LONDON April 12, 2013 — -- The third most popular song in Britain is 74 years old and was originally sung by Munchkins.
"Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" has not been re-released, nor has it been covered by a popular artist. The original Judy Garland version of the Wizard of Oz classic that celebrates the death of the wicked witch has reached #1 in UK iTunes and has sold almost 30,000 copies thanks to an online campaign by people who are celebrating the death of Britain's only female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.
Earlier this week Thatcher died from a stroke at the age of 87. Many people mourned that woman that Prime Minister David Cameron said "saved our country."
But many others think of Thatcher and explode in fury, blaming her for polarizing the country, violently cracking down on her opponents and pursuing policies that increased inequality. Her critics took to Facebook to encourage people to buy a song that equated her with the wicked witch – and they have responded in droves.
Britain has hotly debated whether the weekly Official Chart Show on BBC Radio should play the song -- as it does every song at the top of Britain's charts -- or skip over it out of respect for Thatcher and her family. This afternoon, the BBC tried to straddle the middle ground between honoring the charts and honoring Thatcher, announcing it would only play a snippet of the 50 second tune and present in a news context.
"It is a compromise and it is a difficult compromise to come to," BBC Radio 1 controller Ben Cooper said. "You have very difficult and emotional arguments on both sides of the fence. Let's not forget you also have a family that is grieving for a loved one who is yet to be buried."
Cooper's announcement came after days of debate.
"This is an attempt to manipulate the charts by people trying to make a political point. Most people will find that offensive and deeply insensitive, and for that reason it would be better if the BBC did not play it," argued John Whittingdale, a member of parliament from Thatcher's Conservative party and the chairman of parliament's Media committee.
Whittingdale and others point out the BBC has temporarily banned songs in the past. During the Thatcher-launched Falklands War, the BBC banned Six Months in a Leaky Boat by Split Enz because references to faulty boats were deemed bad for morale. The Sex Pistols' God Save the Queen was banned during the Queen's 1977 Silver Jubilee, and three Beatles songs have even been banned for references to drugs and sex.
But many others, including some of Thatcher's most fervent supporters, have argued the show itself should not manipulate the charts.
"Much as I hate it, I think that if you ban a record, you make a huge, huge mistake," argues Nigel Farage, the head of the right-wing libertarian party, UK Independence. "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."
The song includes the lyrics, "Wake up, the Wicked Witch is dead / She's gone where the goblins go / Below, below, below."
The campaign to get it to the top of the charts has been called "tasteless" by the BBC's director general Tony Hall and the head of the Labour party, the second largest party behind Thatcher's Conservative Party, currently the largest party in government.
But it hit a chord as Thatcher's death, just like her policies, polarized parts of Britain. Some held celebrations to rejoice, and they have been vilified in the conservative parts of the press. Politicians from the Labour party – many of whom entered politics because they so vehemently opposed Thatcher's policies – have squabbled among themselves whether to criticize her or whether to show restraint, now that she is dead.
Thatcher was popular in the United States, and her political soul mate, President Ronald Reagan, did not nearly inspire the same amount of hatred. It's difficult to imagine the death of an American politician being met with similar protests.
Margaret Thatcher's Death Inspires Ding Dong Song
Many Labour members of parliament boycotted a tribute session to Thatcher. One who didn't is Glenda Jackson, a former actress who won two Oscars before becoming one of the best known liberal commentators in Britain.
"Everything I had been taught to regard as a vice, and I still regard as vices, under Thatcherism was in fact a virtue - greed, selfishness, no care for the weaker, sharp elbows, sharp knees," Jackson said in parliament. "A woman? Not on my terms."
A conservative parliamentarian argued Jackson had "denigrated the memory of the person who has deceased," but the parliamentary speaker ruled that "nothing unparliamentarily" had been said.
The BBC's compromise reflects that willingness to allow criticism to be aired – up until a point – supported even by some of Thatcher's supporters.
"Make no mistake," argues Thatcher supporter Toby Young in the Telegraph today. "If the BBC does ban Ding Dong the Witch is Dead, those of us who believe in the principles Margaret Thatcher stood for will be the losers in the long run."