Half a defence of John O’Farrell’s comments on Margaret Thatcher

OFarrell-things betterI wonder if Labour HQ wish they’d read John O’Farrell’s 1998 book, Things Can Only Get Better, a little more carefully before he was selected to fight the Eastleigh by-election?

First there was his call for Labour voters to vote tactically for the Lib Dems to beat the Tories, as uncovered by Mark Pack here: Should Labour supporters vote tactically to beat the Tories? “Go for it” said John O’Farrell. (Incidentally, the Telegraph then ran the story here without any credit.)

And then yesterday, the Mail ran with the story that he’d once wished Margaret Thatcher dead:

Fury over ‘moral reprobate’ Labour candidate who wrote of disappointment that Mrs Thatcher didn’t die in the Brighton bomb
The Labour candidate in the crucial Eastleigh by-election said he wished Margaret Thatcher had been murdered in the IRA attack on Brighton’s Grand Hotel. Left-winger John O’Farrell felt a ‘surge of excitement’ when he heard of the attempted assassination in 1984 and was ‘disappointed’ the terrorists failed. He asked himself repeatedly: ‘Why did she have to leave the bathroom two minutes earlier?’ The bathroom of Lady Thatcher’s suite was wrecked in the explosion. She had been in it shortly before the bomb went off.

This prompted an understandably aggrieved Norman Tebbit to pose the uncomfortable question:

John O’Farrell was sorry that the Brighton bomb didn’t kill Margaret Thatcher. Was his disappointment eased by the injuries incurred by my wife?
I do not know to what extent his disappointment that Sinn/FeinIRA failed to kill the Prime Minister was eased by the deaths of five other people or the injuries incurred by John Wakeham and my wife. The question now is not just whether any rational or decent Labour voter in Eastleigh will vote for this creature O’Farrell. It is a test for the Labour leader, Mr Miliband. Does he endorse Mr O’Farrell and the latter’s disappointment that the attempt against Margaret Thatcher failed, or will he have the decency and courage to repudiate the Labour candidate?

It’s almost 15 years since I first read Things Can Only Get Better. Though we’re different generations, as a then Labour member a lot of John O’Farrell’s memoir rang true to me — and what I remembered of it was a lot more reflective than the selective snippets in the Mail suggest.

So I had a quick re-read of the offending section this evening (pages 110-115 in my paperback edition). My memory hadn’t let me down. John O’Farrell is reflecting on the hatred he and much of the left then felt for Mrs Thatcher at the height of the miners’ strike. He doesn’t do so proudly, but honestly:

I hated Mrs Thatcher more and more with the passing of each day. I hated her more than was healthy.

And he contrasts the passions of that period with his own contribution to it:

… I felt ashamed as I realised that the only campaigning I had done during that long and painful year was for the election of the president of the Exeter University Guild of Students: an organisation of which my friends and I were no longer even members. The irrelevant posturing of student politics was our only outlet.

These aren’t the words (I don’t think) of a cruel-hearted assassin-once-removed: they’re the stark, uncompromising memories of a thwarted, student radical lefty.

So why only half a defence? Two reasons. First, John O’Farrell himself only half-recants his death-wish for Mrs T:

I just hated her so very, very much. But with some justification, it has to be said. And though some might argue that I should not have been prepared to countenance undemocratic means to get rid of her, she was not being particularly democratic in the way she exercised and extended her power.

This now is the adult O’Farrell writing, and I don’t buy his moral equivalence. (To be honest, I’m not sure he does, either.)

The second reason is that — much as I still like Things Can Only Get Better, and much as his campaign tweets are amusing me — John O’Farrell comes across to me as a deeply tribal creature. (I suspect, without any evidence, that he probably uses the tired term Con-Dems unironically.) My basis for this assumption? My only ever Twitter interaction with him, a couple of months ago:

For those of us who hoped coalition politics would allow a more grown-up political debate, one in which blind adherence to party loyalties might come unstuck a little, politics since 2010 has been a bit of a disappointment. I’m afraid John O’Farrell looks like the same old, same old to me.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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68 Comments

  • I think O’Farrell is proof , if it were needed, that good satlrists make poor politicians. He can’ t resist stupid digs (Lib Dem lasgane may be amusing but does anyone *really* think this government is 100% Tory?) And seems to have nothing constructive to offer. I wonder, as his campaign withers, whether he now regrets standing.

  • Kevin Philips 18th Feb '13 - 9:18pm

    I was in Coventry on the morning after the bomb. If he is guilty of a thoughtcrime, then so was everyone I overheard talking about it.

  • Charles Beaumont 18th Feb '13 - 9:30pm

    There’s a big difference between the irrational thought that flashes through your head and the considered message of the published book, that passes editors, lawyers and the like. What John O’Farrell reminds us of is the smallness of modern politics. Attlee and MacMillan, both severely injured on the front lines in WWI, would never have been stupid enough to make such crass remarks about terrorist violence leading to 5 deaths. The last of the WWII generation has mostly retired from active politics. O’Farrell comes from a generation whose biggest challenge was to decide what to spend their generous student grant on, who made his money from telling mildly amusing jokes and has not one serious achievement to his name. So he’s just the man to represent Labour in Eastleigh.

