Margaret Thatcher will be given a funeral just one step short of a full state ceremony on April 17, the government announced, a day after the U.K.’s only female prime minister died at the age of 87 following a stroke.
The former premier will receive a ceremonial funeral in London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral with military honors -- the same status as accorded to the Queen Mother in 2002 and Diana Princess of Wales in 1997 -- in recognition of her influence on the nation. The date was decided after consultation with Thatcher’s family and Buckingham Palace, Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said in an e-mailed statement today.
Queen Elizabeth II plans to attend the funeral accompanied by her husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, her office said. It is the first time she will have attended a service for a former prime minister since the funeral of Britain’s wartime leader, Winston Churchill, in 1965. A government meeting this morning decided to give the planning for the funeral the codename “True Blue.”
Both Houses of Parliament will return from their Easter vacation tomorrow to pay tribute to Thatcher, who was prime minister from 1979 to 1990. Lawmakers from her Conservative Party praised her strength of character and economic reforms. Political opponents questioned policies that that led to the decline of traditional industries such as mining and drove unemployment to a postwar high of 3.3 million in the mid-1980s.
“I’m saddened obviously by the death but I’m almost amused by the way she still polarizes debate,” Ken Clarke, currently a minister without portfolio who also served in Thatcher’s government, told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program. “The right and the left have created myths about her government. They’re fighting them out even over her memory.”
A crowd of 300 people assembled in Glasgow’s George Square, where in 1989 protests against the so-called poll tax, a local-authority levy on every resident, took place, the Press Association reported. Anti-capitalist campaigners shouted from loudspeakers, “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie” as the crowd replied “dead, dead, dead.” It was an echo of chants from the 1980s in which protestors would call “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie. Out, out, out.”
More than 100 people gathered in Brixton, south London, the scene of 1981 riots against her government’s policies. Some scaled the nearby Ritzy Cinema to rearrange the lettering advertising films to read “Margaret Thatchers dead,” PA said.
Tom Pine, a lecturer in disaster management at the University of Hertfordshire who served in London’s Metropolitan Police Service for 32 years, said the authorities planning the funeral procession will be anxious to prevent any disruption by Thatcher’s political opponents.
“The police will be concerned that someone will try to disrupt or attack the funeral cortege to get maximum publicity for their political views,” Pine said in a telephone interview. “Given what happened last night, the police will be looking at the extreme fringe of the left and perhaps those concerned about the current government’s austerity measures.”
Thatcher survived an assassination attempt in 1984 when the Irish Republican Army bombed her hotel in Brighton during the Conservatives’ annual conference, killing five people. She stuck to her schedule and addressed party members the next day.
“There is also a small but still active element of the IRA that will be examined by the police and security services to see if they pose a threat to security on the day,” Pine said.
“Public events of this type are divided into three types: celebratory such as the royal wedding, contemplative such as the funeral of the Queen Mother and controversial,” Keith Still, professor of crowd science at Bucks New University, said in a telephone interview. “Baroness Thatcher’s funeral falls into the last category.”
Planners “will assess the barriers along the route, how deeply the space is filled and where you put the media so as not to encourage people to act up in front of the television cameras,” Still said. “The crowd may be in a volatile mood because she was a love-hate figure.”
This morning’s planning meeting was headed by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude and involved police and Ministry of Defence representatives. There will be further sessions of the group in the run-up to the funeral. Flags were flown at half-staff on government buildings and U.K. embassies today, and that will be repeated on April 17.
Thatcher will be cremated in a private ceremony, Cameron’s office said yesterday. In state funerals, which are generally reserved for monarchs, the carriage bearing the coffin is drawn by sailors from the Royal Navy, whereas in ceremonial funerals, horses are used.
Churchill was the last non-royal to receive a state funeral in 1965. Others who have been given the honor include Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died during the Royal Navy’s victory over the French and Spanish fleets in 1805, and 19th-century prime ministers including William Gladstone.
Thatcher’s coffin will initially be taken to the Chapel of St. Mary Undercroft, a private church used by lawmakers in the 11th-century Westminster Hall, the oldest part of Parliament. The former prime minister’s remains will later be taken to the Royal Air Force chapel of St. Clement Danes on the Strand, just outside the City of London financial district.
From there, the coffin will travel in procession to St. Paul’s, within the City, less than a mile away, in a carriage drawn by the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery. The route will be lined by personnel from the three armed forces. On the steps of St. Paul’s, service personnel and retired military from the Royal Hospital Chelsea, known as the Chelsea Pensioners, will form a guard of honor.
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