I couldn't quite make up my mind how I felt about the controversy over whether Radio 1 should broadcast Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead on its official charts show yesterday. On the one hand, we're forever being told that Thatcherism was all about "freedom" (except for Chileans, Cambodians and non-white South Africans, naturally), and therefore the logic that good Thatcherites should simply accept that people have the freedom to offend seemed inescapable. And of course that was exactly the line we heard from many conservative commentators during the debate over the offensive Danish cartoons a few years ago, so it would have been nice to see a little consistency of principle from them. On the other hand, the idea that the song could be played in full by the state broadcaster when everyone would know exactly what it represented in this context (direct celebration of an individual's recent death) seemed just a bit too in-your-face. So, on the whole, I came round to feeling that an acknowledgement of the song's chart position, an explanation of what it was doing there, plus a clip of the song, was probably a fair enough compromise.
But that was before the decision to play I'm In Love With Margaret Thatcher in full earlier in the same show. Above all else, Radio 1 needed to demonstrate that it was being politically even-handed, so either both songs should have been played in full, or neither should have been. It's not good enough to say that the pro-Thatcher song was not intended to offend - it had only reached its lowly chart spot as a direct result of a campaign designed to counter the one that had got Ding Dong! to number two. If one song required a news report to put it in its correct political context, then they both did.
In purely practical terms, without making any moral judgements, it has to be said that the success of a Facebook campaign in getting an intensely annoying song from a 1930s musical to very near the top of the charts is an incredible achievement. There was a time when campaigns like the "it'll be hilarious if this works" one for Rik Waller to win Pop Idol fell flat on their face as a matter of routine, so the mobilising power of social media really seems to have come of age.