The Witch is Dead

Monday, 15 April 2013

“Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead” – a song written by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg for the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz” – is annoying Britain’s upper-classes. Following a campaign on Facebook it’s become an anti-Thatcher anthem. As the second highest selling single this week the BBC was obliged to give it a spot on “The Official Chart” on Radio 1. Banning the song outright was not considered an option “as that would bring up issues of freedom of speech and censorship”. Instead in a “difficult compromise” it was decided to use a few seconds of the song – which is less than a minute long – as part of a news report rather than play the track itself.

Ben Cooper, the controller of BBC’s Radio 1 explained that a newsreader would be telling listeners “about the fact that this record has reached a certain place in the chart and here is a clip of that track…It is our duty, if you like, to inform and educate our audience about that record and the reasons why it’s been chosen”. And so, when the countdown reached two, newsreader Sinead Garvan broke in to say that in 2007 an online campaign had begun to get “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead” to the top of the charts the week Lady Thatcher died.

Listeners were told the former Prime Minister had strongly divided political and public opinion. Critics accused her of putting millions out of work and not caring about the poor during her time in office. But there were many who loved her for taking a failing economy and making it successful. Some politicians felt Lady Thatcher would not have objected to the song being played as she stood for freedom and allowing people to have their say. The news report – which included a seven-second clip – was 40 seconds longer than the song itself.

Thatcher fans – like former Tory MP Louise Mensch – struck back by urging people to download “I’m in Love with Margaret Thatcher” by punk band the Notsensibles (circa 1980) which featured in Meryl Streep’s 2011 Thatcher biopic, “The Iron Lady”. They were not put off by band member Stephen Hartley’s confirmation that the song was in fact a satirical swipe. The magic of impartiality is that “I’m in Love with Margaret Thatcher” was played in full at number 35 without any comment.

Mr Cooper was at pains to emphasise this was not political censorship. “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead” could not be compared to Elvis Costello’s “Shipbuilding” – a polemic against the Falklands War – or Billy Bragg’s harsh anti-Thatcher tunes. “It is not a political record…It is actually a personal attack on an individual.”

Not exactly. There is more to “The Wizard of Oz”. In her book “Web of Debt”, Ellen Brown says “Few of the millions who have enjoyed this charming tale have suspected that its imagery was drawn from that most obscure and tedious of subjects, banking and finance. Fewer still have suspected that the real-life folk heroes who inspired its plot may actually have the answer to the financial crisis facing the country today.”

“The Wizard of Oz” is increasing seen as a monetary parable of a struggle between ordinary people and the bankers who control economies through their power to create money. Research shows that America’s favourite homegrown fairy tale was inspired by a march in 1894 – from Ohio to Washington – led by Jacob Coxey and his Industrial Army of destitute unemployed men.

Their purpose was to urge Congress to issue debt-free government notes. These federal dollars, “Greenbacks” had been used successfully during the Civil War. Coxey proposed Congress issue $500 million in Greenbacks to redeem Federal debt and provide work on public projects. This was and remains an eminently common-sense anti-austerity proposal. Coxey’s Industrial Army was unable to persuade Congress and for Lady Thatcher there was of course no alternative to the ascendance of the City of London and its bankers – the wizards who secretly pull all the strings. “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead”, despite what Mr. Cooper thinks, is both politically apposite and instructive in similar hard times.

Moreover the Munchkins – emancipated by the death of the Wicked Witch of the East – are admirably cautious about premature celebrations.

“But we’ve got to verify it legally, to see To see? If she If she? Is morally, ethic’lly Spiritually, physically Positively, absolutely Undeniably and reliably Dead”

Lady Thatcher may well be deceased but the class-war on the poor that she epitomised grows more brutal and confident daily. The relentless media circus – since the news of her death at the Ritz broke – is only partly due to the feeding frenzy that accompanies large scale investment in profitable public event news. The elite, although apparently invincible, need to be reassured that resistance is impossible, or as the Iron Lady demonstrated to the simpering members of her party and class, entirely manageable if you have balls of steel.

She symbolises the aggressive privatisation of national assets, the destruction of organised labour and the de-industrialisation of modern Britain. For good measure – and among other unsavoury detail – she trashed the African National Congress (terrorists), supported the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and mothered the deadly Khymer Rouge. If a dead baroness with such impeccable credentials can be rehabilitated – while she remains the only suspect – an impatient elite will know how swiftly they can loot what’s left of Britain. Finding out will be worth every penny of a £10 million funeral.

For the past week Prime Minister David Cameron has incessantly chanted that Lady Thatcher restored Britain to greatness. He knows that’s not true. The real purpose of government is to deliver Britain into the hands of corporations and its people into serfdom. Politicians like him realised some time ago there was no future in capitalism. The myth of Margaret Thatcher is a smokescreen to hide this central truth. Brendon O’Neill, editor of Spiked argued in an important essay at the height of the financial crisis in 2008 that the idea that Britain’s problems are all the fault of this “evil” woman lets the left and Labour off the hook.

Part of the illusion is the powerfully emotional construct of a woman who single-handedly turned Britons into a community of self-serving and greedy individuals almost overnight. This is superficially exciting and easy to sell. The more prosaic and revealing explanation is that all capitalist governments hit by a deepening recession through the 1970s turned viciously on their workers and citizens; firstly to survive, and then as the consensus between the state, employers and unions collapsed, to facilitate a more venal capitalism in which employers and corporations took charge. Lady Thatcher provides a convenient hate figure for obscuring this reality.

She didn’t invent Thatcherism either. Austerity, repression and the incoming neo-liberal agenda were common responses across the west to capitalism’s latest malady. Many of the policies she implemented were first pursued by Ted Heath’s Conservative government in the early 1970s – without success until the intervening Labour Government of 1974-1979 lead by Harold Wilson and James Callaghan demoralised the working class, demonised the unions and made a case for austerity. O ‘Neill says, “This is the dirty secret of Thatcherite economics: it sprung from a deep-rooted capitalist crisis at least 10 years before Thatcher actually took power, and its fermentation was assisted by Labour.”

The duplicity was duly confirmed by the New Labour brand in government between 1997 and 2010 which continued Lady Thatcher’s policies but with greater zeal. Not to be outdone the Liberal Democrats shamelessly fell into bed with the Conservatives to form a government with exactly the same ambitions – the transfer of wealth to the rich, the support of the banking system at any cost, unquestioning obedience to American imperialism and the creation of the corporate state. To paraphrase Gore Vidal, Britain is now a democracy of one party with three right wings.

The lavish funeral of the baroness is as decorative and diversionary as her vilification by the established left which also blames her for the country’s mental health problems – ostensibly unleashed by Thatcherite selfishness. This is just another way of selling austerity. But the left is now part of the new British elite and, as former Prime Minister Tony Blair proved, doubly dangerous.

Britons will have to discover, as Dorothy did, that after the Wicked Witch of the East there is still the Wicked Witch of the West and indeed the Wizard of Oz himself. Getting songs into the charts may be less of a preoccupation in a summer of discontent.

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