McDonnell jokes about Thatcher; Tories angry!

4:57 pm - June 7th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    

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John McDonnell, one of the Labour leadership contenders, joked today that he wished he could go back in time to the 1980s and “assassinate Thatcher”.

The MP for Hayes and Harlington, who was Ken Livingstone’s deputy at the Greater London council in the early 1980s, insisted later that his comment about Lady Thatcher, the former Conservative prime minister, was made as a “joke and it went down as a joke”.

…reports the Guardian.

Rather predictably, the Tories are already spinning their mock-outrage machines and calling for other Labourites to “condemn” him.

Jonathan Isaby at ConservativeHome:

McDonnell’s statement is utterly despicable and I hope that his rivals will condemn him for it.

Tory blogger Guido Fawkes in mock-outrage: ‘McDonnell’s Thatcher Killing Fantasy‘.

Oh dear.
Well, it was a better joke than Daniel Hannan, darling of the loony right, calling the NHS a 60 year mistake.

Oh wait…that wasn’t a joke?

Update: John has apologised to anyone who might find if offensive.

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Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments

1. Andrew Tindall

the real joke here is that labour mps can (rightly) make off-hand comments like this and get away with it, whilst members of the public making similar jokes are prosecuted under labour’s authoritarian laws.

2. Grumpy Old Man

A really sidesplitting joke, What a droll sense of humour Mr. McDonnell has when the IRA nearly succeeded in acting out Mr.McDonnell’s fantasy. But it’s not nearly as humorous as “there’s no money left” is it? Especially when the Red Book 2010 tells us that many a true word is spoken in jest?

More proof that the right has no sense of humour?

Tisk! And they say us on the left are humourless.

The number of times I have seen the left pick up on off hand comments by conservative politicians and commentators and make mountains out of mole hills is numerous. That being said I don’t think someone as pointless as John McDonnell should grace the airwaves when there is genuine news to broadcast. On a side note – anyone who thinks murder is funny should take a look in the mirror as they are pretty sick individuals. I don’t care whether he meant it as a joke – especially in light of recent events in Cumbria.

McConnell, Balls – wow, with such talents you Labourites truly are spoiled for choice.

McConnell, McDonnell…

Give McDonnell a medal!

Mrs. T will be pleased (probably).

What I’m finding so amusing is that this is clearly shtick as it has been said several times in the last few weeks – one of those ‘comic’ tics which politicians develop when they’re making a lot of speeches and writing a lot of articles over a short space of time – like Tony Benn and his “leaving the House of Commons to spend more time in politics” line. And yet people are getting so annoyed. If people are genuinely annoyed by this, and not annoyed by Balls’ capitulation to the right-wing narrative on immigration (as one of many examples of stupid things which actually have policy ramifications that the other contenders have said) then they really need to question their perspectives.

Truth is I don’t think people are genuinely annoyed – it’s just a convenient stick to beat John McDonnell with.

Nobody does mock outrage like Conservatives.

10. Robin Green

American conservatives are still the kings of mock outrage. And the king of them all is Glenn Beck, who makes numerous Nazi analogies and then attacks others for making Nazi analogies.

“Oh dear. Well, it was a better joke than Daniel Hannan, darling of the loony right, calling the NHS a 60 year mistake. Oh wait…that wasn’t a joke?”

You’re comparing murdering political opponents with disagreeing over the optimal way to deliver public services?

That is weak.

Seeing as John McDonnell has previously expressed support for the IRA, who did try to murder Margaret Thatcher, I doubt it was simply a joke.

I’ve got a confession to make, folks.

For the first time ever, I have … difficult to say this … felt moved sufficiently to … er … comment on Dale’s blog.

I know, I know, most of his commenters are certifiable, but he’s had a sense of humour failure. Stay with me for the example.

Winston Churchill once said that he did not know much about economics, but he did know that shooting Montagu Norman would have been a good thing.

Churchill was reflecting on his (not very good) legacy as Chancellor of the Exchequer, when on his advisors’ recommendation (Norman was then Governor of the BoE) he returned Sterling to the gold standard in 1925 and effectively revalued the currency by 10%. This had the effect of poleaxing the competitiveness of many of our basic industries, such as mining, steel, shipbuilding, railway locomotives and so on.

No doubt Winshton had good reason to be less than favourably disposed towards Norman – as many in the 80s were towards Margaret Thatcher – but what he said was probably as serious a comment as McDonnell’s. So I’ve asked Iain Dale to confirm his condemnation of the great man.

Might be a long wait, mind.

He didnt seem to me to be joking at all.
Why has he not been arrested?
Surely he has broken the law?

You wait till she does kick the bucket. The right will positively DEMAND that we all come out onto the streets and bow as the coffin goes by. They will insist on a state funeral which will be priceless seeing as she made her whole political career out of telling us that the state should do nothing because it is useless..

