John O'Farrell, Labour's candidate in the Eastleigh by-election, used to contribute amusing articles to the New Statesman when I was the magazine's deputy editor. The comedian was unfailingly polite in his dealings with me. Our contact was by telephone only and I remember picturing a mild-mannered soul clad in regulation socks and sandals.
But mention Margaret Thatcher and gentle O'Farrell starts foaming at the mouth and spewing bile. In a book he wrote about his support for Labour, he revealed his "disappointment" when the IRA failed to kill the then prime minister in Brighton, in 1984. "Why did she have to leave the bathroom two minutes earlier?" he asked himself when Thatcher survived the bomb blast that destroyed her bathroom in the Grand Hotel.
John O'Farrell is a Thatcher-basher - a type still common on the Left, even 23 years after she left Downing Street. The ex-PM gives rise to irrational hatred in her former foes. With Lady T, even the cleverest among them sink to schoolyard bullying. Jeremy Hardy can be entertaining on Saturday mornings as a panellist on Radio 4's News Quiz. But when he says of the ailing Baroness, "I have no wish to speak ill of the dead, even when they're still alive" - he sounds a boor and a bore.
Tasteless, too, is the website, "Is Thatcher dead yet?" Its stated raison d'etre is "Keeping track of when, exactly, the Right Honourable Baroness Margaret Hilda Thatcher will finally cop it". Such gross abuse is unimaginable with any British political figure. Think of the outcry if a Right-winger launched a site called, "Is Tony Benn dead yet?"
Given the venom with which Labour supporters attack the former PM, you'd think that when their party finally came to power in 1997, it reversed every one of her hateful policies. In fact, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown guarded the Thatcher legacy as lovingly as if she'd been a grocer's daughter born and bred in Islington. Her successors kept the privatisation and kept at bay the trade unions.
This makes me suspicious. If Labour can live with Margaret Thatcher's policies, what is it about her that they find so unacceptable? First, she disproved Labour's favourite myth: Tories appeal only to toffs. She led her party to win three general elections on the trot, and she didn't need a military coup to do so.
Secondly, she's a woman. The party that pays lip service to equality and feminism is, behind the scenes, deeply misogynist. Labour historians like to claim that Barbara Castle could have beaten Thatcher to be the first woman prime minister. But Castle was only allowed to rise to Cabinet ministerial level; and her biography, Red Queen, revealed that Wilson, Healey, Jenkins and Crosland kept her firmly in her place by reminding her that her female brain had scraped a third?class degree.
I remember following the former Blair babe, Oona King, on her campaign trail when she took on George Galloway in Bethnal Green and Bow. Galloway was positively charming about his rival in comparison to what her male Labour colleagues said behind her back. They were jealous that big hitters from the party were parachuted in to help King's campaign: who was this jumped-up girl?
Harriet Harman and Diane Abbott are tolerated as noisy sisters; but the minute they aspire to higher office, the sniping starts. Labour women must not get ideas above their station. A woman who climbs to the very top wrongfoots the party's apparatchiks. Working mothers are fine, as long as they are drones who contribute to the economy. Tokenism in the board room is also acceptable, as a female non-exec has little real bearing on what happens in the company.
But don't let some uppity woman start bossing everyone about. Margaret Thatcher, nee Roberts, did. Her extraordinary career has exposed Labour as the party of men.