I wrote a piece about the Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead campaign for the Guardian on Thursday. By the afternoon I was arguing the toss with Tory peer Baroness Buscombe on Radio 4’s PM, by Friday morning the record was front page news and by Friday afternoon the BBC had found the kind of half-assed compromise that satisfies nobody but outrages nobody either, and can therefore be considered making the best of a bad job.
I maintain that the principle was clear. The Radio 1 chart show is fundamentally a news show with a duty to report the record-buying choices of the British public during the preceding week and to play all high-charting new entries. The choice facing the BBC was not whether to endorse the protest or not; it was whether to do its job or to bow to political pressure for censorship. But this clear principle was effectively rendered irrelevant by the media hysteria which forced the BBC to buckle. It feels absurd now. It will seem utterly, stomach-clenchingly ridiculous in retrospect. I haven’t bought the song or encouraged anyone else to but, like a lot of people, I was swayed by the bullying backlash from finding it crass and childish to wanting it to succeed. I’m heartily sick of the Daily Mail’s power to bludgeon organisations into succumbing to its screeching demands, and of the hypocrisy underpinning the backlash. It’s laughable that the right should want a public-service broadcaster to censor the result of free speech, democracy and the free market — that’s how the Top 40 works — and to say that playing the record once on a show that surely none of Thatcher’s friends or family members listen to would be offensive while splashing the same record on the front page of newspapers that those same people read, ensuring that the offence was magnified. Critics of the campaign say that it shows the left at its most vindictive and crass. I would argue that the backlash shows the right in an even worse light. Ironically, I feel sure that Thatcher herself, who faced much fiercer criticism while in Number 10, would have found the whole affair rather comical and shrugged it off. It’s all been a very British farce.