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UK Politics

Margaret Thatcher's funeral: A True Blue occasion that has been four years in the making

The guest list is decided, her final resting place selected and plans for protests accounted for. Oliver Wright reports on the secretive committee behind the Iron Lady's funeral

Preparations for Baroness Thatcher's funeral next Wednesday – codenamed True Blue – began nearly four years ago and it was decided early on that she would not receive a full state funeral.

A committee of senior government officials and representatives from Buckingham Palace as well as the police and parliamentary authorities was first convened back in 2009.

It was chaired by Sir Malcolm Ross, the Queen's former Master of the Royal Household, who organised the funerals of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997 and the Queen Mother in 2002.

At that stage the preparations were given the code name Iron Bridge in a play on the name for the Queen Mother's funeral plans which were known as Tay Bridge. The name was changed to True Blue when the Conservatives came back into power at the 2010 election.

Sir Malcolm initially acted as the go-between for the Government and Lady Thatcher and her family, and the committee met every six months to update the plans. A member of the committee at the time who spoke to The Independent said that even at that early stage the location and status of the funeral was already agreed.

"The chairman was the link between the committee and the family and it was made clear that Lady Thatcher and the family did not want a state funeral," they said. "The arrangements that have been announced so far are very much those which were ironed out at those early meetings. Even then the plan was to have a ceremonial funeral at St Paul's Cathedral similar to that of the Queen Mother."

There was also contingency planning for the types of demonstrations seen on Monday by opponents of Lady Thatcher. "We always realised that her death would not necessarily evoke the same kind of reaction among everyone to say a Royal death. That's why the police were perhaps more involved in the early planning than they might otherwise have been."

When the Conservatives came into government the plans were reviewed by the incoming Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, who personally took over the chairmanship of the committee. The codename given to the plans was also changed to "True Blue" to give it a more Conservative feel.

Interestingly, Mr Maude's father, Angus, was a key supporter of Lady Thatcher when she made her bid for the Conservative party leadership in 1975. When she came to power in May 1979, he was appointed to the position of Paymaster General. It is a position which is now held by his son under David Cameron.

Cabinet Office sources said that since then, and as Lady Thatcher's health deteriorated, the committee's meetings have become more frequent – convening once every couple of months.

A guest list for the funeral was drawn-up which is likely to include not just foreign dignitaries, politicians and friends and family of Lady Thatcher but also a sizable representation from across the grassroots of the Conservative Party that was always her biggest base.

"This won't just be a national occasion it will be very much be a Conservative occasion," said a party source.

Since her death was announced on Monday it is now meeting every day. The membership has widened and now includes representatives from Downing Street, the Home Office, the security services and Lady Thatcher's former office as well as key figures from St Paul's and the Palace of Westminster.

It met today and discussed details including the funeral procession, invitations, matters of foreign protocol, the role of the military and the service at St Paul's.

More details will be released in the coming days but today it was announced that both the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh would attend the service in St Paul's – a decision which is said to have been taken after Lady Thatcher's death.

Next Tuesday her coffin will be moved to the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft in the Palace of Westminster where there will be a short service and where it will rest overnight. On Wednesday, the streets will be closed to traffic as Lady Thatcher's coffin travels by hearse to the church of St Clement Danes, the RAF Chapel, on the strand.

At the church, it will be transferred to a gun carriage drawn by the King's Troop Royal Artillery. It will then be borne in procession from St Clement Danes to St Paul's. The route will be lined by military personnel and members of the public who wish to pay their respects.

At St Paul's, there will be a guard of honour and military personnel and Chelsea Pensioners will line the steps of the cathedral. Her coffin will be carried into the cathedral by members of the armed forces.

After the service there will be a private cremation service. The final resting place of her ashes is likely to be alongside that of her husband, Sir Denis, just outside the Royal Hospital Chelsea.