Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Ding Dong - A Warning For British Politicians

One of the most disturbing things about watching dictators is the way they force the people they've hurt to show "respect" to them. Who can forget the terrified boy standing stock still with fear as Saddam Hussein patted his head or the cold hungry people of North Korea praising their "dear leader"? It's an exercise of absolute power over the absolutely powerless.

In the last day, our over-class has been expressing Shock! Shock and Dismay that no such respect and reverence exists in Britain. To which the only sensible retort is "That's what's so Great about Britain!"

Part of the reason our politics is a tad cleaner than that of all our neighbours is because citizens don't let things go and they don't forgive and forget.

Telling people they should have "moved on" from their grievances over the Thatcher era is like the editor of Sun writing to the citizens of Liverpool asking them to lift their boycott and let bygones be bygones. "If countries can go to war and be friends in 15 years then can't the Sun and Merseyside do that as well?" said Sun editor Graham Dudman in 2005. As it happened the Liverpudlians had a reason to hold out implacably for justice. If they'd forgiven Italian-style, they'd have encouraged more bad behaviour.

Similarly people in other countries thought we went over the top with the MPs' expenses scandals. Jon Stewart of the Daily Show even did a "those crazy Brits" show about how we were getting wound up about what he saw as trivia over bath plugs and duck houses. But if the public didn't hound MPs over the small transgressions, they'd complacently graduate to the bigger ones. It's fear of voters not intrinsic goodness that keeps British politics clean.

Thatcher's supporters have gone a bit nutso in having such a public funeral combined with demands for "reverence" from those she hurt, North-Korean style. Attlee didn't get a ceremonial funeral and his government invented and set up NATO and the NHS - two institutions that are still going strong today. Lloyd George didn't get one either and he invented the state pension. Disraeli didn't get one either and he expanded the number of people who could vote.

The other point to make is that the Tories had their "Ding Dong" moment in 1990. They didn't wait for the lady to die before dancing on her tombstone. They made her watch while they dug her political grave, and then pushed her into it fully conscious and buried her. It was the most vicious defenestration of a leader in centuries and they enjoyed it.

Was that because they were Tories or was it because they had something in common with those revellers in city centres now (who look like harmless amateurs by comparison). In other words was it all about Thatcher and nothing else?

If Ding Dong gets to #1, the real message is to living politicians, not to the dead one who is oblivious. As Voltaire observed half with horror and half with admiration, when a British Admiral was executed in the 18th century, it was done "pour encourager les autres". It's savage but necessary - part of the Great British tradition. Are the living politicians smart enough to heed the message?