In the handful of days since Margaret Thatcher's death, there's been no indicator of her opponents' satisfaction more troubling than the resurgence of the near-century-old song, "Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead." Thanks in part to a Facebook campaign, the Wizard of Oz classic has sold 20,000 copies and shot to the top of the charts in less than four days. It's now at number four — it's number one on iTunes — and with the official chart rundown show rapidly approaching, the BBC isn't sure what to do. On Thursday, the network's chief Lord Hall refused to bar the BBC from playing the song, but he also stopped short of taking a stance on the issue. Lord Hall nevertheless described the organized campaign to take the song to number one as "rather tasteless" and said the final decision would be an "editorial decision."
The editorial team at BBC remains mum on the issue. With three days until the weekly Official Chart Show airs, "Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead" certainly looks like it could make it to number one, but it seems almost certain that it will remain in the top five. In a Thursday afternoon column, The Telegraph's Neil McCormick compares the situation to the 1977 Silver Jubilee, when the BBC caught criticism for refusing to play "God Save the Queen" by the Sex Pistols. He argues, however, that the "God Save The Queen" situation was very different since it "was a proper protest song, a righteously indignant attack on a living authority figure." The movement to shame the late Prime Minister, however, is just "a childish insult drifting in the wind after the soldiers have long since left the field," says McCormick.
Regardless of your feelings for Baroness Thatcher, it's clear to read the deeper conflict at play here. It is some form protest that we're witnessing. Thousands of Britons are expressing their enduring discontent with Thatcher's influence with their pounds and pence. Plenty of people say that it's a tasteless way of doing it, but the principles of free speech aren't supposed to revolve around subjective measures of what's tasteful and what's not. Nobody booed Billy Elliott off stage just because it had some critical things to say about Thatcher. So why should the BBC change the rules for this one song, defy protocol and not play it? Well, because it would be awful to broadcast that cheerful tune across the United Kingdom three days before Thatcher's funeral, when everyone knows that the witch in the song represents the woman who's about to be buried.
But you thought British people were supposed to be polite. Have you ever even seen British television? This is about much more than being polite, though. Who knows what the BBC will do when the time comes. At least they can probably count on good ratings for this weekend's show.