Having regretted that I haven’t written enough of my ‘brief lives’ posts last week, along comes another one with the death of Margaret Thatcher.
Of course the are those who would say that her life wasn’t brief enough – ‘Finally I get to wear my black suit and tap shoes together’ tweeted Frankie Boyle.
There were similar sentiments from the unreconstructed likes of Ken Livingstone, Derek Hatton, Gerry Adams and George Galloway. Even that political heavyweight, Joey Barton, has jumped on the bandwagon.
And there was dancing in the streets of Brixton, Glasgow, Belfast and Grimethorpe, and a celebratory riot in Bristol, while a tweet from the Crouch End branch in north London read: ‘If for any reason, anyone feels like celebrating anything we have Taittinger available at £10 less than usual at £29. Just saying …’
Hardly a nation united in grief I think you’d say. Personally, I don’t find myself spitting vitriol, but I’m not donning my mourning weeds either.
It’s true that she brought about a seismic shift in Britain, but she could only destroy and had no vision of what to put in its place. We pay the price still.
She encouraged home ownership by selling off social housing that wasn’t replaced, hence the bedroom tax debacle today. She encouraged deregulation and speculation that ultimately led to the banking crisis and she sold off inefficient state run utilities to carpetbagging companies that do an equally inefficient job but at a higher cost to the public.
Perhaps her greatest achievement was to become our first woman prime minister and you can gauge its success because we haven’t bothered to repeat the experiment.
I could go on about the other things she did, particularly to the NHS, but there are enough people speaking ill of the dead.
What hasn’t been mentioned though is her introduction of spin politics to the UK, or rather the way that the spin doctors became public figures in their own right.
I’m speaking of Bernard Ingham, of course, that great bully and manipulator of the media.
My abiding memory of him comes from the summer of 1985 and the terrible disaster at Manchester Airport when a Boeing 747 caught fire killing 54 people.
I’d been drafted in to help deal with the media scrum at Wythenshawe Hospital where many of the injured were taken and it was absolute bedlam. (I still can’t figure out how the Chicago Tribune got there before I did.)
Thatcher visited the following day, I suspect because she was genuinely sympathetic, but I’m also sure that Ingham saw it as a wonderful media opportunity.
It was the closest I ever got to her along with dozens of hacks. Among them was a much respected reporter from the local BBC who tried to get a word with the PM as she walked towards the hospital doors. Ingham objected and literally barged her to the ground, despite the fact that the reporter was heavily pregnant at the time.
I’ve always likened spin doctoring to a martial art that has evolved over the years. Today it is like fencing with a rapier, looking for an opening and weakness to exploit. Before that it was more akin to the precision of karate, and even earlier like judo, using the weight of your opponent to defeat themself.
But Ingham was the original and for him, spin doctoring was bare knuckle cage fighting and we have him and Thatcher to thank for the way that spin has become an end in itself.