In what universe is Hilary Mantel's imaginary assassination of Margret Thatcher worthy of police investigation?

Only among Mrs T’s cronies

Matthew Norman
Sunday 21 September 2014 21:03
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Hilary Mantel in 2003 - years before she released a short story, in which she fantasised about the death of Margaret Thatcher
Hilary Mantel in 2003 - years before she released a short story, in which she fantasised about the death of Margaret Thatcher

The lady is not for turning. Undaunted by any battle scars sustained after the wilful misunderstanding of her speech in defence of the Duchess of Cambridge (the plastic princess), Hilary Mantel shows Thatcher-esque disdain for her enemies with a new short story.

After all, and as we will see, not everyone will rejoice (rejoice) over “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: August 6th 1983”. The tale of a wealthy Windsor woman (not, for the record, the Queen) who colludes with a shooter in the summary dispatch of Mrs T was inspired, Mantel has recalled, by the time she saw the then PM walking unprotected on the street below from her own window in the town.

Among those displeased by this work of fiction are two important Conservative thinkers. A disbelieving Nadine Dorries says: “I am gutted because Hilary Mantel is one of my favourite authors”.

Meanwhile, the advertising and public relations titan Tim Bell, whom Thatcher sponsored on his introduction to the House of Lords, is apoplectic. “If somebody admits they want to assassinate somebody,” he tells The Sunday Times, “surely the police should investigate.”

Under which precise law someone could be prosecuted for writing about the imaginary murder of a person now deceased, he doesn’t explain, though you have to assume it would be a trickier investigation than the one involving Bell himself.

During his cocaine era, you may remember, Tim was convicted of indecency after masturbating at the window of a Hampstead Heath bathroom in full view of passing au pair girls. It is impossible not to revere Lord Bell-End of Much-Tossing-Over-the Heath, who last came to the attention when his company became involved in offering to launder Uzbekistan’s human rights reputation for £100,000 a month.

Even so, it may be an error of judgment to remind us of the material difference between a literary fantasy about committing a crime from a window and, as in his case, actually bringing one off.

Damian McBride’s grudges are a national treasure

The aftermath of the Scottish referendum finds Damian McBride on majestic, score-settling form in a Mail on Sunday analysis of the parts played in the Better Together campaign by certain key Labour figures.

While celebrating the triumph of Gordon Brown, whom he still worships, Damian is less kind about others with whom Gordon has fallen out. Alistair Darling is dismissed as a hybrid of two members of the Walmington-on-Sea home guard, combining Private Pike’s strategic cunning with the calm under stress of Corporal Jones. Douglas Alexander’s “first and last priority in life is himself”, and Jim Murphy “has a gymnastic approach to politics, adopting any position that will impress the judges”.

A psychotherapist might advise Damian to jettison the old Gordon feuds, find closure and move on. But sod that. Those of us who can’t get enough of his musings – and he writes beautifully – beg him to keep every resentment alive. The man’s a treasure.

For a nuanced and insightful appreciation of the outgoing First Minister Alex Salmond, where else to turn but Donald Trump? The Don, who was at war with Salmond for years over the positioning of a wind farm near a golf course he owns, minces no words. “I know from personal experience that he is totally inflexible,” writes Trump. “To be great in life, you need to be flexible, especially when you are wrong.” How very, very true.

No doubt the Don, who ran for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination on the birther platform, will apologise for questioning Obama’s birthplace soon enough. For now, more than three years after the Prez released his long-form birth certificate, this great man remains rigidly inflexible on the point.

Vaz, back from brink to hold public servants to account

Rarely a day passes without the Labour chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee piping up, and Keith Vaz’s latest sortie into the public eye found him sceptical about Rotherham’s head of child services (since resigned) being on sick leave. “Joyce Thacker seemed to be in perfect health,” said Keith, “when she appeared before [the committee] nine days ago.” Appearances can deceive. In 2001 general election, when as Europe minister he was under investigation and immense pressure over his role in the Hinduja passport affair, Keith went on sick leave himself, and vanished until after the general election (he was quietly sacked subsequently) after apparently suffering some kind of cardiac event.

At the time, I rang his Leicester East constituency office and asked his assistant if we might postpone an imaginary game of squash. “Till when?” asked Alison Acton. “Next Sunday? I’ll get a message to him.” Thank the Lord he was spared to become the energetic stickler for propriety in public office we admire today.


Do-re-mi if Yvette Cooper isn’t Labour’s very own Julie Andrews

While Ed Balls rebrands himself as Labour’s Alan Shearer by elbowing a journalist in the cheek during a weekend football match, his missus takes the opposite route to reinvention. In her latest bid to thaw the ice-pixie image with the Labour succession in mind, Yvette Cooper unveils herself to House magazine as the front bench’s Julie Andrews. On a recent holiday to Austria, she reveals, the family went on a Sound of Music tour.

“It was absolutely brilliant,” she gushes. “You go along on a bike with this beatbox in the front. We were singing the songs as we cycled through Salzburg. We even had headscarves we’d made out of curtain material.”

Bless the Von Trapps of Westminster, and everybody sing along.“Curtains on bonces and elbows in faces/ Quietly scheming for leadership races/ Dreaming of Miliband being no longer king/ These are a few of their favourite things.”

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