STEPHEN GLOVER: Would BBC broadcast such hateful tripe about an icon of the Left? 

The audience of Radio 4's Book at Bedtime numbers a few hundred thousand at most. The slot is a civilised little backwater which makes few waves in our national life.

But don't imagine that the Beeb's decision to broadcast in the new year a Hilary Mantel short story, which gleefully imagines the assassination of Margaret Thatcher, is an innocent afterthought by a junior producer.

Coming so soon after the Chancellor attacked the BBC for its skewed coverage of his Autumn Statement, it's a provocative attempt to poke a stick at the Tories before the election. And it follows in a long tradition of Thatcher-bashing by the Corporation going back nearly 40 years.

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The story, which first appeared in The Guardian little more than two months ago, is a fantasy about a woman very like Hilary Mantel who lets an IRA killer into her flat to shoot dead Margaret Thatcher

The story, which first appeared in The Guardian little more than two months ago, is a fantasy about a woman very like Hilary Mantel who lets an IRA killer into her flat to shoot dead Margaret Thatcher

There was very little mention made on the BBC after Lady Thatcher’s death that during her 11 years in office the decline of the British economy was reversed, rampant trade unions tamed and national pride restored

There was very little mention made on the BBC after Lady Thatcher's death that during her 11 years in office the decline of the British economy was reversed, rampant trade unions tamed and national pride restored

The story, which first appeared in The Guardian little more than two months ago, is a fantasy about a woman very like Hilary Mantel who lets an IRA killer into her flat to shoot dead Margaret Thatcher.

When this tripe was published, Mantel told the Guardian of her 'boiling detestation' of the former prime minister, whom she described as 'anti-feminist' and a 'psychological transvestite'.

In short, it is a work of unashamed hatred, in which the normally mild-mannered Mantel associates herself with – and appears to endorse – the murder of a democratically elected leader. 

Of course, the BBC denies any historic animus against Margaret Thatcher, just as it insists it has no institutional bias against the Conservatives. Both assertions are demonstrably false.

Compare the Corporation's rapid promotion of Mantel's slight and contemptible work with the fate of a play sympathetic to Thatcher by the writer Ian Curteis, which had to wait 15 years before it was finally aired on BBC2 late at night.

Curteis, having been commissioned by the Corporation to write a piece about the Falklands War five years after the 1982 conflict, produced something which showed Margaret Thatcher in a human light.

After he refused to make what he later called 'highly tendentious' and 'actionable' additions ordered by the BBC, the £1.7million project was abruptly cancelled. However, Curteis did not give up, and eventually revived his play on a tiny budget.

He had committed the unpardonable sin – unpardonable, that is, in the Thatcher-hating confines of the BBC – of not depicting the former prime minister as a cold-hearted monster. Hilary Mantel has done exactly that, which is why her distasteful story has been embraced with such alacrity.

Curteis was censored in the 1980s when the BBC had, in the words of its former director-general Mark Thompson, who stood down in 2012, a 'massive Left-wing bias'. The Beeb's behaviour after Margaret Thatcher's death last year proved the old bias has not diminished.

Hilary Mantel's controversial book
Margaret Thatcher

Hilary Mantel's story seems to be saying that bumping off Margaret Thatcher as though she were a deranged South American dictator would have been a good thing to have done

True, the Corporation did its best for a few hours to set aside the run-ins it had with the Tory leader in her heyday. One or two news- casters wore black ties, and a photograph of her was displayed as silence was observed.

But it didn't take long for the old prejudices to reassert themselves. We were repeatedly shown footage of the 1990 poll tax riots, and of police grappling with miners during the 1984-85 miners' strike. The message was: this is what life was like under Thatcherism.

Microphones were shoved under the noses of anyone in public life or simply in the street with something nasty to say. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was allowed to opine that Margaret Thatcher had inflicted 'great harm' on Northern Ireland.

It wasn't revealed that Adams had been a leading light on the IRA Army Council, which in 1984 very nearly managed to kill the British Prime Minister – and did kill five others – in the Brighton bombing. Would Hilary Mantel have been happy if it had succeeded?

Needless to say, there was very little mention made on the BBC after Lady Thatcher's death that during her 11 years in office the long decline of the British economy was reversed, rampant trade unions tamed and national pride restored.

I ask, in a spirit of fairness, whether the BBC would mark the death of any prominent Left-wing politician by reawakening old hatreds and stirring up old controversies.

I certainly don't recall the Corporation letting loose streams of vitriol when former Labour leader Michael Foot died in 2010, or when Tony Benn passed away earlier this year, though there were plenty of criticisms that might have been made in either case.

The sensibilities of the millions of people who respect Margaret Thatcher, pictured here with former US President Ronald Reagan, have been ignored 

The sensibilities of the millions of people who respect Margaret Thatcher, pictured here with former US President Ronald Reagan, have been ignored 

Nor do I believe it is imaginable that the BBC could ever broadcast a short story fantasising approvingly of the assassination of a Left-wing hero – say, Aneurin Bevan, the former Labour minister and firebrand, who once described Tories as 'lower than vermin'.

Such double standards don't merely confirm that the BBC retains the Left-wing bias which Mark Thompson located in the 1980s, and wrongly believed had ended. They also suggest it is not a truly national broadcaster.

The sensibilities of the millions of people who respect Margaret Thatcher have been ignored. Did it occur to anyone at the BBC that many – and, most of all, her family and friends – will be offended by a short story extolling her imaginary assassination?

Of course, I don't dispute there are legitimate criticisms to be made of the former Prime Minister, or that the BBC is entirely within its rights to provide a platform for them – so long as it even-handedly does the same with Left-wing figures (which it usually doesn't).

Murder, though, is a different business. It's not funny. And it's particularly not funny when Hilary Mantel's story seems to be saying that bumping off Margaret Thatcher as though she were a deranged South American dictator would have been a good thing to have done.

The timing of the Radio 4 broadcast in early January is surely not accidental. Relations between the Tories and the Beeb are rocky after George Osborne took exception to the coverage of his Autumn Statement, most notably a BBC reporter's suggestion that planned Tory cuts risked taking Britain back to the sort of Depression-era politics George Orwell wrote about in his 1937 book The Road To Wigan Pier.

This fatuous and ignorant statement was subsequently described by James Harding, director of BBC News, as a 'tad strong', though he added that the editorial judgment of Norman Smith, the reporter involved, was 'exactly right'.

About as right, I'd say, as the Corporation's constant misrepresentation of the scale of the cuts we've already had. Never, ever, do you hear a BBC reporter say that overall public expenditure is very nearly the same as it was in 2010 when the Coalition took power.

I completely agree with Mr Harding that the BBC mustn't be beholden to any government. But a fair-minded broadcasting organisation wouldn't make the ludicrous allegation that the Tories are taking us back to the 1930s (that's now Labour propaganda), and it certainly wouldn't seize on a low-grade short story which celebrates the idea of murdering a great Prime Minister.

Is there no one at the BBC who can see that such grotesque bias is most of all damaging to the Corporation, and that it risks losing friends when its future, and the licence fee, are under discussion?

As for Margaret Thatcher, she is beyond hurting now, and I've no doubt she will be revered after Hilary Mantel and her ghastly little tale have been long forgotten.

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