The Mail on Sunday, in a disgraceful smear on Labour’s candidate in the Eastleigh by-election, John O’Farrell, have grossly distorted words used in Things can only get better, his comic account of “eighteen miserable years in the life of a Labour supporter” under Thatcher and Major to claim that “he wished Margaret Thatcher had been murdered in the IRA attack on Brighton’s Grand Hotel.” Andrew Neill has since joined the attack.
O’Farrell’s book is in any case a piece of comedy, though it deals with serious issues – “the heartbreaking and hilarious confessions of someone who has been actively involved in helping the Labour Party lose elections at every level“. However, his words were not only taken out of that context but their meaning was also seriously distorted.
In actual fact, what he he was talking about was the widespread hatred of Mrs Thatcher in the context of the brutality of Thatcher’s policy during the miners strike of 1984/5, and the increasing encroachment on personal liberty. In that context he said: “I hated Mrs Thatcher more and more with the passing of each day. I hated her more than was healthy. I hated her so much I wanted her to die.”
In describing those feelings of hatred that were “more than was healthy“, he goes on to fantasise about various “elaborate scenarios whereby she would cease to be prime minister of Britain“, and then the “surge of excitement at the nearness of her demise” when she actually does nearly succumb to the Brighton bomb. He then expresses “disappointment that such a chance had been missed” – the “chance” I would argue meaning not the chance of her death but the chance that she “would cease to be prime minister of Britain“.
Anyone who remembers waking to the news of that event will remember it as astonishing, bewildering and incredible that a bomber had come so close to killing not only Thatcher but several other members of the Cabinet. It was so close that few observers cannot have thought what amazing luck had enabled Britain’s most hated politician in living memory to survive.
O’Farrell, who no doubt hated her as did millions of other Britons, whilst reporting his excitement honestly in conjunction with his fantasies and his “more than was healthy” hatred , nevertheless makes clear that he was actually a “pacifist, anti-capital punishment, anti-IRA liberal“.
O’Farrell did not say, as the Mail claims that he “wished Margaret Thatcher had been murdered in the IRA attack on Brighton’s Grand Hotel“. He did not say, as Andrew Neill claimed today, that “he was disappointed Margaret Thatcher was not murdered by the IRA“. The Mail in clearly engaged in a Tory campaign of smear, and Andrew Neill has joined in.
Labour politicians should be robust in their defence of John O’Farrell. The full section of O’Farrell’s book reads as follows:
Set against the generosity of the miners’ supporters, the inspiring acts of self-sacrifice, the social education, the new friendships and the incredible courage, there was heart-wrenching suffering. I was moved and angered by every story I road. A miner crushed to death by a lorry crossing the picket line. Families torn apart by debt and the fear of losing their homes. Miners weeping and apologising as they crossed the picket line because they had no financial choice. Miners sent to prison for assault who had simply been plucked on! of the crowd. And all this suffering was precipitated by a prime minister hell bent on avenging the miners’ defeat of the Conservatives in 1972 and 1974. A government whose policies were not based on economics or the national interest but on their own party political and class interest, to bring the British trade union movement to heel by crushing the most militant and symbolic union of all – the National Union of Mineworkers. I hated Mrs Thatcher more and more with the passing of each day. I hated her more than was healthy. I hated her so much I wanted her to die.
I would invent all sorts of elaborate scenarios whereby she would cease to be prime minister of Britain. Some involved a sombre deputation from the 1922 Committee and others involved me popping up with a machine-gun during her standing ovation at the Conservative Party conference. And so in October 1984 when the Brighton bomb went off, I felt a surge of excitement at the nearness of her demise and yet disappointment that such a chance had been missed. This was me – the pacifist, anti-capital punishment, anti-IRA liberal – wishing that they bad got her. Why did she have to leave the bathroom two minutes earlier? I asked myself over and over again. 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. Apart from the outrages of the Miners’ Strike, all sorts of sinister and draconian things were happening. CND leaders were picking up their phones and hearing their last conversations being played back, trade unionists were receiving their post in resealed envelopes, Clive Ponting, a civil servant at the Ministry of Defence, was arrested under the Official Secrets Act for leaking the truth about the sinking of the Belgrano, and elections for the GLC were to be cancelled and an unelected Conservative body to be put in the authority’s place until abolition. The miners had to win or nothing would stop her.