But Conservatives don’t do irony, so they will see nothing wrong in the state picking up the tab for her funeral. It is the conservative way. Welfare for WASPS.

Can’t say I’m that bothered, although I do wonder whether you would hear Tory MPs joking about shooting Brown, Blair, Callaghan etc. What this illustrates is that there is a hatred of Thatcher on the Left that isn’t equalled by hatred of Labour leaders on the Right.

Tim Fenton – Alas I fear nowadays Churchill’s witty comments e.g. to Bessie Braddock or Lady Astor would have him targeted by the bore brigade.

Are the Tories not being just a little Politically correct?

I mean they always love to tell us how we have no sense of humour, and how offensive jokes are just fine and that we should get over it.

17. Chris Baldwin

“McDonnell’s statement is utterly despicable and I hope that his rivals will condemn him for it”

This guy either doesn’t believe what he writes or needs to seriously lighten up.

CH and Guido are pretty soft marks – literally the stupidest political spaces on the UK internet – so it’s kind of obvious they’d burst into tears at this sort of thing. They can dish it out but they just can’t take it.

19. Charlie 2

McDonnell will obviously make a superb leader of the Labour Party, from a Tory perspective.

20. Lee Spracklen

I thought the biggest joke was actually George Osbourne as C of Ex?

Suspect the Tories won’t laugh at that……

@14 – can’t wait until she does snuff it.

Fuck the state funeral; it’ll be a great excuse for a street party in Liverpool! (Total sense of humour bypass on the part of ‘outraged’ Tories…)

It’s against the law to mention the death of Thatcher without also linking to Elvis Costello – Tramp the Dirt Down. Job done.

“He didnt seem to me to be joking at all.
Why has he not been arrested?
Surely he has broken the law?”

You do realise Doctor Who is make-believe, right?

20 – that was actually vaguely witty. That Thatcher comment on the other hand was about as witty as the abuse hurled at Gordon Brown on Guido’s blog. The crime in my view isn’t that the joke was offensive but that it was pretty, well, lame.

25. Praguetory


26. political_animal

United Republic of Scum?

27. Cheesy Monkey

O’Donnell’s joke is despicable is it? The Tories are really a bunch of coddled soft bastards, ain’t they? Anyways, assassination is too good for her. And a little boring.

Instead, Thatcher should be kidnapped and taken to Guido’s house when he’s away. Once there, she should be stripped and strapped to an industrial milking machine in the front room, while hidden cameras are, um, hidden around the place.Then, we can take bets whether when presented with this image of this wizened, lactating scrotum of class hatred, would Guido: a) drink from it; b) fuck it; or c) settle down with a crate of lager and scrutinise it intently, whilst More Than A Woman by The Bee Gees plays repeatedly in the background.

The Tories don’t know what ‘despicable’ means. No cunting change there then.

Ross: reminds me of when Alan B’stard said exultantly “we can privatise the NHS. And bring back slavery!” and I realised the writers thought these were morally comparable poistions.

29. SenseOfHumour

McDonnell has praised the IRA in the past and now jokes about killing Thatcher.

Personally, I think General Pinochet was a great man, a patriot and a friend of Britain who really did what was necessary to sort out Chile. I also would like to go back in time and prevent Barack Obama from being born.

Please, nobody be outraged.

30. Mohn Jeredith

Please, nobody be outraged

Are we allowed to be bored and unimpressed?

Not really a serious threat to murder is it as a trip back to the 80s would require time travel. If John McDonnell really has access to time travel technology can I have a go after he’s done Thatch as I’ll happily do Hitler (get the priorities right, Thatcher did far more damage to the UK than the Luftwaffe) and JFK (at least that way I’d actually know who killed him). Killing the cracked old hag now would be pointless as the damage is done but a public urinal installed on her grave would be a useful source of revenue for the bankrupt country.

In twenty years I wonder how many will be wishing they’d assassinated Cameron. Twenty weeks will probably be enough

32. Watchman


Have you lost all sense of moral proportionality, in that you can claim that someone joking that they would like to have killed another living person is akin to someone arguing the structure of a branch of government was set up badly and now is not working properly? I am not sure either are indefensible, but only one should be offensive in a world of open debate. After all, the NHS is not a living thing and has no feelings which could be hurt or even frightened by such thoughtless and cruel comments as Mr Hannan made.

And as for the Churchill issue raised above. Anyone here actually think Mr Churchill was a nice man, a role model? He was an evil, racist, self-centred individual who just happened to be the right man to lead Britain through a war with a worse individual. You can respect his legacy and support (at the moment) his party without having to hero worship the man. The mistake being made here is to assume that Conservatives have a collective mindset, rather than the ability to think for themselves and regard their party’s history rationally. Mind you, Mr Churchill never suggested killing a political opponent in this country…

Must admit I thought this was a gaffe at the time, and in some circumstances it would be.