  • This was not a thought crime – he wrote it down!! I remember it well – I remember Tebbit in his pyjamas – and I felt a great deal of sympathy for him , Thatcher and all the others. This was a party that I had campaigned against for so long – and yet this was not democracy – this was blatant thuggery – Has O’ Farrell given a full and frank apology? If not Miliband should pull him.

  • Lib Dems don’t come across as any less tribal than either of the other two parties.

  • Stuart Mitchell 18th Feb '13 - 9:47pm

    Stephen Tall doesn’t come across as any less tribal than John O’Farrell either.

  • Phyllis, I suggest you are inviting a distorted view point. You frequently post quite provocative comments, which is fair enough as this is an open forum and in return you sometimes get some sharp rebuttals. I think you may be mistaking this for tribalism.

    Of course it all depends on who you talk to. There are a number in both the other major parties that more open to other viewpoints. Lib Dems do make a point of engaging and working with other parties. Of course you could say they only do that because they have insufficient representation to have an alternative strategy, but even making a virtue out of necessity is still less tribalist.

  • @Charles Beaumont
    Please don’t use his comments to judge his entire generation. He’s 50 years old. Some of his generation would have joined the forces in the late 1970′s and served in the height of the “troubles” not to mention possibly the Falklands, the Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Iraq….

    Not all got to worry about what to spend a generous student grant on, and far too many know what the cost of conflict is at first hand. Even if you mean just the ‘political’ generation there are several who have served sitting as MP’s.

    As to his comments, he clearly has no concept of what happens when a terrorist bomb detonates, the immediate aftermath and the lasting impact that those affected carry throughout their lives. If he had, and certainly if he had buried friends and colleagues in coffins draped in the flag of the nation they served, he would never have made such an idiotic comment.

  • Martin, I’m actually quite prepared to believe that many in the LD party try hard not to be tribal but I’m thinking of the Labour-bashing I see on here very frequently.

    And on this thread where O’Farrell is specifically being accused of being tribal, we have comments such as “So he’s just the man to represent Labour in Eastleigh.” We could all hurl insults at each other but is that really ‘grown-up politics’. ?

  • Shortly after the 2001 General Election the BBC broadcast a series of video diaries made by a parliamentary candidates, from all three parties. One of these candidates was John O’Farrell, who had contested Maidenhead. At the end of the film he noted the strong performance of the Liberal Democrat candidate, Kathy Newbound, and said words to the effect that he wished he’d supported her. Is there any chance of anyone digging this footage out and quoting it in a leaflet?

  • I find John O’Farrell ‘s comments kind of sickening actually. I had no idea he had wrote such a thing. I think it is a huge mistake Labour selecting him as a candidate.

    I despised the Thatcher government for a lot of things she and the party did.
    But I have absolutely zero respect for anyone whom felt ” a surge of excitement” at hearing the news of a terrorist attack, which killed and injured so many which would have had and left devastating consequences for the rest of their lives.

  • The point is that O,Farrell was in his mid 30s when he wrote the book & his attitude to his previous thoughts seems more like mild embarrasment than shame. For young men to be casual about violence isnt at all unusual, I was myself but I had grown up by the time I hit my 30s.
    The phrase “with some justification” is pretty clear, he hasnt abandoned the idea that murder for political reasons is sometimes acceptable in a democracy. Im afraid Tebbit is right on this, Labour should drop him & apologise. If asked, we should say the same.

  • Matt

    Yes agree with you, I found it pretty shocking tbh. And more shocking that there is no full recanting of it now.

  • In the eighties, I heard people make comments about how they would have welcomed the death of Margaret Thatcher. Musicians (such as Morrisey) wrote songs about the subject. Even though I disliked the Thatcher government, I thought it was pretty sick thing to say even at the time. However…John O’Farrell is reporting how he felt at the time. That kind of honesty is very welcome in a politician. I think I prefer blunt talking politicians like George Galloway to the mangement-speak, on-mesage politicians that we normally see these days. A friend went to a football match in a northern city recently. The football club in question is one of the biggest, most historic in the world and apparently the most popular song during the match was about how the fans would celebrate when Mrs Thatcher dies. Again, I think that’s a bit sick but I understand how people feel whereas I don’t think many LibDems understand how those people feel. The 1980s were a time of rapid change for the worse, mass unemployment, poverty and violence that was contrasted with a celebration of avarice by fanatical supporters of Mrs Thatcher. It’s no wonder that many people felt anger. Finally, to describe John O’Farrell’s generation as cosseted is offensive. They went through (and continue to go through) recessions, mass unemployment and the growth of our current society of permanent massive un(der)employment. This article on LDV confirms to me that the LibDem party will always be handicapped by it’s failure to understand just how deeply many people dislike the Tory party.

