The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'ding dong the witch is dead'
As Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead stays stubbornly in the charts, the BBC, eager to not appear censorious and yet under sustained assault from its perennial foes in the Murdoch press and Daily Mail, has decided to half-heartedly censor it. A five-second excerpt of the song will be played, along with an explanation of sorts. Chances are the explanation will not be a list of grievances against Thatcher (the immiseration of the British working class, support for the Pinochet dictatorship and the South African apartheid regime, Section 28, a few getting rich on the suffering of many, Spandau Ballet, &c.), but instead saying something like that it got there as a silly internet prank piggy-backing on something a lunatic-fringe group said two decades earlier. Bonus points if they can mention Thatcher having been the first woman PM and insinuate an unreformed 1970s-vintage misogyny on the part of the original organisers.
Personally, I think that the BBC missed a trick by deciding to actually play a five second excerpt, rather than finding one of the actors hired to voice statements by Sinn Féin in the 1980s and bringing them in to recite the words. That would have made a more powerful statement about the absurdity of the situation.
Meanwhile, a small group of Tories have decided to fight market forces with market forces and launched a counter-campaign to get a different song into the charts; or, in the words of highly visible former Tory MP, successful popular novelist and somewhat less successful social media entrepreneur Louise Mensch:
Good morning! Are we all doing it #GranthamStyle today? Download #ImInLoveWithMargaretThatcher on ITunes and Amazon - see RTs for linksThe song in question is, “I'm In Love With Margaret Thatcher” by punk band The Notsensibles; as you have probably guessed, it's not exactly a defiant statement of Conservative Party nostrums. '#GranthamStyle', of course, is a take-off of Gangnam Style, originally a song taking the piss out of rich twats living in a gated community in Seoul.
At time of writing, “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” is at #1 on the iTunes charts, and “I'm In Love With Margaret Thatcher” is at #8. For what it's worth, incidentally, the Wizard of Oz soundtrack is owned by 20th Century Fox, so this is one anti-Thatcherite protest Rupert Murdoch profits from.
In death, it seems, Margaret Thatcher is being as much of a unifier as she was in life. Whilst still alive, she requested to not have a state funeral (“I am not Winston” being her reported words), the Cameron government seem determined to give her one in all but name, celebrating the triumph of their tribe and rhetorically reducing the vast dislike of her and her policies and actions outside of their charmed circle to a few disgruntled sore losers. In other words, the late Thatcher becomes, in death, the People's Prime Minister, with those who object redefined to be outside of “the People”.
The funeral itself will, officially, fall one step short of being a state funeral; it will be almost identical to the ones Winston Churchill and Princess Diana received, with central London shut down for a military parade (for bonus points, themed around the Falklands War; that's right, they have themed funerals for former prime ministers); Thatcher's remains will be borne on a gun carriage to St. Paul's, and the dress code is “Full Day Ceremonial without swords”. (Does one get issued a sword upon ascending to that echelon of British society?) Further blurring the distinction, the Foreign Office ordered its staff to wear mourning clothes on the day; once it was pointed out that this was a breach of protocol (what with it not being a state occasion, and the deceased not having been the head of state), the order was hastily retracted; the foreign office said that it was the result of an “administrative error”, and certainly had nothing to do with any ministers. As expected, those of inadmissible views are likely to protest, and activists are bracing for a wave of preemptive arrests before the event, as happened with the Royal Wedding. The police are reportedly scanning online conversations for references to protest and compiling lists of troublemakers.
These plans and the imperial tone of the funeral have not gone unnoticed in Buckingham Palace, who are concerned that it is encroaching on the tradition that the monarchy handles the ceremonial side of statecraft and the elected politicians just do the practical stuff. Or, as the trade unionists of yore would have called it, a demarcation dispute.
