Ian McKellen: ‘Margaret Thatcher misjudged the future with Section 28’

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Actor Sir Ian McKellen says Margaret Thatcher “misjudged the future” with her support for Section 28.

The funeral of Britain’s former Conservative prime minister, who died from a stroke last Monday at the age of 87, takes places tomorrow in central London.

“The official obituaries have been, as often happens, partial in both senses: sympathetic and incomplete. With regard to the divisive effect of her reign, one omission was significant and glaring: Section 28,” Sir Ian wrote on his blog. “Lest we forget, this nasty, brutish and short measure of the third Thatcher administration, was designed to slander homosexuality, by prohibiting state schools from discussing positively gay people and our ‘pretended family relations'”.

Sir Ian added: “Thatcher misjudged the future when, according to her deputy chief whip, she ‘threw a piece of red meat (Section 28) to her right-wing wolves’. Some of these beasts survive her, albeit de-fanged. When, to take a recent example, a disgraced cardinal delivers anti-gay diatribes, the spirit of social Thatcherism is revealed as barren, hypocritical and now pointless.”

Introduced during the AIDS epidemic as part of the Local Government Act in 1988, Section 28 stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”.

Section 28 was later removed from the statute book by Tony Blair’s Labour government in 2003.

It did great damage to the reputation of the Conservative Party in the eyes of Britain’s gay electorate and the current Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, apologised for the policy in 2009.

One of Margaret Thatcher’s final acts in office was to issue Sir Ian McKellen with a knighthood in November 1990.

He recalled: “the phone rang: ‘This is 10 Downing Street’. I thought it was a colleague having a joke but no: ‘The prime minister has been trying to reach you. She has it in mind (so the officialese goes) to recommend that the Queen give you a knighthood.’ Flummoxed, I asked for time to think it over. Then, just as I put down the phone, the big black shiny door opened and the Thatchers emerged, she crying a little. It was if she had kept the world waiting until she knew for sure that I’d been contacted. Of course not. But nevertheless, I suppose the very last thing Thatcher did as prime minster was to organise my knighthood. Ding dong, maybe, but thanks all the same.”

At the weekend, BBC Radio 1’s Official Chart Show played a short clip of Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead – a song promoted by opponents to celebrate the death of Margaret Thatcher – it reached number two in the charts.

The BBC cut the length of the 51-second song to five seconds, in regards to taste and decency.