  • Ed Shepherd – totally agree with you. It was an awful time. The mining families were treated so badly and the most vulnerable members of society were demonised, whilst ‘yuppies’ in the City went around flaunting their wealth. It was this decade that earned the Tories their ‘Nasty Party’ image.

  • I’d be prepared to back the Tories on this if they put their money where their mouth is and expel every single Conservative party member who called for Nelson Mandela to be executed.

  • The eighties was a violent time. There were people on the right who supported the Contra’s, apartheid in South Africa, South American despots and of course the glorious freedom fighters in Afghanistan (how ironic that has turned out to be…). There were people on the left who were violent too and many who tacitly supported that violence. At least John O’Farrell is honest about his feelings and why he felt the way he did. I’m no Thatcher-hater but let’s face the facts: Mrs Thatcher was no supporter of democracy. She never hesitated to support brutal dictatorships if it suited her. Tea with General Pinochet, anyone? I wonder how the families of victims of Pinochet feel about that?

  • Good points, Ed.

    Perhaps we should ask some limbless Cambodian civilians what they think about Margaret Thatcher, seeing as she had the SAS train the Khmer Rouge in the art of laying landmines.

  • Richard Dean 19th Feb '13 - 12:16am

    This guy has been sick for a long long time, since long before he found that Mrs T was a convenient outlet for his hatred. LibDems should not be supporting him, even half way.

  • Simon Bamonte 19th Feb '13 - 12:59am

    Like it or not, there is a large section of society, particularly in the North of England and large parts of Scotland and Wales, where people hate Thatcher as much as Pinochet is hated by his victims and their families. There are, indeed, many people who will celebrate upon her death and, right or wrong, it will happen. I am not one of those who will celebrate her death, but those who plan to do exist in not-so-small numbers. Take my cousin for example: Thatcher deliberately created the conditions which led to his father, my uncle, taking his own life when he could no longer provide for his family. His sad story was repeated up and down the land. If it wasn’t suicide, it was often alcoholism, drugs, and broken homes. I will not be celebrating her death myself, but I can understand and empathise with those who will.

    I agree completely with @Ed Shepard’s point that the LibDems currently do not understand the true hatred and disgust millions of people outside of the SE and leafy Shires feel towards the Conservative Party and Mrs. Thatcher. It goes a long way to explaining why the LibDem’s poll ratings from many formerly supporting areas have plummeted. For many, many Britons the hatred of the Tories for what they did in the 80s (and are doing now) is very palpable.

  • “This guy has been sick for a long long time, since long before he found that Mrs T was a convenient outlet for his hatred.”

    The Brighton bombing apart, Thatcher was an entirely appropriate outlet for the hatred of many of my generation. If she expected people to show her compassion, she should have shown some herself.

  • Richard Dean 19th Feb '13 - 1:30am

    I believe we should think of this in the context of leadership. Do we want to lead by encouraging hatred? Lets leave that to the BNP. Many others were also involved, apart from Mrs T. The big one was the rest of the population, North as well as South, which could have fought with the miners, for example, but didn’t. That is, MOST of the population! Are we to hate them too?

  • George Kendall 19th Feb '13 - 2:21am

    There is visceral hatred in some parts of the north of the UK towards the Tories which cannot be fully understood by anyone who hasn’t lived there. That’s true of me, a Lib Dem activist, who has always lived in the south, it’s also true of Labour supporters from the south.

    But I do have some understanding of it.

    I’m old enough to how I felt, when I knocked on the door of a house of five adults on modest incomes, and realised that they would be charged five times the poll tax of a multi-millionaire, living on his own in his riverside mansion. I remember my fear after the Tory victory of 1992, that they would be in power for ever.

    But while hatred and anger can be understandable, when we direct those emotions against individual people we follow a dangerous path.

    I’ve changed in the last twenty years, and I’m glad I’ve changed. I now realise that there are a fair few Tories who are decent people, and who care about creating a fair society.

    There are many Labour people who, privately, will acknowledge exactly the same thing. Who understand that if Labour had been in power, they wouldn’t have been able to continue borrowing at 2010 levels, when our lenders were starting to lose confidence in our ability to repay. They are honest enough to realise that Labour would have had to implement the Darling plan, with cuts not dissimilar to what the coalition are implementing.

    Unfortunately, just as there are bad Tories, there are some in Labour who thrive on feeding the hatred. They portray any cut as proof that the coalition is deliberately inflicting misery and pain. They pretend that any compromise in a coalition is a broken promise. And they put pressure on fair-minded, moderate Labour supporters to keep their heads down.

    I think this is foolish and counter-productive. That this approach, aimed at poisoning the image of Labour’s opponents, instead poisons the image of a moderate responsible Labour party.

    But whether it’s counter-productive or not, it’s an approach that I think all those who aspire to political leadership should reject, and fight against.

    I haven’t read John O’Farrell’s book, but from the quotes I have read, he seems to have made a serious mistake. Fair enough to describe destructive, hateful attitudes from your past, but if you then fail to explicitly condemn that hatred, you cannot complain if anyone accuses you of condoning it.

