As an expression of pure political venom, Tramp the Dirt Down is unparalleled – and, obviously, controversial. Understandably, some find a song about stamping on an old lady’s grave somewhat distasteful, if not representing sickening extremism in the form of a pop single. For others, the fact that the old lady in question is Margaret Thatcher makes it entirely justified.
Wind-rippled Celtic serenity – uileann pipes and mandolin – turns distinctly eerie when the singing starts, Costello sounding variously dead-behind-the-eyes – ‘I saw a newspaper picture of a political campaign’ – sickly, mockingly sweet – ‘when England was the whore of the world, Margaret was her madam’ – and heavingly sincere ‘when – they – finally – put you in the ground’.
Perhaps writing something so viscerally, hatefully angry about another human being simply because you detest their political views is unthinkably offensive. Then again, some might say that ripping away livelihoods, sacrificing whole communities, scrapheaping an entire generation and sentencing their descendants to perpetual economic insecurity amounts to enough social destruction to warrant the odd bit of rancour in a song lyric. It goes without saying that the song’s violence is purely metaphorical, a grand, angry political statement. Declan Patrick MacManus will assuredly not be found jumping on the ex-Prime Ministerial tomb when she eventually expires. At no stage does the artist otherwise known as Elvis Costello wish death on Mrs Thatcher, merely hoping that he lives long enough to see her go first, which isn’t nearly so bad.