David Cameron insisted “we are all Thatcherites now” and paid tribute to her impact on public life ahead of the former Prime Minister’s ceremonial funeral today.
He also defended the scale of the service at St Paul’s Cathedral – and added that nations around the world would find it “extraordinary” if Britain did not mount a “fitting tribute” to Baroness Thatcher.
Asked by BBC Radio 4 whether he accepted that she had been a divisive figure, Mr Cameron replied that by winning the big arguments she had actually settled divisions.
“In a way we are all Thatcherites now,” he said. “It is inevitable some people take a different view, but the point about division is important because she was a bold politician who recognised that consensus was failing... she created a new consensus.”
He added: “She was the first woman prime minister. She served for longer in the job than anyone for 150 years. She achieved some extraordinary things in her life. I think what is happening today is absolutely fitting and right.
“And I think, looking from overseas, people who respected and revered Margaret Thatcher and what she did would think we were taking an extraordinary view if we somehow didn’t commemorate this.”
During the service Chancellor George Osborne appeared to by crying as the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, delivered the address in St Paul's Cathedral.
The Prime Minister urged Lady Thatcher’s political opponents to show respect during the event, even though they may have disagreed with her.
He said: “I think it will be quite a sombre event but it is a fitting tribute to a great Prime Minister, respected around the world. I think other countries in the world would think Britain had got it completely wrong if we didn't mark this in a proper way.”
The former Labour Cabinet minister, Lord Mandelson, acknowledged that Lady Thatcher had transformed politics – both for the Right and the Left.
He said: “She reframed British politics, she reframed it for us all. Incidentally I think she was had a greater impact in reframing politics than she did in transforming the country’s economy.
“But she certainly had a big impact and you can see it still today, you know people tend to define their politics by reference to her and what she stood for.”
Lord Mandelson disclosed he was not personally invited to the funeral and “didn’t feel I knew her well enough to do so”.
Lord Lawson of Blaby, who served as Chancellor under Lady Thatcher, said she “saved the nation from economic decline of an appalling nature which is difficult to recall now all these years afterwards”.
But he added: “The most important thing was the transformation of the British economy and the transformation of the mood of the British people.”