    But what worries me more are those in the modern Labour for whom John O’Farrell’s comments aren’t a statement of the past, but a description of what they currently feel.

  • Charles Beaumont 19th Feb '13 - 3:05am

    I’ve been accused of tribalism for writing “he’s just the man” for Labour in Eastleigh. My point may have been misunderstood. John O’Farrell cannot be viewed as a serious politician. His inability to understand the real impact of terrorist violence and his track record of telling (sometimes quite good) jokes for a living bears this out. I don’t see evidence that Labour is serious about Eastleigh, not surprising given their polling position. So O’Farrell is just the man for the job. Is that excessive tribalism?

  • as mentioned above, any person involved in satire will have this sort of thing hanging over them and would probably need some serious consideration before getting them to stand in a by-election here there will be a lot of media scrutiny.

    I am no fan of Thatcher and will not mourn her passing. She did nothing but harm to the livelihoods of my family and seemed to take a particular pleasure in doing so. I will treat it with relative indifference though now but 20 years ago perhaps differently.

    We need to be careful though accusing others of not having a concern for the impact of terrorism. There is plenty of terror that the British Government has supported, is supporting and will support – with a significant amount of that being cheerled by the Tory party. One of the most heinous cases of Government terrorism against the people in modern times was Apartheid South Africa and I don’t remember Thatcher being quite so outspoken against that. Anyone who can also support a murderer such as Pinochet is not anyone I will feel sympathy over.

    Terrorism is a complex thing and people should try to avoid taking the high moral ground on it without a lot of care

  • Tracy Connell 19th Feb '13 - 8:32am

    I think at the time of the Brighton bombing many people felt the same as O’Farrell. There are people who still feel the same. I live in the North East and there is still an intense hatred of Thatcher and I think there always will be to some extent. O’Farrell’s mistake, perhaps, is in writing this down. There is the honesty issue, but sometimes that can go too far – especially if you intend getting involved in politics.

    I have an intense dislike for Thatcher myself. I certainly will not mourn her death. I do not condone acts of terrorism though.

  • paul barker 19th Feb '13 - 9:31am

    The point is not whether we understand the visceral hatred for the Tories among some groups but whether we condone it. All sorts of hatred is widespread in Britain, for gays, immigrants, the disabled, women & anyone who looks different, sounds different or walks funny. You simply cannot be a Liberal & have any sympathy for Hate, especially if its directed at complete strangers or based on assumptions about “them” whoever “they” are.
    For non-liberals, if you dont get how we feel about hatred for “the other” & the violence that follows, then you havent understood anything about us.

  • Steve Griffiths 19th Feb '13 - 10:22am

    I deeply loathed Thatcherism, which seemed to me to be a sort of suburban predjudice. I loathed (and still largely do) the Tories for embracing the vile policies that came with Thatcherism, but I would certainly stop short at any sort of hatred directed at an individual, or individuals. I was certainly deeply opposed to everything that was being discussed, lauded, cheered and planned at that Brighton Conference that year, but was equally opposed to any attemt to injure or maim the persons attending that conference. There is a difference between hating ideas and hating people.

    And Stephen, not all the “same old” is bad. One of my disappointments with the current crop of political parties and ideas, is the swing away from polititians with conviction, where they form a ‘soggy centre’ and they all espouse very similar ideas. Is it any wonder that the electorate are frustrated by not seeing much difference in the choice they are presented with? I was always a conviction politician – a Liberal one, and I would like a bit more of the ‘old’. But my convictions are of ideas, not emnity against persons.

  • The big irony about this is that John O’Farrell is being condemned for being honest about his FEELINGS in the past (not for anything he actually DID, just for thoughts that he had) but he is standing in a by-election that is being held at great expense to the tax-payer due to a senior politician who was deliberately dishonest. I suspect that there are people in that politicians’s party who knew that this politician was being dishonest but chose to keep quiet about it. (Surely at some point someone senior in the party must have asked him, “Did you really get your wife to take those points?”) The leaders of both parties that form this coalition government also seem to be rather “cagey” about some of their past activities. Listen to Nick Clegg on Desert Island Discs for the evidence. Personally, I like honesty in a politician. For all the many faults of Margaret Thatcher, at least she was honest about her past.

  • Margaret Thatcher being attacked by terrorists was a misfortune; her survival was a calamity (with apologies to Disraeli)

    That was certainly the view of many I grew up with – especially those from mining communities. ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Boom, Boom, Boom’ was the refrain of the schoolyard as much the picket line. John is just being honest.

  • Steve Griffiths 19th Feb '13 - 11:30am

    Ed Shepherd

    “Personally, I like honesty in a politician. For all the many faults of Margaret Thatcher, at least she was honest about her past”.

    And she was entirely honest with us about the sinking of the Belgrano, was she?

