Letters: Free to mock Maggie, however distastefully

These letters appear in the Tuesday 16th April edition of the Independent

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The BBC’s rather comic “compromise” (14 April) in playing seven seconds of a  58-second protest song is itself an ironic reminder of Margaret Thatcher’s term in office.

For all the rhetoric about her as champion of liberty, it was Margaret Thatcher’s censorship that necessitated the comic “compromise” on the BBC of actors performing a voice-over for the words of Sinn Fein to “starve terrorists of the oxygen of publicity”.

Tony Hall’s defence on grounds of taste and respect would carry weight in the context of a family calling for a private mourning. Instead, Wednesday’s pageant is to be a public and necessarily political arena: the campaign song a populist expression of dissent.

“Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” may seem a clumsy vocalisation of protest, but if we consider freedom of expression in entertainment, the arts and media as important, it is so regardless of whether the mode is distasteful, disrespectful or banal.

Jonathan Banatvala, Laughton, East Sussex


The surreal furore over “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead”, adopted by Margaret Thatcher’s foes, and indeed “I’m In Love with Margaret Thatcher”, the anti-Maggie song bizarrely seized on by her admirers, has arguably occupied too much media space. There is a danger that the double ditty ding-dong is diverting attention from another and much more important protest issue born out of her death: the right and scale of protests at her de facto state funeral.

You report (15 April) that police may employ Section 5 of the Public Order Act to arrest peaceful protesters, because mourners might be distressed. That would be dangerously draconian.

There are those of us who met and interviewed Margaret Thatcher and admired her, while substantially disagreeing with her vision of the political Yellow Brick Road.

Baroness Thatcher, who was well aware she was both divisive and decisive, would be neither surprised nor distressed by the present controversies.

The police must permit peaceful, albeit noisy, demonstrations. If, for example, protesters turn up on the cortege route with anti-Thatcher banners, Maggie masks and singing that “Ding Dong” song, or simply turn their backs on the procession, it is fair enough in a free country, even if it represents a high degree of low taste.

Paul Connew, Former Editor, Sunday Mirror, St Albans, Hertfordshire


As a public service broadcaster and an integral part of the establishment of this country where people are supposed to enjoy rights of free speech, it is absolutely reprehensible that the BBC should censor a vast swathe of the British public.

It was clearly the intention of tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people that the song “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” should feature in the charts this weekend, as a peaceful and entirely legitimate protest against a former prime minister and an ideology they loathe.

The Director-General has overstepped his remit by interfering in this democratic, if unconventional, protest action, and those silenced now hold a genuine grievance.

Eben Bainbridge, Cardiff


The Wicked Witch of the East, prior to her untimely demise, had not, one supposes, been voted into power by the colourful, but evidently long-suffering inhabitants of the Land of Oz.

Mrs Thatcher, on the other hand, could not have divided society so emphatically without the support, for nearly a decade, of at least a section of the British electorate.

Dancing in Trafalgar Square and propelling “The Witch Is Dead” up the charts in celebration of the death of a lady who had been seriously ill and who had had no heavy influence on British politics for a generation is behaviour unbecoming a civilised society.

Let her be buried peacefully, and don’t forget that the real Munchkins could be those who not only voted for her, but twice returned her to power.

Richard Walker, London W7


On the basis that the No 2 song in the Top Ten, “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” was cut to a mere seven seconds by the BBC because it was politically motivated and many people may find it offensive, may I please ask that BBC coverage of Baroness Thatcher’s funeral is also reduced to seven seconds, because the manner of her funeral and its related cost are equally politically motivated and will also cause offence to many people?

Henry Page, Newhaven,  East Sussex


All religions accuse critics of racism

Religions have learnt that a most effective defence is to claim racism on the part of their critics (report, 13 April). A healthy persecution complex is a part of all faith systems, regardless of how impartially aggressive atheism is to all of them.

For example, during Red Nose Day, an Anglican vicar acquaintance claimed (on Facebook) a unique persecution on behalf of Christianity in the UK, saying Rowan Atkinson would never have dared to criticise Muslims in the same way.