Meanwhile, some have called for a statue of Thatcher to be erected permanently in Trafalgar Square (also the site of the poll tax riots). And there have been calls for Heathrow Airport to be renamed after her. There is a petition to the Prime Minister here; at time of writing, it has 18 signatures. Were it successful, the government actually renaming the airport would be complicated by it having been privatised by Thatcher herself. Boris Johnson has helpfully suggested naming the new airport he wants to build in the Thames Estuary after her instead.
Meanwhile, the guest list for the funeral has been announced; it's partly a Tory tribal gathering (the likes of Lord Lloyd-Webber, pulp novelist/former jailbird Lord Archer and the yet-to-be-ennobled Jeremy Clarkson), with fellow travellers from all over the world (the Reagan family is sending someone in lieu of Nancy, who's too unwell to make the trip). It's not clear whether the Pinochet family will be sending anyone. Argentina's prime minister has been snubbed, in line with the Falkland War theme. Australia, meanwhile, will be represented by conservative former PM and current Warden of the Cinque Ports, John Howard, to whom the invitation was apparently passed by current PM, Julia Gillard. (The Tories missed a trick by not going over her head and inviting next PM Tony Abbott, giving him a chance to look like an accomplished statesman even before his coronation in September.) One notable name that may be absent is Rupert Murdoch, the power behind the throne, who unfortunately has a meeting on that day
Meanwhile, some notable reactions you may have missed: video of a speech given by actress turned Labour MP Glenda Jackson at the Thatcher memorial parliamentary session, condemning her legacy; and a rebuttal by Jackson's son, Dan Hodges, listed as a Blairite (i.e., neo-Thatcherite) Labour MP. And Australia's foreign minister Bob Carr recounts Thatcher having made a racist remark about Asian immigration just out of earshot of his Malaysian-born wife. And here is An Obituary From Below, a comprehensive assessment of the history, origins, contraditctions and legacy of Thatcherism.
Sociological term of the day: elite panic: basically, the tendency of those who have clambered to the top of an unequal society to take a brutally Hobbesian view of the rest of humanity, and to live in fear that those under their feet might not stay there:
Elites tend to believe in a venal, selfish, and essentially monstrous version of human nature, which I sometimes think is their own human nature. I mean, people don't become incredibly wealthy and powerful by being angelic, necessarily. They believe that only their power keeps the rest of us in line and that when it somehow shrinks away, our seething violence will rise to the surface -- that was very clear in Katrina. Timothy Garton Ash and Maureen Dowd and all these other people immediately jumped on the bandwagon and started writing commentaries based on the assumption that the rumors of mass violence during Katrina were true. A lot of people have never understood that the rumors were dispelled and that those things didn't actually happen; it's tragic.
But there's also an elite fear -- going back to the 19th century -- that there will be urban insurrection. It's a valid fear. I see these moments of crisis as moments of popular power and positive social change. The major example in my book is Mexico City, where the '85 earthquake prompted public disaffection with the one-party system and, therefore, the rebirth of civil society.The relevance of this term is left as an exercise to the reader.
A day after the death of an elderly, long-retired Margaret Thatcher, the reactions in Britain have been varied. The national news media have generally been lavish in their hagiography, at most conceding that Thatcher “polarised opinion” or was “controversial”; the implication being that all sides, from the yuppies whom made out like bandits during the Big Bang to the miners who were kicked in the teeth, had, over time, put their differences aside. (The BBC has been particularly fawning, careful to avoid giving a voice to anyone who may say anything remotely critical, or in any way shatter the illusion that the PM who smashed the miners' unions, immiserated the North and began the dismantling of the post-WW2 social contract may well have been a much loved and thoroughly apolitical member of the Royal Family. Between that and their silence on the privatisation of the NHS, one suspects that they are betting that, maybe if they cooperate enthusiastically, the Tories won't dismember them and sell the bits off to Rupert Murdoch before the next election.) Even the Guardian, whilst publishing a mildly condemnatory editorial, hedged its bets, as not to offend those of its readers who vote Conservative (and presumably there are some). Regional newspapers have been somewhat less equivocal, especially those in places like Sheffield, Newcastle and Wales. Meanwhile, television schedules have been cleared to make room for turgid memorial programming.
