Don’t speak ill of the dead – a matter of timing, surely?
A year ago The Knife was talking to a junior doctor, from a classic comfortably middle class English background. He was only 6 when Maggie Thatcher left office, yet knew of her monstrous and evil legacy due to numerous lectures from his mother, a teacher. He informed me, with slight embarrassment, that his parents had their party all planned for the day when Maggie finally died. No doubt the guests would be the kind who all “remembered” their Portillo moment. He genuinely had no idea of what she had achieved in her career, just that she was, on balance, slightly more wicked than Hitler.
The death of Michael Foot has made The Knife think about this one. My memories of Foot, when I was of voting age, are that he was a ludicrous figure to be heading a party, but as the 1983 election had become a foregone conclusion, it wasn’t a big deal to me personally. I also assumed, rightly I think, that Foot was inappropriately sympathetic to communist totalitarianism. Not that he would have said it in so many words, but it is no surprise just how many of his generation, such as the revolting Jack Jones, were in hock to the Soviet Union, whilst trying to get their hands on the levers of power here in Britain.
In any event, this last week has put the spotlight on honest obituaries. Speaking up for Foot were the obvious voices: Tony Parsons (formulaic); Hattersley (surprisingly well judged, for him), and even Iain Dale (a bit over the top, methinks).
The Knife, I’m afraid to say, sides with the last trio, it’s certainly how I remember it.
However, the infamous Jan Moir column on the death of Stephen Gately demonstrated just how honesty in this situation is not always appreciated. Extravagant praise and hyperbole rule for the first few weeks post mortem, except from a few brave individuals.
Perhaps it is right to extend a degree of courtesy and some rather large white lies to the deceased and their family, but at what point does it become a problem? After all a political colossus like Foot – in some writers’ eyes – if the eulogies are true, should surely be imitated, his ideas reinvigorated by a grateful public. Somehow I don’t see this happening, except by Gordon’s stealth agenda.
All of the above also constitutes an argument for keeping Bono alive for as long as possible. I’ve only just recovered from the John Lennon tributes.