However McDonnell got two standing ovations from the GMB crowd (no other candidate got any) and now has another 5 nominations this morning, putting him well in front of Abbott.

Looks like he knew what he was doing. Abbott should now withdraw – she has nominations with only a day left so she should come good on the commitment reported here to withdraw if she was behind & encourage her people to nominate McDonnell. If all hers go to McDonnell he’ll need another 9 tonight and tomorrow – which is tough but doable with 50 MPs left to nominate.

34. Shatterface

At least he didn’t post his ‘threat’ on Twitter.

Not a very good joke though – anyone got a better Thatcher joke?

35. Shatterface

Okay, just googles this one:

Margaret Thatcher dies and strolls up the pearly staircase to the pearly gates, where she is confronted by St. Peter, brandishing a clipboard. “Name,” says St. Peter.
“Margaret Thatcher,” she replies.

St. Peter checks through all the lists on his clipboard but cannot find the name of the former British leader. “I am sorry,” he says, “you cannot come in. Your place is downstairs, in Hell. Mrs. Thatcher turns and walks down the stairs.

A short time later the phone rings. St. Peter answers, and a voice says, “Hello Peter, it is the Devil speaking. You will have to take that bloody woman after all – she is only been here for ten minutes and she has closed half the furnaces to reduce capacity.”

When Thatcher goes, instead of a state funeral I think it should be a privatised one. Maybe Group 4 could cough up some old van to take her to the church. Tesco could hand out food parcels to the mourners, and Tim Rice and Lloyd Webber can arrange the music.

The Former Archbishop of Canterbury and hypocrite incarnate George Carey can waffle on about principles. And then Thames water can allow P&O ferries to get some old barge to take her down the river.

37. Shatterface

When Thatcher gets the 21 Gun Salute they’ll fire into the coffin to make sure she’s dead.

38. the a&e charge nurse

[37] “when Thatcher gets the 21 Gun Salute they’ll fire into the coffin to make sure she’s dead” – you see, now that’s funny, but traveling back in a time to assassinate Pinochet’s former plaything suggests J Mc’s gag writers really need to raise their game, because I, for one, just don’t get it.

Was it meant to be a postmodern joke akin to – how many deconstructionists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Even the framing of this question makes a grid of patriarchal assumptions that reveals a slavish devotion to phallocentric ideas – such as, technical accomplishment has inherent value, knowledge can be attained and quantities of labor can be determined empirically, all of which makes a discourse which further marginalizes the already disenfranchised.

39. Wibble Wobble

But all he’s doing is expressing a perfectly legitimate point of view: That World would have been far better off without Thatcher. I know my educayshun would have been.

Coming from the internet, where “lol kill yourself” is considered standard debating language in some quarters, I think the outraged right would have nothing to lose by just saying “oh, you” and going about their day. I do wonder how many of these sensitive blossoms would say “oh, it’s just a joke” if a right-wing political figure made some crack about assassinating a left-wing political figure. I suspect some of them.

McDonnell has form though.

“The MP praised the “bravery” of the IRA, whose “bombs and bullets” had resulted, he said, in the peace process in Northern Ireland.”

No doubt including the Brighton bomb which might indeed have killed Thatcher, and did kill five people.

What a complete and total tosser.

Vote McDonnell!

It would be really dull and predictable to assassinate Maggy Thatcher. Now, killing Nelson Mandela – that would be cool.

I might accept this as a joke if McDonnell hadn’t previously heaped praise on the odious Bobby Sands.

Re: 41

He’s right though. Stop whinging.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. 'Timid' Caffery

    Ha ha, what a dude. RT @libcon: McDonnell makes a joke about Thatcher; Tories burn in outrage

  2. lisa jones

    Fair comment. libcon
    McDonnell makes a joke about Thatcher; Tories burn in outrage

  3. Jonathan Taylor

    RT @libcon: McDonnell makes a joke about Thatcher; Tories burn in outrage

  4. Elliott Hoskin

    McDonnell jokes about Thatcher; Tories angry! | Liberal Conspiracy: A really sidesplitting joke, What a droll sens…

  5. Liberal Conspiracy

    McDonnell makes a joke about Thatcher; Tories burn in outrage

  6. Craig Moss

    RT @libcon: McDonnell makes a joke about Thatcher; Tories burn in outrage

  7. M. R. C. Barrett

    Sunny Hundal compares "a joke" about killing an old lady to a disagreement on public health provision. Hardly comparable.


    RT @libcon McDonnell makes a joke about Thatcher; Tories burn in outrage

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