  • Phyllis: I entirely take your point and to be honest we are all tribal to varying degrees. Moreover there is a natural tendency to respond tribally in the face of tribalism. Like many (I would guess), my tribalism prevents me from voting Tory in pretty much any circumstance, I can think of at the moment, even though looking back over the years, I would have to admit there have been some who I would now say deserve credit. Although I definitely do not put Norman Tebbit in that latter category, I certainly sympathise with his reaction to John Farrell.

    I never rule out voting Labour, and have done so in the past (not that it did any good), but there are certain types where I draw the line such as Ed Balls and Jack Straw.

    Ed Shepherd claims that Mrs Thatcher “was honest about her past”. I am curious to know how he is so certian of this.

    I would echo the cotribution from George Kendall.

  • “Personally, I like honesty in a politician. For all the many faults of Margaret Thatcher, at least she was honest about her past”. And she was entirely honest with us about the sinking of the Belgrano, was she?”

    I don’t know. Was she? Can’t say it’s something I’ve looked into but I remember questions being asked about it at the time. I am not sure what the outcome was. But the sinking of the Belgrano was not part of Mrs Thatcher’s past, was it? It was a political event that took place whilst she was Prime Minister. As far as I know, she was honest about her past. John OFarrell is, too. I don’t know if Nick Clegg and David Cameron are very honest about their past.

  • “Things Can Only Get Better” is a very funny book. Amongst other things, it is a satire, by a Labour tribalist, against tribalism. The phrase O’Farrell uses, that he felt a “surge of excitement” when he heard about the Brighton bomb, is intended to shock. It is intended to shock the reader into recognising just how badly tribalism can warp the brain – and that the writer, while aware of his terrible addiction to tribalism, nevertheless cannot readily give up the drug.

    It is hardly a defence of terrorism. But those who see it that way might reflect on how they might have felt a “surge of excitement” on hearing of von Stauffenberg’s terrorist plot against Hitler, and intense disappointment that Hitler was lucky enough to survive.

    Politics is full of blinkered tribalists, Labour and Lib Dem alike, who are disgracefully, pompously, lacking in self awareness. O’Farrell is very aware of his own deficiencies, and hence the more likely to avoid letting them rule his actions. I would have no hesitation in voting for him. He is a breath of fresh air.

  • Oh dear, it can hardly help John O’Farrell’s case, if his defendants/apologists compare Mrs Thatcher to Hitler.

  • paul barker 19th Feb '13 - 1:40pm

    The O,Farrell case raises one of “the left”s problems with prejudice is that lots of them think some forms are alright. A good example is Labours attacks on “toffs”, part of a “class war” tradition that often uses violent language & sometimes strays into actual violence. For many labour supporters class hate is acceptable while similar feelings towards women, gays etc arent. Tribal hatreds toward Tories is a natural extension, they are “class enemies” after all.

  • Charles Beaumont 19th Feb '13 - 1:52pm

    Anthony Berry
    Eric Taylor
    Jeanne Shattock
    Muriel Maclean
    Roberta Wakeham

    Who remembers these people, killed in the Brighton bombing? My frustration with this debate is that it’s not about whether Margaret Thatcher is unpopular in the northeast. It’s about a high profile candidate’s failure to understand that, however much he hated a politicican within the democratic system, that was the system she inhabited. The people of Finchley decided to elect her an MP. The people of Britain decided to give her party a majority. The IRA

  • Charles Beaumont 19th Feb '13 - 1:54pm

    Anthony Berry
    Eric Taylor
    Jeanne Shattock
    Muriel Maclean
    Roberta Wakeham

    Who remembers these people, killed in the Brighton bombing? My frustration with this debate is that it’s not about whether Margaret Thatcher is unpopular in the northeast. It’s about a high profile candidate’s failure to understand that, however much he hated a politicican within the democratic system, that was the system she inhabited. The people of Finchley decided to elect her an MP. The people of Britain decided to give her party a majority. The IRA blew up the hotel with no interest in the law, democracy or the possibility that others would be killed.

  • David Allen 19th Feb '13 - 2:13pm

    Well Paul Barker, which do you think is morally worse – Old Labour talking about class war and occasionally bashing a few actual heads on picket lines, or New Labour and the political establishment preaching crusade from their civilised drawing-rooms, and sending half a million to their deaths in Iraq?

  • “those who see it that way might reflect on how they might have felt a “surge of excitement” on hearing of von Stauffenberg’s terrorist plot against Hitler, and intense disappointment that Hitler was lucky enough to survive.”

    This cannot possibly be a serious point.

  • @David Allen
    I despised most of her policies, but to compare the attack at Brighton with the attempt to halt the second world war is frankly ridiculous.

    PIRA in their campaign of murder killed civilians, service family members and children with utter disregard. People who spoke up against them disappeared or were kneecapped. Anybody who believes they are in any way synonymous with the plot against Hitler needs to take a much closer look at the realities. I have seen their handiwork at close quarters and continue to see the long term effects of their cowardly bombing campaign.

    @Charles Beaumont
    You raise the real point when you talk of those who died, and let’s not forget Ian Gow (1990) and Airey Neave (1979 killed by the INLA rather than PIRA). The Tories do have a right to be touchy over this issue.

