On-air talk

The twenty-fifth anniversary of the Brighton bombing got a fair bit of coverage on breakfast radio this morning. Thatcher, we’re told, was saved because she was working on some papers, rather than in her bathroom. I’ve always found that a bit hard to swallow – that it was her dedication, her enormous appetite for work, that saved her. It fits too neatly. There are so many other things you could be doing in an hotel room with your spouse – going to the toilet, having sex, plucking your eyebrows, shaving your legs. But Thatcher was busy working on a paper of some kind. They had a clip of her speaking at the Tory conference the morning after. Real Churchill stuff: ‘All attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail!’ I often wonder if people like her really believe the things they say. Does it ever enter the chamber of her consciousness that putting thousands of armed soldiers onto the island next door and ruling the north-east corner of that island, against the wishes of the Irish people, might be a bit undemocratic too? Maybe not. Maybe it’s a British way of thinking about things. On ‘Today’ on BBC Radio 4, John Humphries was asking questions about the visit of Hillary Clinton to Ireland and her possible impact on the devolution of policing and justice. ‘Is it a bit odd that we need an American Secretary of State to help us out in Northern Ireland?’ It’s the ‘we’ of that which gets me. Dear John is asking me to believe that he’s my fellow-countryman, that as the Tories say, we’re all in this together in a unified, shoulder-to-shoulder way. When you hear a reasonably enlightened presenter like Humphries talk that way, you realise how deeply ingrained are the territorial assumptions of the British.

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