Furious Tories jeer as Labour MPs condemn impact of Margaret Thatcher's policies in Parliamentary 'tributes' session
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Thursday 11 April 2013
A show of unity by the three main political parties over Margaret Thatcher since her death on Monday ended when Labour MPs launched strong attacks on her record during Commons tributes to her yesterday.
Ed Miliband won praise from Conservative MPs for a statesmanlike speech in which he praised the former Prime Minister as a "unique and towering figure". But he disagreed with "much of what she did", saying that mining communities felt "angry and abandoned", while gay and lesbian people felt "stigmatised" by her measures like Section 28, which prevented councils from "promoting" homosexuality.
There were angry scenes when Labour MPs condemned the impact of Baroness Thatcher's policies on their constituencies, and the rise in unemployment to more than 3 million while she was in office. They were jeered by furious Tories, who accused Labour members of breaching Commons rules for such a session of tributes following the death of a senior politician. But John Bercow, the Speaker, rejected the Tory complaints.
Although Parliament was recalled from its Easter break for one day, many Labour MPs boycotted the session. While there was standing room only on the Tory side, there were soon big gaps on the Labour side. Labour officials insisted there had been a "good turnout" of more than 100 of the party's 256 MPs.
Michael Meacher, a former Environment Minister and Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton, said Lady Thatcher's "scorched earth" tactics had "polarised" the nation. "Too many industries, too many working-class communities across the north were laid waste during those years without any alternative and better future to replace what had been lost," he said.
Diane Abbott, a Labour frontbencher, said: "Whether it was the people who felt the poll tax was imposed on them wrongly, whether it was young people who were caught up in the difficult relationship between the police and communities in our inner cities, whether it was people who were dismayed at our unwillingness to impose economic sanctions on South Africa and dismayed as well by her insistence on calling the ANC a terrorist organisation, or whether it were communities caught up in the miners' strikes, there are still people living today who felt themselves on the wrong side of those titanic struggles."
David Winnick, Labour MP for Walsall North, claimed Lady Thatcher caused "immense pain and suffering" to ordinary people. "Even if one accepts that some of it was inevitable, what was so unfortunate was what I can only describe as the indifference and at times almost brutal contempt for those who lost their jobs," he said. Glenda Jackson, the former actress and Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, said of Lady Thatcher: "A woman? Not on my terms".
Opening the Commons debate, David Cameron said: "She made the political weather, she made history and let this be her epitaph – that she made this country great again." He added: "Those of us who grew up before Margaret Thatcher was even in Downing Street can sometimes fail to appreciate the thickness of the glass ceiling she broke through – from a grocer's shop in Grantham to the highest office in the land."
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said: "Her memory will no doubt continue to divide opinion and stir deep emotion. But as we as a nation say farewell to a figure who looms so large, one thing's for sure, the memory of her will continue undimmed, strong and clear for years to come, in keeping with the unusual and unique character of Margaret Thatcher herself."
* Andrew Rosindell, a Thatcherite Tory MP, told BBC News that Mr Cameron should show the more of the "bulldog spirit" displayed by Lady Thatcher. "You must show passion, you must show belief in things," he said.
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