At the weekend I reluctantly agreed to take part in a panel debate at the annual conference of student group People and Planet. I was a last-minute addition to the panel, opposite Green MEP Jean Lambert, Cllr Mark Ramsbottom for the Liberal Democrats and Stuart Penketh, Tory PPC for Ellesmore Port and Neston.
I’ve had a lot to do with People and Planet in the past and am sympathetic to many of their causes, as well as obviously having a handful of off-message views myself on some environmental, international and human rights issues; and was therefore somewhat worried that, on a panel of people who, unlike me, are elected and/or seeking election, I would be held up as ‘the Labour Party representative’, blamed for the Iraq war by the assembled group of lovely lefties in their dreadlocks and chunky Fairtrade knits, and pelted with vegan food. (I like vegan food. I hate to see it wasted. Or flung at me.) More to the point, I’d not had a lot of time to prepare, was winging it a little bit and didn’t feel I was able to give it my best.
Fortunately for me, to make me look better, I had Stuart Penketh. Stuart may not have got the memo about his audience. Possibly the highlight was when he said “you can vote for us, or if you don’t want to, you know where to go”, but personally I really started to enjoy it when, during his first five-minute speech, he talked about the regeneration of the Northwest. By Thatcher.
Now, when Stuart Penketh – Cllr Penketh, I should say – introduced himself to me, rather than giving me his name he simply said “I know Iain Lindley”. (Tories say this to me quite a lot, I’m not sure whether it’s meant to be reassuring or threatening.) One thing Iain Lindley would probably be able to tell him is: you don’t bring up Thatcher before anybody else does. Not unless you’re in a room full of people you know are all, or mostly, other Tories. Certainly not with an audience of polar-bear-loving, direct-action-organising lefties at a conference in the North.
I wasn’t sure whether the audience – many of whom wouldn’t have been born until after Thatcher left office – would react to this with the same animosity that I would have: but a definite chorus of disgust ran over the audience as soon as he said the ‘T’ word, and a young woman from one of the communities in the Northeast destroyed by Thatcher stood up to give Cllr Penketh the berating he had asked for. Unless you’re in a UKIP meeting, the Bullingdon Club or Buckingham, never assume that your audience don’t all still hate Thatcher.
And yet some Tories are still making this assumption. The Tory blogosphere has for the past couple of days been as breathless as a masturbating asthmatic in its manufactured outrage at a rather tasteless joke by Twitter’s undisputed master of tasteless jokes, Cllr Tim ‘slobbering zealots’ Cheetham. The joke was about Thatcher falling down the stairs. It has attracted attention because, amongst other people, Ellie Gellard retweeted the joke, and, quite without meaning to, poor Ellie never fails to bring on Harry Cole‘s breathlessness.
There’s so much wrong with Cole’s latest attempt to get Ellie’s attention, I hardly know where to start.
There are the comments from the equally outraged – “Ellie has crossed a line! She must go!” to which the only answer is…where? She’s already in France. What do they want her to do, unsend the email she sent to the Labour Party a week ago, the only ‘official’ Labour Party role Ellie has (so far) been given?
There’s the ludicrousness (is that a word?) of Tim’s joke being compared to the Tory inanities Cole himself has covered, beautifully illustrated by Julian Swainson‘s Compendium of Tory Tastelessness:
Ann Winterton’s racist joke…Tory councillor’s refugee joke…CF member’s Maddie McCann joke…Alan Duncan’s Miss America joke (actually, I was sort of with him on that one)…Liam Fox’s racist, sexist Spice Girls joke…young Tories blacking up…Tory Association Chair’s sexism…another Tory councillor’s sexist, racist joke…Young Oxford Tory racist jokes…and it goes on like this.
The Tories find it difficult to understand how making a joke about “the woman responsible for years of British misery, tripping down the stairs” isn’t really as bad as a joke about “making all women walk around naked to make Muslims kill themselves”. I’m not really sure what logical knot this Tory is tying himself into, but it’s possible he thinks Baroness Thatcher is a race.
But that’s not even the most stupid bit. The really stupid bit is people like Harry Cole thinking that anyone outside their little circle of twats shares their outrage. The stupid bit is thinking that more than a handful of people in this country think of Baroness Thatcher as a frail, harmless old lady, and not the woman who said there was no such thing as society and did her best to make it true. As Tracey Cheetham has pointed out, it’s Thatcher who owes us an apology. Her being old doesn’t change any of that. A lot of people get old. Nick Griffin and George W. Bush and Simon Cowell may all live to be very old; it won’t change the evil things they did when they were younger. And none of it really compares to making a crack about a skateboard.