Margaret Thatcher's death: Newspapers pay respect while social media dances on her grave

Popular opinion, at least that expressed on Twitter, seems out of sync with the media

Share

National mourning is a funny thing; often the nation isn’t that involved. The night of the Queen Mother’s passing, a TV journalist sent to the West End to gauge ‘public sentiment’ reported that undeterred party-goers were evidence of the Blitz spirit. And while there’s no doubting Diana’s death touched a nerve, episodes of Coronation Street have had more viewers than her funeral did. The argument being that, perhaps, away from the gates of Buckingham Palace, people were busy getting on with their lives. With the death of Margaret Thatcher, social media opens us up to the nation’s opinions in all their funny, offensive glory.

After the news broke, a clear celebratory current was quick to emerge in response to, essentially, the death of an 87-year-old woman. There were parties, there’s a Spotify playlist, and #nostatefuneral started trending. There are the predictable one-liners. “I’ve just seen the plans for Margaret Thatcher’s grave… Its beautiful – but I think they should have made the dance floor bigger.” But these aren’t throw away comments - they are a distinct strand of public sentiment.

Nick Davies, the journalist who broke the phone hacking scandal, noted in his book Flat Earth News that big deaths lead newspapers to revert to a simple formula: “the nation is mourning; everybody must mourn; that’s the story… The facts are forced to fit the feeling”.

With the death of the Queen Mother, there was no sea of flowers outside Buckingham Palace and journalists elevated the only crying lady in the vicinity to a momentary national celebrity. Even the Observer, not known for its monarchism, cleared the first ten pages and ran the headline ‘The Queen Mother’s death robs the nation of its favourite grandmother’. And who remembers where they were the day she died?

Like others tasked with putting their politics aside, Michael White in the Guardian leads with Thatcher as inspiring female figure. Paul Routledge in The Mirror is more provocative, calling for ‘an inquest’ on her life and influence and stating that half the nation will be celebrating. The Liverpool Echo is damning, accusing her of indifference and ignorance to the city’s needs. But their report on the Hillsborough tragedy, while a statement in itself, only goes as far as saying her role was ‘unclear’. There is a greater diversity of feeling in the opinion pages, but it comes nowhere close to the passionate commentary on social media.

A Twitter search for ‘Liverpool’ and ‘Thatcher’ returns little other than joy, anger and hatred; it is apparent the shadow of Hillsborough still hangs heavy amongst the people. “What a great day in Liverpool! Margaret Thatcher is dead! Justice for the 96! #Weregonnahaveaparty.” And a lot, lot worse.

These aren’t the only responses, of course. There’s indifference. There’s a kickback and calls for humanity. There are jokes about Iron Man. There’s concern for Cher’s well-being (thanks to #nowthatchersdead). There’s a push to see ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ to number one. But there is little in the way of compliments of her tenure.

Social media users are free to indulge their uglier impulses - spite, bad humour, moralising - with little policing (except if you’re the manager of Oddbins suspended for trying to flog champagne off the back of her death).

Meanwhile, it is newspapers’ ability to thrash a coherent and respectful line from the contention that sets them apart from the noise of social media. But in this new age, they must be careful of their conservative impulse to toe the line in times of crisis.

While dancing on another’s grave should never be an option when it comes to public sentiment, mainstream news outlets need to make sure they’re tuned into the right music.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

 

i Editor's Letter: Still all to play for at our live iDebate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering