Prime Minister David Cameron will lead tributes in Parliament today to Britain’s only female premier, Margaret Thatcher, who died two days ago, as lawmakers break from their Easter vacation to consider her legacy.
While Cameron was effusive in his praise of the former Conservative leader, who died at the age of 87 following a stroke, calling her “lion-hearted” and a “patriot,” opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband trod a more careful line, offering his condolences on her death while stressing the “controversial” nature of her policies.
Other Labour lawmakers were more damning of Thatcher’s record. Ian Lavery wrote on Twitter that she had “destroyed” some mining communities and Ronnie Campbell told BBC Radio he would rather be “in a torture chamber” than in Parliament today. Previous such occasions have given lawmakers little time to express their opinions. In 1965, lawmakers had just 45 minutes to commemorate Britain’s wartime leader, Winston Churchill. When Edward Heath, Thatcher’s Tory predecessor, died in 2005, tributes in Parliament lasted for 73 minutes.
The House of Commons and the upper, unelected House of Lords will both meet in London at 2:30 p.m. By tradition, Parliament adjourns or closes on the death of a former premier, so by recalling lawmakers during their vacation, Cameron will not lose a day of debate on his Finance Bill next week.
Labour lawmaker John Healey wrote on the PoliticsHome website he would not be attending Parliament today, citing Thatcher’s record as the “closure of the coal industry, the squandering of North Sea oil revenues to cover the cost of tax cuts, the ‘big bang’ deregulation of banking, the 17 billion-pound privatization of public housing” and “deep social divisions.”
Thatcher will be given a funeral just one step short of a state ceremony on April 17. In a government operation dubbed “True Blue,” she will receive a ceremonial funeral in London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral with full 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.
Queen Elizabeth II plans to attend the funeral, accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. It is the first time she will have attended a service for a former prime minister since Churchill’s death.
Thatcher, who was prime minister from 1979 to 1990, will be lauded today by Tory lawmakers. They have praised her strength of character and economic reforms this week. 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.
“Some parts of the left reveal their lack of respect, grace, and dignity -- to their own loss, not to the loss of Lady T’s colossal legacy,” Conservative Mark Pritchard said on Twitter.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, a Tory, said it would be “very appropriate to have a memorial somewhere in London” for Thatcher. He suggested the spare plinth in Trafalgar Square as a location.
After her death, 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.”
The Daily Mirror, which supports the Labour Party, reported today that the funeral might cost 10 million pounds ($15 million). Foreign Secretary William Hague, a protege of Thatcher, argued that her negotiations on Britain’s rebate from the European Union have brought in 75 billion pounds. “So I think we can afford to contribute to a funeral,” he told BBC Television’s “Breakfast” program.
“I think a lot of the problem that some people have, it’s only a minority of people, is that they could never beat her,” Hague said. “People on the left could never defeat her. They claimed to stand for millions of people, but they could never get remotely as many votes as Margaret Thatcher in an election and she remained undefeated in a general election and I think you see a little bit of that frustration coming out in the negative comments.”
Churchill’s funeral cost 48,000 pounds in 1965, the equivalent of about 800,000 pounds ($1.2 million) today, according to the Bank of England.
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, 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.”
Thatcher’s body was moved from the Ritz Hotel in central London in the early hours of yesterday and taken to an undisclosed location as preparations for the funeral began. She had been convalescing in the luxury hotel since coming out of hospital in December. Her twin children, Mark and Carol, are returning to the U.K. for her funeral.
Thatcher will be cremated in a private ceremony, Cameron’s office said April 8. 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 at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and 19th-century prime ministers including William Gladstone.