Ding Dong: a puerile joke has been turned into an act of defiance

I have five thoughts on the row about the BBC playing an anti-Thatcher song.

Deep breath. I hold these truths to be self-evident:

1. Associating "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead" with the death of Thatcher is crass. I won't be buying the single. Calling a female politician a witch doesn't particularly impress me, either.

2. By putting the story on their front page, the Mail and Telegraph have turned buying the song from a puerile joke into an act of defiance, and massively increased sales. (Hey, don't just listen to me: tell 'em, Nigel Farage. "If you suppress things then you make them popular, so play the bloody thing. If you ban it it will be number one for weeks.")

3. The BBC should not censor the chart show based around the whims of the newspapers, left or right wing. It has an editorial code, and breaches of this should be the only reason not to play a song on the chart show. Similarly, the BBC shouldn't editorialise around the song. It is what it is.

4. References to the "taxpayer funded" BBC should alert you that the speaker really wishes that the BBC didn't exist in its current form. The taxpayers (licence fee payers) funding the BBC have no collective wish about the playing of the song. Some will be against it; some will be for it. Some, like me, will wish the entire chart show was replaced with more topical comedy panel shows and Stephen Fry documentaries about the etymology of English. No one listens to us. The only "vote" anyone gets in this is what single they buy. 

5. No one over the age of 25 ever listens to the chart show. Do you have any idea what's number one right now? (Apparently it's "Need U (100 per cent)" by Duke Dumont featuring Ame.) At least this weekend, today's youngsters will be listening to some Proper Music. We could introduce a whole generation to the delight of musical theatre. Imagine! 

The Wizard of Oz. Photo: Getty

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.