An anti-Thatcher protester in London on Wednesday. (AFP)
London, April 17: Margaret Thatcher’s funeral today passed off without violence or a serious incident but it was not protest free.
Miners, still resentful about the closure of their pits in the 1980s when Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister, said they would hold parties to mark her passing. For example, a pub in Scotland, the Glenmuir Arms in the village of Logan, East Ayrshire, was decked out with bunting.
Its owner, Jim McMahon, 52, who used to be a miner, said he was arrested during the strike in 1984 outside Hunterston power station near Largs, North Ayrshire, and later convicted of breach of the peace. He said he has been planning a party in “celebration” of Lady Thatcher’s death for almost 30 years.
“It’s not a knee-jerk decision,” he insisted. “I said I would have this party for 30 years. I didn’t plan to have it on this grand a scale because I didn’t have a pub then.” Residents of Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire, were preparing to pull a replica of her coffin through the streets before setting it ablaze.
An effigy of the late Tory leader had been strung up in a noose outside the Union Jack social club with signs reading, “Thatcher the milk snatcher” and “Thatcher the scab”. One home in the town displayed a huge sign saying, “The Lady’s not for turning but tonight she’ll be for burning.”
Residents stopped to take photos of the Rusty Dudley pub in High Street, which was decked out with bunting and banners that said: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, Thatcher’s Britain has gone bust,” and “That’s another fine mess you’ve got us into Maggie.”
In London, a small group of protesters gathered at Ludgate Circus, near St Paul’s, to demonstrate against the “glorifying” of Lady Thatcher’s funeral and cuts to the welfare state.
As the gun carriage made its way along the Strand towards Fleet Street, applause and boos competed, growing in volume. In the busy crowds people argued among themselves. A fight nearly broke out between one group of supporters of Lady Thatcher and demonstrators, with insults exchanged and threats made.
Some protesters turned their backs as the coffin passed, including 58-year-old Charmain Kenner, who said: “She ruined this country and, to add insult to injury, we’re expected to pay for her funeral.”
One demonstrator, Dave Winslow, 22, an anthropology student from Durham, held an acrylic placard reading, “Rest of us in Poverty”, and wore a T-shirt with the messages “power to the people” and “society does exist”.
The last is a reference to a comment by Mrs Thatcher who once said: “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” This was held against her as proof that while she championed individual enterprise she did not care for society as a whole.
But this fundamental criticism of Lady Thatcher was rejected by the Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Richard Chartres, in his address in St Paul’s today.
He said she had referred to the Christian doctrine, “that we are all members one of another, expressed in the concept of the Church on earth as the Body of Christ. From this we learn our interdependence and the great truth that we do not achieve happiness or salvation in isolation from each other but as members of society.”
Her later remark about there being no such thing as “society” had been misunderstood and referred in her mind to some impersonal entity to which people are tempted to surrender our independence, Chartres said.
Hailing Lady Thatcher’s “perseverance and courage”, the bishop recalled the obstacles she had to overcome to enter parliament as a woman in 1959 and rise to the leadership of the Conservative Party, and spoke of the “courtesy and personal kindness” she showed to those working for her.
Insisting that a funeral was not the place to pass judgment on her political record, he said: “The storm of conflicting opinions centres on the Mrs Thatcher who became a symbolic figure — even an ‘ism’. Today the remains of the real Margaret Hilda Thatcher are here at her funeral service. Lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of all human beings.”
The bishop also highlighted Lady Thatcher’s Methodist roots, pointing out that she shared them with the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who were heroes of the trade union movement which the former Prime Minister challenged when she came to power.
He said: “Her upbringing, of course, was in Methodism to which this country owes a huge debt. When it was time to challenge the political and economic status quo in 19th century Britain, it was so often the Methodists who took the lead. The Tolpuddle Martyrs, for example, were led not by proto-Marxists but by Methodist lay preachers.”
Questions have been asked about the cost of the funeral and whether Lady Thatcher really deserved a ceremonial funeral which has not been very different from a state funeral.
Prime Minister David Cameron insisted the honour was a “fitting tribute” to a major national figure who was the longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century.
While accepting that opinions remain divided over Lady Thatcher’s legacy, the Prime Minister said that she had created a new consensus during her time in power, saying: “In a way, we are all Thatcherites now. She was the first woman Prime Minister, she served for longer in the job than anyone for 150 years, she achieved some extraordinary things in her life. I think what is happening today is absolutely fitting and right.”
Among those paying their respects today at St Paul’s Cathedral were former US Vice-President Dick Cheney and ex-secretary of state Henry Kissinger who attended in a private capacity, as did the Polish union leader-turned-president Lech Walesa. But there were no members of the current White House administration, something that appears not have pleased the British government.
But two ministers, who precipitated her downfall, Michael (now Lord) Heseltine, and Geoffrey (now Lord) Howe, came today.
Mrs Thatcher’s cortege reached Mortlake Crematorium in the late afternoon in the final act of today’s ceremony. On the coffin was the card from her children, Mark and Carol: “Beloved mother — Always in our Hearts.”
Waiting crowds cheered as the hearse slipped into the grounds of the crematorium.
Her ashes will be interred at the paved entrance to the Royal Hospital Chelsea alongside those of her husband, Dennis, who died in 2003.
Lady Thatcher may be gone but the debate about the rights and wrongs of her policies will continue for decades to come.