No offence, Maggie, but after ten long days of national argument, as I sat down to watch your send off, I was glad to see the back of you.
If London 2012 conjured up a heady national feelgood factor, the passing of Baroness Thatcher evoked a polar opposite: malevolent ambivalence. Left-leaners have raged and hissed for a week, picking at scars from decades earlier. Perfectly lovely people are talking about “pissing on graves”: it feels like being trapped in an echo chamber playing a very long x-rated episode of 80’s soap Brookside.
Meanwhile, the right have replied with jingoism, rose-tinted hindsight and yesteryear-style pomp. With Big Ben silenced, military strong arm flexed, antagonistic talk of “a celebration of the Falklands” and £10m suddenly located to pay for a funeral on a scale I’m not entirely sure Mrs Thatcher even wanted. The barriers, bollards, police reinforcements were ready to cope with the whipped-up crowds at Thatcher’s send off, but the throngs didn’t come.
David Dimbleby and his colleagues on BBC1 found a multitude of polite ways to say “Blimey, it’s quiet”. On the Strand the odd random citizen seemed to be making a morning of it. Charing Cross was as quiet as Christmas Day. I suppose I’d expected a mix of Will and Kate’s wedding and Occupy St. Pauls: Union Jacks waved defiantly, city boys, bankers and home-counties mums determined to “do Maggie proud”, greeted with an abundance of Trade Union flags and the odd propelled egg. Instead, deserted streets, a muffled bell, a coffin carried in disconcerting silence.
I sat on my sofa wondering who, after Diana, Britain would turn out for en masse. Why stand on the streets to feel a collective sense of ‘history’ when one can shout on the internet? “I’m so glad I’m not watching this funeral. I’m giving Twitter a miss today!” people tweeted, several times. And how could any left-wing person really turn off the TV coverage with a cathedral so brimming with celebrity-world’s closet and out-and-proud Tories? An emotional Katherine Jenkins, Joan Collins in full Dynasty baddie mode, Dame Shirley Bassey as a temporarily demure diva. Amanda Thatcher’s reading was fiercely good. And how clever of her to wear a lot of clothes. No Pippa Middleton II for the media today. Just a calm, articulate woman nailing a big public speech.
Mourner Jeremy Clarkson scrubbed up well: tamed, suited, booted and neatly coiffed. Thatcher could receive no higher display of respect. Bernard Ingham’s eyebrows, on the other hand, roamed wild and unfettered. I’m sure Ingham is quite adamant he doesn’t want any namby-pamby grooming but if he lived under my roof he would wake up after a nap to find his face had been pruned.
As a viewer, I couldn’t become gleeful, like many did, about George Osborne crying. Who knows what deep puddle of the mind that tear came from, but something had been stirred. As a left-leaner, I’ve felt uneasy several times in the past ten days watching the actions of my left-leaning comrades. Don’t wish augmented sadness on a freshly grieving Mark and Carol Thatcher, don’t laugh at a man crying at a funeral, I’ve thought, we’re supposed to be the nice ones.
My highlight yesterday was the Right Reverend and Right Honourable Richard Chartres adding a tiny bit of humour. “Don’t touch the duck pate, it’s very fattening,” Thatcher had told him as they’d walked into lunch. It was small burst of joyfulness in a long week of woe. Joy, empathy, mutual caring. Here’s to more of that.