The Breakfast Table

Maggie Quayle

Some political leaders leave the limelight gracefully, and others rage against the dying of the klieg lights. Margaret Thatcher (or should I say Baroness Thatcher) is clearly among the latter. A few weeks ago she could be seen everywhere sitting on the ridiculous podium at the Tory conference in a bright red IKEA chair avoiding Edward Heath and glowering disapprovingly at the floundering leadership of her party, which she believes has betrayed her. And today, even the Tory papers are ridiculing her speech in Kentucky, in which she denounced single mothers, blamed the rise of illegitimacy on excessively generous welfare polices, and suggested that children born out of wedlock be put in the care of the Salvation Army. The reaction is very similar to the way Newt Gingrich’s call for orphanages was laughed off the agenda four years ago. I suppose the attention she still gets is an example of your comment yesterday about the British thirst for homegrown celebrities–even recycled ones. Perhaps the baroness should have read some old accounts of the Dan Quayle–Murphy Brown dispute.

Britons also woke up this morning to widespread abuse of the BBC, in the news two days ago for the Blue Peter cocaine episode, and in the news today for having lost the cricket test matches to another network. (They should ask CBS and NBC about the price of doing that.) “Arrogant,” “lazy,” and “incompetent” are some of the kinder descriptions by their critics. Being relatively new to Britain, and not being much of a BBC watcher, I don’t know whether these are politically driven attacks comparable to the U.S. criticism of the NEA and PBS, or whether the BBC really is as bumbling as other major British arts organizations–most notably the now nearly-defunct Royal Opera.

And then, of course, there is the repellent Pinochet, whose detention in London was driven by an extradition request from Spain that now may be quashed by the Spanish courts. Now there is pressure on the British government to try him here if Spain doesn’t grab him. The Blair regime seems very uncomfortable with the storm growing up about this. (Blair himself very conspicuously repudiated his friend and ally Peter Mandelson, who blundered onto the front pages with a breezy dismissal of the legal issues in the case because of the “gut-wrenching” nature of the crimes before finding out the position of the Cabinet on it.) The Tory papers are in full cry about what they like to portray as a politically motivated act of ‘60s-generation therapy. In the Labour papers, there is a lot of attention to victims of the Pinochet terror and to two British subjects who may or may not have been killed in the coup in 1969. When I was living in Boston years ago (a city that likes to call itself the “Hub,” as in “hub of the universe”), there was a parody of the Boston Globe that ran a headline: “Hub Man Killed in Nuclear Holocaust.” Some of the coverage of the Pinochet affair has a little of the same quality–although the pious Tory depictions of Pinochet as a friend of Britain and an ally in the Falklands War is even harder to take.

And you’re certainly right, Sarah, about the elaborate press efforts to rehabilitate Prince Charles. As you pointed out yesterday, at least two major profiles of him are running in two different papers now (as his fiftieth birthday approaches), all of them gushingly flattering–and all of them quite hostile to Diana.