  • David Allen 19th Feb '13 - 4:39pm

    It is Mike Bird’s point that cannot possibly be serious, being totally devoid of logic, and hence appealing to misplaced gut reaction alone. And no, Hitler and thatcher are not morally equivalent, I never said they were. What I am trying to get over is that there is massive hypocrisy, on all sides, about violence. So many people seem to think it is outrageous to approve its use against the “wrong” people, so many people seem to think they should equally be allowed to exult over its successful use against the “right” people. For example the Tories who wanted to hang Mandela, who rejoiced when the Belgrano went down, who excoriate O’Farrell for his remarks. O’Farrell has owned up to his real feelings. He has also effectively admitted that he cannot reasonably justify having such feelings, but nevertheless he does. He is streets ahead of his critics for self-awareness and moral honesty.

  • David Allen 19th Feb '13 - 4:41pm

    penultimate sentence should say “but nevertheless he does have those feelings”

  • On the Falklands War O’Farrell said he wanted fascist Argentina to win, writing in his book:
    “I was against the war, against people’s reaction to the war, even against the outcome of the war.”
    Then adding:
    “One of the commanders of the task force (I can’t recall his triple-barrelled name) said that Britain had been very fortunate that so many of the Exocet missiles that struck British ships had failed to go off. If they had detonated, he said, we would have suffered too many casulaties to allow him to risk keeping the task force in the area, and we would have failed to recapture the Falklands. So that’s what kept Mrs Thatcher in power. A few faulty detonators on some French-made missiles.”

  • Stuart Mitchell 19th Feb '13 - 8:39pm

    I take it those who are condemning O’Farrell here have never wished harm to come to anybody in their entire lives – not even fleetingly, when a callow youth? All I can say is, I’m impressed, and I believe there’s a vacancy at the Vatican for which one of you would be well suited.

    I went through all the same feelings O’Farrell did towards Thatcher. Lots of people did, certainly many in my immediate circle. Considering ourselves pacifists motivated by compassion, we were well aware that our feelings towards her as an individual were a great big contradiction to be wrestled with (as Morrissey put it: “The kind people have a wonderful dream / Margaret on the guillotine”), but if we felt morally sullied by it, we likely regarded this as one more terrible thing that Thatcher had done to us. I don’t hate her now of course, I am entirely indifferent to her, she is history. But I feel no shame in having hated her as a kid in the ’80s – given my age, where I came from, and the way I felt about what was happening around me, my feelings were perfectly understandable.

    Paul Barker – do liberals really condemn a person for a stupid view he held nearly thirty years ago? If that’s how liberals think then I guess you’re right, I don’t understand them.

  • “You simply cannot be a Liberal & have any sympathy for Hate …”

    You might just as well say you can’t be a liberal and give sanctimonious lectures about how people should feel towards those who attack them and their families!

    Remember the wise of words of William Blake:
    I am no Homer’s hero you all know;
    I profess not generosity to a foe.
    My generosity is to my friends,
    That for their friendship I may make amends.
    The generous to enemies promotes their ends,
    And becomes the enemy and betrayer of his friends.

  • John Broggio 19th Feb '13 - 10:21pm

    @paul barker 19th Feb ’13 – 1:40pm

    As that noted socialist Warren Buffett said: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

    That “winning” has the cost of people being pushed into poverty, homelessness & suicide. That’s why people of the left (and indeed anyone with compassion) feels, or should feel, prejudiced against those who wreak such terrible policies upon the weak & vulnerable. That’s why I and many others like me feel so utterly betrayed by the seemingly all-too-willing behaviour of LD MPs in this coalition when we were promised (more fool us) politics with a difference.

  • Simon Bamonte 20th Feb '13 - 2:02am

    @John Broggio:

    That about sums it up. Millions of people hate the Tories because, since the Thatcher revolution and turn to the hard right, they have deliberately enacted cruel and divisive policies, both socially and economically. Those who lived through that era and hate the Tories have very good reason for doing so: they drove family members to suicide, they ruined whole communities and classed millions of people as “the enemy within”. And now Coalition policy is enacting many policies which are having comparable effects: welfare reforms which have led to suicides among disabled people, a housing policy which will see families out on the streets if they cannot pay the so-called “bedroom tax”, etc. Rightly or wrongly, (and I disagree with this argument on technicalities of our FPTP system) the LibDems are seen by many as “helping the enemy”. The hatred of the Tories runs so deep in some places that the LibDems were always going to be tarnished by adopting so many Tory policies, even under a coalition.

  • Richard Dean 20th Feb '13 - 2:16am

    I have no idea what William Blake means, but I do know that hatred is a sign that the person doing the hating is damaged and needs to be repaired. The process of repair involves that person going through a process of forgiveness. It’s a real and hard thing to do, but hate is the way of death, and forgiveness is the way to live again.

  • Reasons for hating Thatcher:

    1. Her ‘capitalist ‘ sink or swim policies only applied to the people that voted for other parties. Coal mines had to stand on their own feet. Farms were allowed to continue picking up large subsidies. Her boys in blue got nice pay rises for helping her out whilst other public servants were attacked.