Last night, after her death was announced, spontaneous celebrations did erupt in parts of Britain; as of yesterday afternoon, the centre of Liverpool reportedly looked “like bonfire night on Endor”, and other celebrations took place in Glasgow, Bristol, Brixton and Republican areas of Northern Ireland. Elsewhere, the manager of an Oddbins was suspended after announcing a special on champagne “in case anyone wanted to celebrate for any reason”.
Other than that, there have been few signs of public jubilation in London; no red bunting bedecking streets, no spontaneous street parties around portable stereos blaring out Billy Bragg songs, no jubilant signs in windows, not even an uncanny sense of euphoria in the air. And, when one thinks about it, it's hardly surprising, as there's precious little to celebrate. An old, frail woman, whose actions caused considerable suffering for many (and, for a few, great fortune) a quarter-century ago, died at an advanced age, amidst luxury; and, short of being borne to Valhalla on the wings of valkyries, there could scarcely be a more victorious way to exit life. If she was aware of anything in her last days, it would have been of the triumph of her views and the utter vanquishment of all opposition. The welfare state has been dismantled to an extent she dared not imagine, trade unions are all but extinct, and neo-Thatcherism is the backbone of all admissible political parties. Other than there still being homosexuals and trains in Britain, there could have been little to disappoint her. Thatcher may be dead, but Thatcherism is stronger than ever. If anyone has reason to be popping the corks on those bottles of champagne, it would be the Conservative Party faithful and perhaps the Blairite wing of Labour, paying tribute to the end of a triumphant life.
While she may have been victorious, that is not to say that her victory was accepted. Perhaps telling are official shows of respect which were not called for, in case lack of observance says too much. For instance, football matches will not be observing a minute's silence. There will also be no state funeral, which would have required both a parliamentary vote (and the spectacle of Labour backbenchers defying the whip and Sinn Fein members being ejected from the chamber would have been somewhat insalubrious) and a national minute's silence. The funeral itself will be one step short of a state funeral, and the first Prime Minister's funeral attended by the Queen since Churchill's state funeral; it will be held next Wednesday, with central London under lockdown and a heavy police presence; one imagines that Thatcher wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
Finally, at the time of writing, Judy Garland is enjoying an uncanny career resurgence in the British pop charts; Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead is at number 2 on the iTunes chart and number 1 on the Amazon MP3 chart. Yay for slacktivism!
Continuing the Margaret Thatcher Memorial Season on this blog: why the Left gets neoliberalism wrong, by political scientist Corey Robin. It turns out that the thing about rugged individualism is (once one gets beyond the pulp novels of Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein, not exactly founts of academic rigour) a red herring, and the true atom of the neoliberal world view is traditional, vaguely feudal, hierarchical structures of authority: patriarchial families, and enterprises with owners and chains of fealty:
For all their individualist bluster, libertarians—particularly those market-oriented libertarians who are rightly viewed as the leading theoreticians of neoliberalism—often make the same claim. When these libertarians look out at society, they don’t always see isolated or autonomous individuals; they’re just as likely to see private hierarchies like the family or the workplace, where a father governs his family and an owner his employees. And that, I suspect (though further research is certainly necessary), is what they think of and like about society: that it’s an archipelago of private governments.
What often gets lost in these debates is what I think is the real, or at least a main, thrust of neoliberalism, according to some of its most interesting and important theoreticians (and its actual practice): not to liberate the individual or to deregulate the marketplace, but to shift power from government (or at least those sectors of government like the legislature that make some claim to or pretense of democratic legitimacy; at a later point I plan to talk about Hayek’s brief on behalf of an unelected, unaccountable judiciary, which bears all the trappings of medieval judges applying the common law, similar to the “belated feudalism” of the 19th century American state, so brilliantly analyzed by Karen Orren here) to the private authority of fathers and owners.By this analysis, while neoliberalism may wield the rhetoric of atomised individualism, it is more like a counter-enlightenment of sorts. If civilisation was the process of climbing up from the Hobbesian state of nature, where life is nasty, brutish and short, and establishing structures (such as states, legal systems, and shared infrastructure) that damp some of the wild swings of fortune, neoliberalism would be an attempt to roll back the last few steps of this, the ones that usurped the rightful power of hierarchical structures (be they noble families, private enterprises or churches), spread bits of it to the unworthy serfs, and called that “democracy”.
