Labour MPs have been urged by their party leadership to show “respect and restraint” when the House of Commons discusses Baroness Thatcher’s legacy today.
The message, relayed to Labour backbenchers informally by party whips, reflects the Opposition’s desire not to alienate some voters by overshadowing Conservative tributes to Lady Thatcher by attacking her record so soon after her death on Monday.
Labour frontbenchers have been asked by whips to attend today’s special sitting of Parliament, for which MPs and peers have been recalled from their Easter recess. Labour sources said they expected a “large number” of the party’s MPs to turn up for what would be a major Parliamentary occasion.
But there is no edict to backbenchers to attend and it appears that Labour leaders would rather their MPs stayed away rather than queued up to criticise Lady Thatcher. Labour’s official line was set by Ed Miliband, who said his party disagreed with much of what she did and that she would always remain a controversial figure. But he added that Labour also greatly respected the political achievements and personal strength of someone who “reshaped the politics of a whole generation.”
Mr Miliband acknowledges that she was seen as a divisive figure in the party’s northern heartlands. But he wants his party to show respect for Lady Thatcher’s family so soon after their loss.
Some Labour MPs will remain on holiday or in their constituencies. Ronnie Campbell, a former miner and MP for Blyth Valley, said: “I have got better things to do in the office here, looking after the interests of the people of Blyth Valley than listening to people singing her praises. Some MPs might think it is their duty to be there — I certainly do not. Her legacy here was the destruction of thousands of jobs.
John Mann questioned the spending of taxpayers' money omn recalling Parliament, when tributes could be paid next week. He said Lady Thatcher was a “strong leader” but that her policies were “wholly wrong for the country [and] devastating for former mining communities” like his Bassetlaw constituency in Nottinghamshire. He said he would be working there and would be “at the dentist.”
Mr Miliband joined Tony Blair in criticising celebrations of Lady Thatcher's death. “Even if you disagree with someone very strongly, you can still particularly at the moment of their passing, you should show some respect,“ Mr Blair said. A senior Labour source said: ”Ed Miliband categorically condemns any celebration of Lady Thatcher’s death. As he made clear yesterday she was a huge figure in British politics and on the world stage.”
David Cameron will lead today’s Commons tributes and Mr Miliband will respond before backbenchers are called.
The debate over the Thatcher legacy has already begun. Yesterday Kenneth Clarke, the Minister Without Portfolio who served as a minister under Lady Thatcher, accused both the left and right of peddling “myths” about the former Prime Minister. He said she was “pro-European” but added: “She wasn’t a right-wing ideologue at all, she had lots of incurable old wets like me in the Government.”