    2. The glee with which her party greeted the destruction of the livelihoods of those that voted for other parties.

    3. The demonisation of the poor, unemployed and working people which has continued unabated ever since. It was the attack on people that worked and wanted to work that really left the bitter taste.

    That’s why they haven’t won an election since 1992 and aren’t likely to win another one until at least 2020. That’s quite a gap for a party with the history of the Conservatives. Remember that Hague was the first leader of the Tories that failed to become prime minister. Closely followed by IDS and Howard. That’s some legacy. I’m not surprised that many people would have preferred it if Thatcher had been killed rather than the five others. It’s a perfectly normal human reaction to someone as loathed as she was. I’m not ashamed to say the thought certainly crossed my mind (the mind of a ten year old) but I also felt pity for those that were killed and injured and couldn’t help feel moved by the pictures of Tebbit being removed from the rubble, even if it was Tebbit.

  • Chris “I am no Homer’s hero you all know;
    I profess not generosity to a foe.
    My generosity is to my friends,
    That for their friendship I may make amends.
    The generous to enemies promotes their ends,
    And becomes the enemy and betrayer of his friends.”

    If only the Lib Dem leadership had followed Blake’s advice!!

  • Richard Dean 20th Feb '13 - 12:45pm

    It would be good to be able to work out what William Blake is saying. It appears to be what Steve (item 1) might say is the Tory mantra – help your friends and stuff everyone else!

  • David Allen 20th Feb '13 - 1:01pm

    I have Googled Blake and Homer’s hero. One commentator says that Blake thought he was the victim of conspiracy. Another says the poem was against pacifism. My own guess was that Blake was trying to send up the attitudes he was nominally advocating. Richard Dean offers a fourth, equally plausible, exegesis.

    Well – OK, I give up. Clearly I would never get a PhD in Lit Crit. For ignoramuses like me, perhaps the Blakists could translate their viewpoint/s into simple English?

  • David Allen 20th Feb '13 - 1:19pm

    “Reasons for hating Thatcher”

    I have to say that, whilst I applaud O’Farrell’s honesty about his vicious hatred for Thatcher, I never quite shared the feelings at the time. My feelings were broadly that evil Tories were just an expected normal fact of life, and that Labour were equally culpable for making such a pig’s ear of opposition to Thatcherism that they effectively allowed it to triumph.

    Nowadays, of course, it’s the Cleggites who are leading in the pig’s ear field.

  • Stuart Mitchell 20th Feb '13 - 6:22pm

    Richard: “forgiveness is the way to live again”

    So shouldn’t you forgive John O’Farrell for his youthful indiscretions?

    David Allen: Did we live through the same 1980s? Or did one of us sidestep into the 1Q80s for a while? Whether one loves or loathes Thatcher, most would agree that she was a complete break with the Tory leaders who preceded her. The mass unemployment she brought about was an epochal event in our post-war economic and political history. There was absolutely nothing “expected” about her.

    As for Labour allowing her to triumph, there’s some truth there, but the Liberals and SDP played a significant part in that too.

  • John Broggio 20th Feb '13 - 7:26pm

    @ Simon Bamonte

    I’ve been pondering the “helping the enemy” aspect and can’t really see how if one votes with the enemy to get aims of the enemy enabled, those doing so can be seen as anything other than “helping the enemy”. Such accusations could well be levelled at those who trooped through the lobby with Blair’s New Labour over Iraq.

    It’s no good saying we only mugged you with a knife because, if they had a majority, the bigger party would have used a gun. We still end up being mugged, contrary to suggestions prior to the election that you wouldn’t mug anyone…

  • Richard Dean 20th Feb '13 - 7:36pm

    Stuart. You need to ask someone what the process of forgiveness entails! It is not what you think.

  • “Whether one loves or loathes Thatcher, most would agree that she was a complete break with the Tory leaders who preceded her.”

    Well, up to a point I suppose. You could argue that Heath tried to do what Thatcher did, but just wasn’t as effective. You could go back to the thirties, when Royalty had to tell the Tories that “something must be done” about starvation in the Welsh colliery villages. You could go back to the “Zinoviev” letter, when the Tories stole an election by forgery. Maggie is not the only Tory worth hating!

    Then again, you could go forward to Cameron, whose pitch is of course quite the opposite to Thatcher’s. Maggie used bloodcurdling rhetoric to make her policies sound more extreme than they really were. Cameron, in total contrast, professes undying loyalty to the NHS, as camouflage for dismembering it.

  • @Ian Sanderson (RM3)
    Was Austen Chamberlain overall leader of the Tories? I’ve only got time for a cursory look at wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leaders_of_the_Conservative_Party) and it says the position was vacant between Andrew Bonar Law and Andrew Bonar Law, with Chamberlain as leader of the commons. Even if he was the first Tory leader not to be PM then achieving 2nd/3rd/4th not to be PM all in a row is still quite impressively bad.

