Friday, April 12, 2013

Margaret Thatcher: witches and wankers

The refusal of BBC director-general Tony Hall to ban the song ‘Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead’ from the airwaves has provoked the inevitable harrumphing from those who still believe that the whole nation ought to be united in grief for Margaret Thatcher’s death and gratitude for her deeds whether they bloody well want to be or not. It’s an odd situation, because unlike some of the other songs that saw an uptick in popularity after Thatcher died (Elvis Costello’s ‘Tramp the Dirt Down’ being the most obvious example), ‘Ding Dong’ was only co-opted to the cause many years after it was written. If its appropriation by anti-Thatch revellers puts it beyond the bounds of taste, does this mean that it must be pulled from all productions of The Wizard of Oz, including the one currently running at the London Palladium, under the baggy eye of arch-Thatcherite Andrew Lloyd Webber? And for how long? Once her ashes are scattered, does the tune suddenly revert to being a harmless, jubilant camp anthem; or must it be forever verboten, like an episode of Top of the Pops featuring Gary Glitter and Jimmy Savile?

The whole concocted outrage is, of course, nothing more than a further opportunity for the Thatcherite faithful to kick the BBC; a campaign that’s inevitably being led by the increasingly unhinged Daily Mail, which accuses the Corporation of bias while at the same time slamming newsreaders for not wearing black ties. Surely unbiased providers of news should not be wearing black ties for anyone; they should report a significant death, soberly but without sobs, describe the response to it (including the mourning) but not take any active part in said mourning (nor kick the coffin). The alternative, if the Mail really wants balanced coverage, is for approximately half the newsreaders to wear black ties and the other half to boogie on their desks sporting ruby slippers and waving SWP placards.

The not-a-paedophile-but-still-preposterous Alistair McAlpine says that the BBC is “letting the charts be hijacked for political purposes”. A more intelligent Thatcherite would have realised that the charts are in fact a perfect manifestation of the market forces that they’re supposed to revere. If more people spend money on a piece of music, it goes higher up the charts. That’s capitalism, guys. If Tony Hall allows ‘Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead’ to be played on Radio One, he’s just acknowledging the inevitability of the philosophies that Thatcher espoused. Which is a statement (albeit a fairly passive one) of political bias in itself, but presumably the sort of political bias of which Margaret Thatcher and her dimwitted disciples would have approved.

And while we’re on matters of taste and the BBC, several years ago Jonathan Ross interviewed David Cameron, who wasn’t long into his stint as leader of the Conservative Party. Ross provoked synthetic outrage (from many of the same people now pretending to give a shit about a Judy Garland song) for asking Cameron whether he’d ever had sexual fantasies about Thatcher. Now, I was at Exeter University in the late 80s, at around the same time as a fairly vociferous Tory cabal, several of whom subsequently on to be MPs. Quite a few of them, let’s be frank, seemed a tad socially awkward in the presence of women. There was one story about a right-wing hack (not one of the future members) who opened the wrong door at a party, found himself confronted by a young lady wearing nothing but stockings and suspenders and promptly fainted. Moreover, the adulation that many of the circle bestowed upon Margaret Thatcher was, if not explicitly sexual, then undoubtedly fetishistic – something, in fact, rather akin to the veneration that many gay men feel for Judy Garland. Ross’s question to Cameron is certainly one that has crossed my mind over the years, even if I wish it hadn’t.

Today, the Thatcher acolytes aren’t really upset because songs and jokes and street parties are disturbing what they want to be an all-pervading mood of mourning; they know that their idol was a divisive leader and she herself knew it and accepted the fact, sometimes even revelled in it. Those partying in Brixton and Glasgow were as much testaments to her success as all the obituaries and black ties. No, the truth is far more banal; Maggie’s brats are just irritated because this background noise is distracting them from one final, massive, celebratory circle jerk.

PS: Interesting piece in Vice about the Thatcher government vs acid house; and the family context to Glenda Jackson’s Commons broadside.

PPS: Further perspectives from Mark Steel and Sturdy Alex.

PPPS: Dorothy never surrendered. But the BBC just did.


Anonymous said...

The openly gay Norman St John Stevas made a running joke out of his supposed sexual attraction to Thatcher and two such enthusiastically heterosexual men as Francois Mitterand and Anthony Powell said they found sexy, so she does seem to have had wide appeal. Perhaps one reason for the hatred she inspired in her opponents was dislike of the effect she had on them.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Wha?? Oh good grief. The fuss over Diana's death (I was fortunately out of the country for that one as well) was bad enough, but at least she was royalty (kinda). Wossy's question was a fair one. Now, I'm as a big a wanker as anybody, and I can just about imagine having a shot and other imperious and overly coiffed ladies-of-a-certain-age (Yulia Tymoshenko, Sybil Fawlty) but Thatcher, no. As I've said, I try to be a positive person about the legacy of politicians, but seeing her there on the news clips with rottweiller Tebbit and preening gay-traitor Portillo etc behind her reminded me of why I never voted for her. Onwards.

Tim F said...

Possibly, Anon. But I could never really see it myself.

Exactly Gadjo. By her friends you shall know her.