I cannot speak for Dawkins or Harris, but I can speak as a “new-atheist”, whatever that is supposed to mean. All over the world, people are doing all manner of terrible things at the behest of their religions.

Whether it be denying blood transfusions to children who have no say against their parents’ wishes, spreading HIV by telling untruths about condoms, starting civil wars, mutilating the genitals of minors, retarding the necessary progress of scientific inquiry or inviting the premature destruction of humanity, atheists couldn’t care less which flavour of superstition is at fault. We just wish they’d all stop.

Alistair Munro, Weston-super-Mare


Watch out for the monopolies

Dr Eamonn Butler from the Adam Smith Institute is right that businesses will naturally go where the business is (letters, 12 April).

But there must be a difference between the more wholesome, productive trades that would have flourished on Fish Street and Butcher Row and the ones Ed Miliband is targeting: payday loans companies and bookmakers.

Or are these the types of businesses that Dr Butler believes will bring us to the sunny uplands of economic growth?

I think that Mr Miliband is on to something but should focus less on what the shops do, and more on who owns them. Rome, for example, has three large Zara stores all within 500m of the same street. This is a dismal smothering of a market, monopolistic, and bad for the consumer and wider society.

 How about restrictions on shops and stores by one company or owner within, say, five miles of each other to promote competition? As disciples of Adam Smith, Dr Butler’s institute would surely agree.

John Laird, Rome


No back-off from Hacked Off

Your report headed “Hacked Off backs off with offer on press regulation” (26 March) might suggest that Hacked Off has qualms about the Royal Charter agreed last month. As the more appropriate headline “Hacked Off calls for means-testing of publishers over new press reforms” in the online edition recognised, this is not the case.

We think the Royal Charter is a reasonably accurate representation of Leveson and, where it is not, it falls short of Leveson’s recommendations, rather than going too far.

The proposals we made through crossbench amendments in the Lords on 25 March are aimed at making the legislation for the “incentives” more effective, in line with the Leveson-compliant Draft Bill we published in January representing the true Leveson scheme. There has been no change in Hacked Off’s position since.

And while it is true that some of the changes we recommend, such as means-testing, will assist publishers, the proposals are not being made because we “hope they will make the changes more acceptable to the media”.

Evan Harris, Associate Director, Hacked Off Campaign for a Free and Accountable Press, London SW1


No ‘illegal war’ waged by Blair

Lesley Docksey (letters, 15 April) is wrong to claim that “it is clear” that Tony Blair “took this country into a highly illegal invasion and war” and should be prosecuted in Britain or in The Hague. There is no such crime as waging an illegal war, in Britain or the International Criminal Court at The Hague. The humanitarian disaster in Syria, which the world watches with such equanimity should remind us that intervention is not necessarily the worst option.

John Strawson, Reader in Law,  University of East London


Mumps danger

P A Reid (letters, 15 April) has forgotten that a child with mumps can give it to an adult man and render him sterile. She has also forgotten that a girl with rubella can infect a woman who may not have been able to take the vaccine. We vaccinate our children not just for their health but because we owe each other in our community a duty of care.

Farah Mendlesohn, London N15


Badgers to rescue

As owner of a garden full of heavy clay soil, I welcome any help I can get and, boy, did I get that help this year – from badgers. They do the digging and I do the planting, filling the holes with wildflower plugs. When you re-wild your garden, you’ll love it, the bees and insects will love it and badgers get some much-needed positive PR. Thanks, badgers.

Laura Scott, Crewkerne, Somerset


Vichy crimes

In the letter “Stern Gang and Hitler” (15 April), the writer is surprised that the Stern Gang and others were armed by the French during the Second World War. The then Nazi-backed Vichy government murdered and tortured many of its own people. Arming the Stern Gang was in keeping with the policies of such right-wing thugs.

David Simmons, London NW1


The inside story?

I was puzzled about Rachel Whiteread’s shed (15 April). This was intended to be the inside of a shed, seen from the outside. The door and window frames reflected this but the horizontal boarding overlaps so that rain runs down the outside. The boarding on Rachel’s shed would have rain pouring in.

Phil Wood, Westhoughton, Greater Manchester