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Feb '13 - 8:17pm

    Oxford dictionary definition of forgive: “Stop feeling angry or resentful towards (someone) for an offence, flaw, or mistake; no longer feel angry about or wish to punish (an offence, flaw, or mistake)” etc

    Richard: “This guy has been sick for a long long time, since long before he found that Mrs T was a convenient outlet for his hatred. LibDems should not be supporting him, even half way.”

  • The problem with most of the UK is that few people understood that once the British Empire was dismantled, so were many of our markets. As far as I am aware, no Labour politician warned that giving independence to te Indian sub-continent would start the decline of the Lancashire cotton industry. Japanese businessmen who visited the Lancashire cottton industry in the 1930s thought they would soon be able to produce at lower costs. Ernie Bevin, a docker, said the British Empire has done noting for the workingman- that shows a total failure to understand the role of international trade. The vast majority of Britain did not understand that unskilled and semi-skilled people had to up grade their skills to craftsmen leve(completed 5 year apprenticeship)l at least and low and mid technology companies had to move to high technology markets.

    Technological evolution is like a wave , if one has the skill, one can ride it, if not, one drowns. Most progressives do not understand how evolving technology and markets increases competition.

    Ther ability of tankers to move vast amounts of Liquid Natural Gas due to technological evolution has had massive changes to the energy markets. The fact that oil tankers can carry 0.5M Tonnes of crude oil means carriage costs are greatly reduced . 40 years ago, oil tankers were not much larger than 50,000 T ,yet had larger crews than a modern 500,000 T tanker. Consequently it requires fewer sailors to transport crude oil now than 40 years ago. Why did Labour and The Unions in the 60s ( post 6 day war and clossisure of Suez canal ) to 80s not discuss how changes geopolitics, technology and costs going to impact on the energy markets and hence eployment. in Labour were serious about improving the quality of peoples lives they would have assessesd how changes in politics , technology and trade would impact on employment.

    No Labour politician warned that the development of transistors and sillicon chips wouild lead to the massive reduction of of un-skilled and semiskilled employment. No Labour politician was visiting Germany and Japan in the late 40s onwards and looking at how these countries were educating and training their people and developing new manufacturing methods and technologies .

    The Thatcher government coincided with the development of extensive introduction of electronic and computer control systems . B Castle’s ” In place of strife” , an attempt to reduce strikes was rejected by Labour in 1968 . By 1979, British nationalised companies had the largest debts in the World. The increase in oil prices in 1973 meant costs had to be reduced and westen companies had to move to high value engineeering. The unions representing un-skilled and semi-skilled unions opposed the introduction of new technologies and caused strikes which meant goods were over-priced , delivered late , too often of poor quality and technologically behind other countries. Steel for use in construction and ships which if delivered later can cause massive increase in costs to clients. A major aspect of Japanese cars in the 70s was that extras , such as radios were provided as standard compared to British cars .
    If the British unions and labour Party had behaved in the same way the German unions and SD Party had behaved post war and especially 1968-1978 , then The Conservatives would probably have not won in 1979. The only Labour MP to admit part of the problem was not Thatcher was when he said much of Liverpool’s problems was because a lack of skilled craftsmen in th city . So when everyone blames Thatcher would ask what effor did people make to obtain the education and skills to enter advanced high value engineering from 1945 onwards.. Britain has advanced engineering – Rolls Royce, satellites construction( worth £7.5B/yr), cars , but a major problem is lack of people with the education, skills and attitude .

    If John O’Farrell had read engineering perhaps he would running an advanced manufacturing company in say Liverpool ,Newcastle, Sunderland, etc, etc he would have actually improved the life of the working class.

  • If you’re going to condemn O’Farrell for this comment, you’re going to have to condemn tens of millions of people in the UK.

  • Cllr. Ron Beadle 23rd Feb '13 - 1:04am

    I agree with Charlie’s comments. Jim Callaghan scuppered ‘In Place of Strife’ to maintain the old pals act with the Unions and this, more than his decision over the timing of the general election in ’79, created the conditions for Thatcherism. But sadly we must go way further back in our country’s history to understand why the conditions for the kind of cross -class co-operation that has enabled capital and labour to invest in skills were so hard to creat here. Alan Flanders (long forgotten) predicted much of what followed in the mid 60s and had the Labour movement had the leadership it needed at that time they would have listened to his advice (and that of Barbara Castle) and at least given us some more economic options than those politicians have had to choose between in the last five decades.

  • Richard Dean 23rd Feb '13 - 1:27am

    In 2011, 36% of those polled said they respected Thatcher as a politician, 22% said they liked here personally. 10% respected Cameron and 17% liked him. Tony Blair (27% liked) was the most likeable leader of the last 30 years.

    These figures don’t seem to support the idea that “tens of millions” would now support O’Farrell’s 1998 viewpoint. Anyone with any sense heals their wounds, so she’s probably a less disliked now than she was then.

    http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/2819/Most-capablemost-likeable-Prime-Minister.aspx

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