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Preparing for an avalanche of hate

Preparing for an avalanche of hate

🕔13.Sep 2012

Regular users of social media may have noticed an increase recently in comments about an event that inevitably will happen sooner or later – the death of Baroness Thatcher.

And given the immediacy of Twitter and Facebook, and the strong feelings many people have about the former Conservative prime minister, most of the posts have verged on poor taste, or far worse.

The Labour leader of Sandwell Council, Darren Cooper, may find himself in a spot of trouble after appearing to approve of a comment on Twitter that Lady Thatcher should “rot in hell”.

Coun Cooper re-tweeted the remark to his 1,121 followers, ensuring that the words were given far greater publicity than would otherwise have been the case.

He was challenged about this on Twitter by a correspondent called thevicarswife who complained that a council leader ought to show more dignity.

Coun Cooper attempted to wriggle out of controversy by stating that the phrase “rot in hell” represented his feelings rather than his words.

That’s all right then, only it’s far from all right.

The passing of Lady Thatcher, whenever it happens, will be a momentous global political event.

There has never been in modern times a public figure in Britain so certain to spark angry debate that the mere mention of her name is enough to pitch family against family, brother against brother.

Harold Wilson was despised by Tories, and by many on the left of the Labour party, but the memories dimmed with the passing of time and most of the obituaries were kind to him.

Tony Benn, the arch bogey-man of the hard left, is now a loveable pipe-smoking old sage dispensing politics as he sees it to sell out audiences up and down the country.

Tony Blair stirred up strong feelings, not least within his own party. But when he finally is no longer with us, I suspect his period as prime minister will be revised to not much more than an interesting footnote in history.

But Margaret Thatcher is unique. Her passing will be an unprecedented event that today’s political leaders will have to deal with in the best way they can.

It will be up to the likes of Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg to find the right words amid the inevitable crescendo of vicious comment whipped up in a whirlwind of social media chuntering.

That won’t be easy for Mr Miliband, obviously, given the thinly disguised hatred that many Labour members have for Lady Thatcher even though she is 87 and in poor health. He should not make the mistake of believing that Coun Cooper’s remarks are unusual, for they are quite mild compared to views held by many of his comrades.

Party packs designed to ‘celebrate’ the death of Lady Thatcher could be bought at this year’s TUC conference. Far from taking a dim view of this, those organising the event did nothing until the packs containing balloons, whistles, fireworks had sold out.

Another stall sold T-shirts rejoicing at the prospect of Lady Thatcher’s death. One design featured a white cross on a grave with ‘Thatcher’ across it, and the words: “A generation of trade unionists will dance on her grave.”

A spokesman for Mr Miliband said the Labour leader condemned such merchandise and added that Mr Miliband did not believe anyone should celebrate when Lady Thatcher dies.

His advisers, however, must surely expect and fear an avalanche of hate when the passing of Lady Thatcher is finally announced. They had better be prepared with a robust response.

David Cameron would be well advised to choose his words carefully too. For many Tory MPs and party members, Lady Thatcher represents a kind of right wing populism that they would very much like to replace Mr Cameron’s Liberal Conservatism.

It must, however, be Labour with most to lose if the party strikes the wrong tone over the deathof Lady Thatcher. The British generally take a dim view of those who speak ill of the dead. And as the vicar’s wife told Coun Cooper, council leaders are expected to behave with dignity.


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