Leader: Musical spat casts us all in poor light

LORD Reith’s founding dictum for the BBC was that it should inform, educate, and entertain.

Broadcasting a version of a 60-year-old song from a musical which is now interpreted as dancing on the grave of Baroness Thatcher does none of these things, except in one small informative respect – to record the fact that, for a section of British society, she was a destructive figure.

That is simply a historical fact that no amount of solemn music and eulogising at next week’s funeral rites can over-write. And that might have been all that needed to be said about Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead and its lesser sister Tramp the Dirt Down had it not been for the dilemma that the BBC faced over whether to broadcast these songs, particularly Ding Dong the Witch is Dead as it continues to climb in the UK singles chart, with all the dancing-on-the-grave implications they currently embody.

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The argument that it should do rests on freedom of speech. Those who think Baroness Thatcher was a villain are as entitled to their view as are those who think she was a heroine. Free speech covers all forms of human expression, including music and pop, as everyone was reminded recently by Vladimir Putin’s imprisoning of the Pussy Riot group.

Surely the irony of demanding that the BBC refuse to broadcast the Thatcher-offensive songs cannot long escape those seeking such a ban in the name of the prime minister whose reputation they venerate partly derives from her staunch opposition to Soviet totalitarianism and her role in bringing about its collapse?

The argument against broadcast is that there are limits in a democratic society to the exercise of free speech, one being that it is not allowable to shout “fire” without cause in a crowded theatre.

The point is specious here: no-one is liable to be trampled or injured in any crush, unless in an unlikely rush to switch off an offending radio before the even more unlikely event of anyone in earshot suffering apoplexy.

A second counsel is that it is simply offensive to the bereaved family. They, however, are presumably fully aware that Baroness Thatcher was a highly divisive politician and are not so innocent as to assume that the nation is united in mourning her passing.

Much prating piffle has been spouted over this squall in a teacup. The song’s producer/ promoter has loftily claimed to be creating a voice for the “community” of people who feel damaged by Baroness Thatcher, as though there was a hidden network of huddled folk who only now have been liberated to tell of their oppression. More likely, he was taking advantage of the open and enterprising society which was one of her political goals.

If there is any lesson from this rather trifling imbroglio, it is that society does not mark death well. It is not a question of deference; merely a matter of some being unable to give others the respect they want for themselves.

Blair reveals Labour’s divisions

OPPOSITION is a more difficult political task than people imagine because it is not just about opposing, but also about building for government. This, in essence, is what former Labour leader Tony Blair has been telling his old party and its current leaders this week.

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Thus, he said, it is no good just opposing the bedroom tax and the other cuts in welfare payments that the Conservative/

Liberal Democrat coalition has been making, or its policies on immigration. To do simply that risks taking Labour to the left of the political spectrum and away from the centre ground it needs to occupy to win back power.

Predictably, this intervention has stirred up all the usual party divisions – new versus old, right versus left, Blairite versus Brownite, and so on. Sensing some ire from current MPs who think that Mr Blair is yesterday’s man and should butt out of it, Ed Miliband has issued a stern, almost indignant, response. His Labour Party, he said, is doing some rebuilding, notably on immigration policy – where the last Labour government got into serious difficulty. If Mr Miliband is being really clever with this point, he is rather neatly distancing himself from Mr Blair while subtly acknowledging that he has a point.

Indeed he has. Labour’s opposition, particularly that of the pugnacious Ed Balls, is strong on effective soundbites, but weak on a coherent policy. Voters are all too painfully aware that the economy is weak and public spending insupportably large and an opposition that fails to present policies recognising that public mood will fail to be elected.

But the really telling point from the reaction to Mr Blair is that Labour is still divided. Mr Miliband has much work to do.