Arguably Britain’s most electorally successful Prime Minister of the 20th Century, Margaret Thatcher was well loved by vast swathes of the British population. Tens of thousands flocked to line the route of her funeral procession less than two years ago. Little wonder, then, that the BBC has found itself under fire for its plans to broadcast a book detailing her imagined assassination.
The Assassination Of Margaret Thatcher, by Booker Prize winning author Hilary Mantel, tells the story of a middle class housewife who unwittingly allows an IRA assassin into her home in order to carry out Thatcher’s assassination. It concludes with the rifleman taking aim, saying “rejoice … f***ing rejoice”. Dame Hilary has admitted that she was moved to write it after fantasising about killing Thatcher.
Yet the BBC has picked the book for its prestigious Book at Bedtime slot on Radio 4 – a decision that critics say highlights the “intrinsic and endemic” left wing bias at the BBC. Others have highlighted the insensitivity of the corporation in broadcasting the book whilst Thatcher’s family are still mourning her death, whilst former cabinet minister Lord Tebbit’s verdict was succinct: “It is a sick book from a sick mind and it’s being promoted by a sick broadcasting corporation.”
The book appears to be little more than a vehicle for Mantel to deliver a damning attack on the Iron Lady – in one passage she has her lead character rant “It’s the fake femininity I can’t stand, and the counterfeit voice. The way she boasts about her dad the grocer and what he taught her, but you know she would change it all if she could and be born to rich people.
“It’s the way she loves the rich, the way she worships them. It’s her philistinism, her ignorance, and the way she reveals her ignorance. It’s her lack of pity. Why does she need an eye operation? Is it because she can’t cry?”
Conor Burns, a Conservative member of parliament and confidant of Lady Thatcher toward the end of her life told the Daily Mail “Given the public controversy that surrounded Hilary Mantel’s original publication of this twisted little story from her disordered mind, it seems calculating of the BBC to choose it for Book At Bedtime.”
His colleague Andrew Bridgen MP said “The BBC aren’t even subtle in their bias – it’s intrinsic and endemic.”
Angie Bray MP said “It’s disappointing and very surprising that the BBC could not find a book that would not have caused such offence.”
Nadine Dorries showed sympathy towards Lady Thatcher’s still grieving family, saying “I think because Margaret Thatcher’s death is so recent and her family are still grieving, I think the BBC should just have taken stock of that. I think they’ve made the wrong decision, they should have been a little bit more sensitive.”
She also opined that the BBC “has a responsibility to the people who pay its license fee,” saying that she would feel the same way if it were a book about Tony Blair’s murder.
Meanwhile, Lord Bell, a former advisor and friend to Lady Thatcher questioned the timing of the broadcast. “If the BBC had any real sensibility it would leave that subject alone with an Election just five months away,” he said. “It is inevitably going to be accused of political bias. If it really was independent it would avoid doing things that were provocative.”
A spokesman from the BBC responded “Book at Bedtime offers the best of modern and classic literature and, in doing so, presents a wide range of perspectives from around the world.
“The work of Hilary Mantel – a double Booker Prize-winning author – is of significant interest to the public and we will not shy away from the controversial subject matter that features in one of the four stories read across the week.”