, McCarthy and NOFX, amongst countless others; in the wish-fulfilment of a strike over a stroke. This death is only the stark reminder of for whom the bell really tolls, and that toll will celebrate its dead, its casualties, and its survivors. The Tories may have waited for the veil of death to have explicitly heaped their praises from under, but they are being assured now that such a veil is not a bulletproof vest. Further, in terms of taste, the idea that a leopard changes or loses its spots because of old age or infirmity beckons rather a profound reflection on amnesia, or aphasia (work to be done another time) than one on the past which haunts our future, and from which we can only hope for the arrival of a true legacy; an exorcism, indeed. 


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