It’s not exactly WH Auden’s famous “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone/Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone/Silence the pianos and with muffled drum/Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come…” But Speaker John Bercow’s gesture to the memory of Lady Thatcher comes pretty close: silencing Big Ben for the duration of her funeral tomorrow.
It’s a long time since the Speaker was a fully paid-up member of the Thatcherite tendency. And his wife Sally, an avowed Labour supporter, has said she will be staying away from St Paul’s “since the last time I looked, this was the 21st century”, and she is under no obligation to join her husband to take part in the “attempted canonisation” of the late Prime Minister.
But yesterday Speaker Bercow drew a fulsome tribute from Francis Maude, the minister chairing the committee organising the funeral, by announcing he had decided that “the most appropriate means of indicating our sentiments would be for the chimes of Big Ben and the chimes of the Great Clock to be silent”.
Mr Bercow added: “I believe there can be a profound dignity and deep respect both expressed in and through silence and I am sure that the House will agree.” But then how could it not, given that silence is not normally a speciality of the Commons – or its Speaker?
The move reinforces the –much-disputed – comparison with Winston Churchill, since the last time it was similarly stopped was to mark the funeral of the wartime Prime Minister when he died in 1965. It also stopped in the Seventies, when it broke down – but then Lady Thatcher’s supporters have been arguing for the past week that so did everything else.