Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

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.


  share     tweet  

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.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

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


The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced


277