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Sketch: Thatcher and the Ministry of Truth

PAUL DAVIES assesses the “rewriting of history” seen in the days since Thatcher’s death

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith only had time for a short break from his work at the Ministry of Truth this lunchtime. He had to get back soon; there was a big job on. The death of the Dear Leader, Margaret Thatcher meant that there was much urgent work to be done.

Winston was a little annoyed by this change to his work plans as he was already so far behind with the Scroungers project. However, he did enjoy his work. He had a way with words and he had been promoted several times due the creative manner with which he could manipulate Newspeak. However, he had to confess that he was finding it difficult to grasp the underlying issues of the Scrounger crusade.

His friends, Moore and Dacre, had gone to some lengths to explain it recently during a lunch break. As they sat drinking their equine soup, his friends explained that the Scroungers were all around them. They were dragging the country down, they had broken the economy. They were the enemy now. Dacre even showed him clear evidence that, in some parts of the country, they were now turning to mass murder. And yet Winston hadn’t seen any Scroungers. Where were they, where did they live, would he be able to recognise them?

He puzzled over this as he walked back to work. The weather was unusually cold for the time of year and his chin muzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind. About a hundred yards ahead of him a young woman approached pushing what seemed to be twin boys in a pushchair.

One screamed at the top of his voice, angry and bitter. Winston hated the sound. Why didn’t she stop it? The other child was strangely silent. A dull blank resigned face. He had thought the woman younger from a distance but as she grew nearer he wasn’t so sure. Dark rings under her eyes, shabby clothes and painfully thin.

Could she be a Scrounger? She clearly wasn’t a worker as she wouldn’t be out with these awful children at this time. His friends had said that the Scroungers should be challenged and driven out and Winston was searching desperately for some abuse that he could hurl at her but somehow he failed to think of anything in time and she drifted slowly past him.

Just before reaching the Ministry he passed an old building. It must have been several hundred years old, constructed in stone with an odd pointed structure built on top. He didn’t remember the building ever being used; certainly he had never seen anyone go in. A neighbour once told him that the pointed tower used to have a bell in it. When Winston had asked what sound the bell made the neighbour had simply said “Ding Dong”.

“Ding Dong” repeated in his head to a strange, bright tune as he walked up the steps of the Ministry but he didn’t know why.

When he got to his work cubicle, three tubes lay on his desk for his attention with a note from his supervisor insisting that the work must be completed before 5pm that evening. Another note that he had received earlier that morning was now pinned up by his desk, “All leave cancelled until further notice. There is much to do to establish the Dear Leader as one of Ingsoc’s greatest saviours”.

He unscrewed the first tube. It was from the Economics Bureau. A scribbled note accompanied it from the bureau head, “Smith – We need something along the lines of “Today’s glorious and continuing economic paradise is a direct result of the visionary policies pursued by the Thatcher. Please ensure no links can be made from her deregulation of the City of London to the recent collapse of the financial sector”.

In his earlier life, economics had been a mystery to Winston but he was now forever grateful to O’Brien for teaching him, all those years ago, that two and two can make five. Indeed armed with this logic he found work on economic briefs quite rewarding. Winston had gained positive comments from his superiors with the work he had done, some years ago, in removing all references to the “sale of profitable state assets”. Winston had proposed the replacement phrase of “the inevitable closure of loss making heavily subsidised industrial dinosaurs”.

“The Free Market will solve all our problems!” that was one of the Dear Leader’s endearing catchphrases. The crumbling infrastructure of the nation’s transport and education and the underinvestment in the housing stock, health and energy sectors were all to be solved by the free market. Winston couldn’t remember exactly when the Dear Leader had promised that this would happen but it must be soon. The Dear Leader was never wrong when it came to economics.

He scribbled away on his notepad. As he worked he was reminded that he must suggest another amendment to the next Newspeak dictionary. Greed was a word much used in the recent past but he now found it unhelpful and even misleading. He felt “aspiration” had now successfully replaced it in most cases. It would be fitting to eliminate the word greed at the time of the Dear Leader’s passing.

The second tube presented a much more straightforward task. The Dear Leader’s strong friendship with General Pinochet was well evidenced. Awarding them jointly with a newly created International Peace and Friendship Award for services to reconciliation in Latin America would only be a thirty minute job.

The final task was a little more demanding but nevertheless it was the kind of challenge that Winston enjoyed. The undersecretary at Minterr (the Ministry of Terrorism) had written that he needed material quickly stressing the fearless work the Dear Leader had done in fighting side by side with Nelson Mandela and the ANC in their struggle against the white supremacists in South Africa. How she had stood alone, a single voice against the many pleading for the oppressed black masses to be freed from the apartheid regime.

The afternoon wore on and slowly his work came together. There would be more to do tomorrow. There was much to amend, change and re-work but Winston felt confident that he would have everything ready before the day of the funeral. Indeed, he felt so pleased with his day’s work that, quite unlike him, he sent a message to his superior suggesting that as a gesture of kindness, workers in the North should be given a day’s holiday to watch the Dear Leader’s funeral on their home screens.

However, he was quickly put in his place when a curt reply asked what the point was when people in this region hardly worked anyway and that he would be better employed by getting back to his anti-scroungers project.


  1. Several questions arise out of the character of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, out of the taxpayer’s bearing of its cost, out of the cancellation of Prime Minister’s Questions in order to accommodate it, and out of the silencing of Big Ben.

    First, where, when, how, why, and by whom was it decided that neoliberal capitalism and its neoconservative foreign policy were now the official ideology of this State, and beyond question even on the floor of the House of Commons, the business of which has been suspended in order to glorify that ideology? Extremely prominent seats were allocated to Dick Cheney and Binyamin Netanyahu, as he calls himself. They were closer to the bier than the Queen was, or even than Lady Thatcher’s children were. Departing mourners were air-kissed at the back of the Cathedral by Tony and Cherie Blair. Obeisance was made not only by Parliament, but also by the monarchy, by the churches, by the print and broadcast media, by the Corporation of the City of London, and most especially by the Police and by the Armed Forces.

    Secondly, where, when, how, why, and by whom was it decided that political office and military rank were now interchangeable, even identical? No other reasonable inference can be drawn from the burial with full military honours of a politician who was never a member of any of the Armed Forces.

    Thirdly, where, when, how, why, and by whom was it decided to draw a line from the Bristol Channel to the Wash, beyond which, in relation to London, all territory has literally been alienated, and declared occupied rather than integral? In view of the first two questions, we in the Occupied Territories are well and truly bracing ourselves.

    Fourthly, what would the 800 and more military personnel have been doing if this funeral had not been taking place, how could those duties have been cancelled or postponed at such short notice if at all, and how many of those personnel are expected still to be in their jobs this time next year?

    Fifthly, on what would the £10 million that this funeral has cost the taxpayer otherwise have been spent, how can that spending be foregone, and what plans are in place to deal with the consequences of that foregoing?

    And sixthly, when is legislation going to be brought before the House of Commons to recover those costs by levying a charge of £770 on each of the 13,000 beneficiaries of the reduction in the top rate of tax on incomes above £100,000 by Blubbing George Osborne, who is himself one of those beneficiaries?

  2. Peter Rowlands says:

    It would appear that the prime Labour culprit is Gordon Brown, who agreed that Thatcher should have a state funeral, according to the Mail Online of July 13th 2008. I can’t remember why the left didn’t kick up a stink about this at the time, but it looks as though it was Brown’s decision alone.Even Mandelson says that he wasn’t asked and would have opposed it had he been.

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