The crowds that lined the route as Margaret Thatcher’s coffin passed through central London today reflected the division of opinion in Britain over her legacy.
While many applauded and waved union flags as the former prime minister’s body was carried through the streets on a gun carriage, others turned their backs and chanted anti-Thatcher slogans on the 0.7-mile (1.1-kilometer) route to St. Paul’s Cathedral.
“She got the tag of being divisive because she had to take decisions that had been deferred for too long -- she was doing what had to be done,” said Nicholas Morritt, 40, a chef who had travelled from Melton Mowbray in central England to pay his respects. “She gave people a lot of freedom and left the nation a lot more prosperous.”
When Norman Tebbit, one of Thatcher’s most loyal ministers and a figure of hate for her opponents, left the cathedral after the service, he was followed by a roll of cheers and applause as he walked away.
At Ludgate Circus, on the route to the cathedral, a group of about 300 protesters turned their backs on the procession and chanted “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, dead, dead, dead” and “Tory scum” as Thatcher’s coffin passed by.
Some protesters held up bottles of milk in reference to Thatcher cutting free milk for school children when she was education secretary in the early 1970s.
“I grew up under Margaret Thatcher, I was one of the children who had my milk snatched,” Paula Michell, 48, said as she waited to turn her back in protest. “In her attacks on trade unions she did everything she could to make it more difficult for ordinary people to organize and defend themselves.”
Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a speech last night that Thatcher would not have been worried that people wanted to come out and express their disapproval.
“She, who prized freedom above all other things, would not be the slightest bit upset by the disagreement,” Hague told the Lord Mayor’s Easter banquet. “The right to form our own opinions is fundamental to our democracy.”
Protesters questioned Thatcher’s commitment to freedom, pointing to her links with oppressive regimes in Chile, South Africa and even, they said, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, citing a 2000 report by the journalist John Pilger.
“She was in league with people like General Pinochet, Pol Pot, she branded the ANC and Nelson Mandela as terrorists, introduced Clause 28 and attacked travellers,” said cosmetics product developer Wesley Burrage, 46, who travelled from Bournemouth on the south coast to join the protest. “Her legacy is one of division.”
Clause 28, also known as Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, refers to legislation introduced under Thatcher that banned the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools. It was repealed by Tony Blair’s Labour government in 2003.
After the procession had passed, two protesters launched into a shouted argument about how the protest should have been conducted, providing an echo of the division among her opponents that helped keep Britain’s only female prime minister in power between 1979 and 1990.