I was born in 1979, just a couple of months after Margaret Thatcher won her first general election, and I remember clearly the moment when the news came through to the school playground that she had stepped down as prime minister. Most of all I still remember the shock. I had rather assumed that, like the monarch, Mrs Thatcher would have the job of prime minister for life because she was the only person who could do it. As I have watched her successors come and go I think my childhood intuition was correct. It is self-evidently ludicrous to place Major or Callaghan — let alone Cameron — in her class.
But I am bemused by those vociferous critics who, unimportant though they otherwise are, cannot possibly remember her prime ministership, let alone specific policy decisions. Several currently being given airspace were either not alive or not conscious while she was in office. Which is just one of the reasons why their outrage is so phoney.
One of the best things anybody has said since Mrs Thatcher’s death came from her friend Conor Burns MP who, asked about such critics by a BBC which was obsessed by that aspect of the story, replied, “They hate her because she won.” A wonderful response, but I would add the caveat that the battle she engaged in is never won or lost, but always being won or lost. At the moment it is undeniably being lost.
The only time I visited a Mormon temple the people couldn’t have been nicer. Passing by one morning with time to spare after a more than usually bonkers morning in LA, I went in and asked to be shown around. Not being a Mormon, I wasn’t allowed into the actual church, but some nice girls gave me a very thorough tour of their multimedia visitor centre. Perhaps misinterpreting my interest, they eventually showed me to a room screening a video presented by their current living prophet. I will admit to gasping a couple of times and certainly felt glad the lights were dimmed when at one point I lost myself to agonising laughter. But I came away feeling that although odd, the Mormon faith probably did little harm.
I reflected on this again at one of the opening nights of The Book of Mormon in London. Unlike the musical’s US audiences, few here could ever have met a Mormon or heard much about them. Despite the show’s virtues, the sense that we were laughing at a badly wounded kitten soon became overwhelming. I had similar feelings after seeing Rowan Atkinson recently lampoon the new Archbishop of Canterbury for Comic Relief. How many in Red Nose Day’s predominantly young audience now have any idea what an Anglican is or a Canterbury might be?
One reviewer called The Book of Mormon “decadent” and I know what he meant. It does seem the epitome of a corrupted culture that you have to import alien ideas to laugh at because you are too terrified to lampoon the alien ideas in your own midst. You could get someone to write The Book of Muhammad. I would happily write it myself. But we would not find a theatre, and even if we did the theatre would not find an insurer, so the show would not go on. Mormon, like both Rowans, really belongs to another era.
One place also not hard to lampoon is Toronto. I arrive late at night on a delayed flight. It is sludgy, early-1970s ugly and my hotel tries to charge me hundreds of dollars as an advance deposit for a two-night stay. I end up wrangling with the reception clerks at what is my 4 am.
The hotel’s misguided fire alarm does not go off until I have stepped into the shower. After all the guests walk down hundreds of steps and gather, strangely attired, in the snow we do not even have the consolation of seeing the hotel’s receptionists burning to death.
But the next day is brighter. I decide I like Canadians. They are kind, friendly and regularly note that I share a name with one of their currently celebrated ice-hockey players. This latter truth begins to make me nervous about some of the media bookings I have agreed to during my stay.
It remains curious what shocks people. Last month a Saudi Arabian court came in for international criticism for allegedly sentencing a man to surgical paralysis, a report the country has denied. Many people mentioned it to me as evidence of the Holy Kingdom’s backward attitudes towards law and order. Yet only days earlier — around Easter time — Saudi Arabia actually beheaded and then crucified a man. I am not in favour of paralysis or crucifixion, but remain bewildered over what the current rules of outrage exactly are.