Thatcher vs Bin Laden: the Daily Mail’s views on ‘sick death parties’

Leigh Phillips says that the idea of 'showing respect for the dead' seems to be somewhat selective

April 10, 2013
4 min read


Leigh PhillipsLeigh Phillips is a regular Red Pepper writer and was previously a Brussels-based journalist and Red Pepper's Europe correspondent.

When is okay to organise a ‘death party’ to celebrate the demise of someone responsible for the deaths of thousands, and when is not?

According to the Daily Mail, when the venal killer is Margaret Thatcher, decorum and respect for the dead must prevail. But when the murderer is Osama bin Laden, well, Waheeey! It’s partaaay time!

Based on the Daily Mail’s moral algebra, the answer to when street revelry is acceptable can only be when the dead are easily enumerable. Then death parties are ‘moments to remember’.

But when we are talking about excess deaths that wouldn’t have happened otherwise – the kind that it takes epidemiologists to estimate with a margin of error and a level of confidence – or deaths in apartheid South Africa, or Khmer Rouge Cambodia, or Northern Ireland, where the link between the killer and killed is stochastic rather than deterministic, then public celebrations are ‘macabre’.

The paper on Wednesday denounced the ‘Flames of hate: 30 years of Left wing loathing for Lady T explodes in sick celebrations of her death’. Those marking the occasion with revelry across the country, from street parties to working men’s clubs’ extended closing times, were all engaged in ‘sick celebrations’.

The Mail fulminated against these ‘ugly’, ‘disgraceful’ ‘Thatcher death parties’ where ‘some people drank champagne while others walked around in Thatcher masks’ and ‘revellers cheered and handed out “Maggie death cake”‘ and party balloons.

At the very least, the argument goes, it would have been appropriate for those who disagreed with her policies to remain silent out of consideration for her grieving family.

A contrast

But just under two years ago, it was a different story. There were no thoughts for the deceased loved ones, no strident calls for decency, good manners and propriety. When Osama bin Laden was summarily executed by US Navy Seals, avoiding all niceties of due process, the Daily Mail joined with millions of Americans who took to their streets and parks and bars to celebrate the death of their enemy.

These were not ‘drunken mobs’ this time, but instead ‘euphoric crowds’. People who climbed atop street lamps and other structures were ‘daring’. ‘Many threw caution to the wind as they clambered to high vantage points to wave flags,’ the paper said.

These were ‘moments to remember’ and a time to be ‘proud to be an American’.

‘Memorable scenes at Times Square early today, with many waving U.S. flags in celebration,’ cooed the captions that sub-editors added to photos of the merry-making.

‘Fancy that! Actor Rob Lowe joined New York City Firefighters in Times Square to cheer the news of the death of Al Qaeda Leader!’ the paper continued, cheering along with the West Point Military Academy cadets who stripped down, started a bonfire and threw glow sticks out of their dorm rooms.

It was, the article’s four authors wrote, an ’emotional high’.

Sing it

Efforts to propel ‘Ding dong, the Witch is Dead’ to the top of the download charts are self-evidently odious to commentators, but when Miley Cyrus’s ‘Party in the USA’ became the ‘official funeral song of Osama bin Laden’ and people played the tune outside the White House, this bubble-gum-pop thanatology was somehow unremarkable.

At the time former US President George W. Bush described the extra-judicial killing as ‘a momentous achievement’ while Tony Blair offered his ‘heartfelt gratitude’ for this ‘huge achievement’. Condoleeza Rice found it ‘absolutely thrilling’ and was ‘overwhelmed with gratitude’ while David Cameron expressed his ‘great relief’ and saluted the “great success”.

Elsewhere in the world the Polish foreign ministry put out a statement describing their ‘moment of happiness’, French foreign minister Alain Juppé said ‘I’m overjoyed’, and the Canadian prime minister declared his ‘sober satisfaction’. German leader Angela Merkel expressed ‘joy’ and the Dutch prime minister ‘presented his compliments to President Obama’.

Oh, and Charlie Sheen tweeted: ‘Dead or Alive. WE PREFER DEAD! Well done SEAL team! AMERICA: WINNING that’s how we roll.’

Well I say: Ghoulish, the lot of them, showing no respect for Bin Laden’s grieving family.


Leigh PhillipsLeigh Phillips is a regular Red Pepper writer and was previously a Brussels-based journalist and Red Pepper's Europe correspondent.


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