On Wednesday the 17th April the ceremonial funeral of Margaret Thatcher was held. Falling just short of a state funeral, the ceremonies were nevertheless full of pomp and circumstance, and cost the UK Government an estimated £10 million.
Many objected to the exaltation of such a divisive leader, who has been accused of ruining so many people’s lives in the UK during her tenure as Prime Minister and since, as the ideals of Thatcherism continue to outlive her. Many also objected at the cost to the Government of holding such a high-level funeral event, especially at a time when those in government are claiming that the poor must go without because money is so short.
These are important issues, and ones that need to be forthrightly debated. Protests are a part of that debate and are an important part, as the battle between those standing for provision for the poor and oppressed in the UK, and those who want the welfare state dismantled, is a very real and current fight.
Church Peace is very supportive of protest. Yet the scenes that appeared following the news of Thatcher’s death and subsequently at the funeral, where parties were held in celebration and, on the funeral day itself, protesters turned their backs of her coffin and shouted abusive insults – these were shameful scenes.
On the day of her death left-wingers issued forth a torrent of abuse on Twitter and at least one large party celebrating the death was held in Glasgow. On the day of the funeral itself a protest took place on the route of the funeral procession. This protest was organised to be a silent one – with the protesters turning their backs as the coffin went past – yet as the event took place there were boos and shouts of “Tory scum”.
Other protests and parties took place in other parts of Britain also, especially in northern cities who suffered greatly under Thatcher’s leadership.
Death has a finality: the end of a person’s tenure on this earth. However much one may feel opposed to a politician’s policies, that politician is also a person who has left behind a grieving family. The celebration over a death is a medieval dancing on the grave – an abhorrent expression of hatred.
As the Bishop of London, the Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres, stated in his funeral address:
There is an important place for debating policies and legacy; for assessing the impact of political decisions on the everyday lives of individuals and communities. Parliament held a frank debate last week – but here and today is neither the time nor the place.
Although the protests against Mrs. Thatcher’s legacy, and indeed the cost of the funeral service, may have my sympathy, I cannot support the disrespect and hatred that lies behind the celebration of her death and the protests during her funeral procession.
There is a real and very present need to debate the issues which Thatcherism has brought. There are so many in this country who suffered so terribly under Thatcher’s leadership, and the current government is seeming to be moving forward her ideal of a dismantled welfare state and the policies of promoting corporate business with rampant individualism. That debate should start now.
Credit must be given to Thatcher for her ideals – she entered politics to make a difference, not to have a career – and even though many disagreed and still disagree with the difference she made, she must be admired for her courage and commitment.
Yet she was a divisive figure. Her policies allowed the greedy to get super-fat on profits, whilst the poor and hard-working suffered. It is a situation with many parallels to today, except that under Thatcher economic growth was high and in these present times economic growth is virtually non-existent.
The debates must be held. Some wanted to make their views known on the day of the funeral, when so many were watching. Yet we must have respect for the dead. If we give up our common humanity to make a political point, then we are no better than our enemies.
In the words of the Bishop of London, as the founder of Thatcherism lay dead in a coffin:
Lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of all human beings.