On a related note, a piece from Lars Trägårdh (a Swedish historian and advisor to Sweden's centre-right—i.e., slightly left of New Labour—government) arguing that an interventionist state is not the opposite of individual freedom but an essential precondition for it:
The linchpin of the Swedish model is an alliance between the state and the individual that contrasts sharply with Anglo-Saxon suspicion of the state and preference for family- and civil society-based solutions to welfare. In Sweden, a high-trust society, the state is viewed more as friend than foe. Indeed, it is welcomed as a liberator from traditional, unequal forms of community, including the family, charities and churches.
At the heart of this social compact lies what I like to call a Swedish theory of love: authentic human relationships are possible only between autonomous and equal individuals. This is, of course, shocking news to many non-Swedes, who believe that interdependency is the very stuff of love.
Be that as it may; in Sweden this ethos informs society as a whole. Despite its traditional image as a collectivist social democracy, comparative data from the World Values Survey suggests that Sweden is the most individualistic society in the world. Individual taxation of spouses has promoted female labour participation; universal daycare makes it possible for all parents – read women – to work; student loans are offered to everyone without means-testing; a strong emphasis on children's rights have given children a more independent status; the elderly do not depend on the goodwill of children.So, by this token, Scandinavian “socialism” would seem to be the most advanced implementation of individual autonomy and human potential yet achieved in the history of civilisation whereas Anglocapitalism, with its ethos of “creative destruction”, is a vaguely Downtonian throwback to feudalism.
Contentious former British Prime Minister
and inventor of the soft-scoop ice cream*, Margaret Thatcher, is fit for work dead. Thatcher is best remembered for her contributions to music, having inspired at once the vitriol of a generation of post-punk musicians and a market for smooth wine-bar soul for a rising generation of moneyed sophisticates, and also having laid the ground work for Britain's rave culture by ensuring an abundance of empty warehouses. That and the smashing of the mining unions, support for the South African apartheid regime and Chilean libertarian dictator Augusto Pinochet, the Section 28 law suppressing the discussion of homosexuality in schools and by councils, the Poll Tax and the resulting extinction of the Conservative Party in Scotland (a society to which Burkean conservatism, as a world-view, was not traditionally alien), mass privatisation, economic precarity for a large (non-Tory-voting) section of the population, soaring inequality (Britain's Gini coefficient rose from 0.28 at the start of her term to 0.35 in 1990, at the end of her term; it is now around 0.4), and cocaine replacing tea as the national drug of Britain some time around 1986.
Thatcher died following
a strike a stroke in a room at the Ritz; she was 87. She is survived by Nelson Mandela, whom she denounced as a terrorist, her son, motor racing enthusiast and Equatorial Guinea coup plotter Sir Mark Thatcher, and, of course, her economic policies, which now form the backbone of all major political parties in the UK, and UKIP as well. Now there is, indeed, no alternative.
A state funeral was proposed by the New Labour government a few years ago when Thatcher's frailty came up; there was also a petition to privatise it last year, as to better honour Thatcher's views. Meanwhile, a mausoleum, a towering pyramid of black onyx, is being constructed in Canary Wharf, where the great lady can spend eternity in the centre of the thrumming hive of finance she so loved in life.
A few years ago, there were also stickers circulating around London, presumably put up by some left-wing group or other, announcing a mass party in Trafalgar Square the Saturday after Thatcher died. I imagine, though, that, in this day of kettling and protest suppression, Trafalgar Square will be as conspicuously free of any political statements as Tienanmen Square is on any 4 June.