Debate: Should Margaret Thatcher's funeral be private?


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The Independent Online


What's going on?

Margaret Thatcher will receive a ceremonial funeral with military honours at St Paul’s Cathedral next week. The Queen is expected to be in attendance and taxpayers will contribute to the estimated £10 million cost, leading some commentators to claim the service is a state funeral in all but name.

Former Prime Ministers who have not received public funerals include Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson.

Given the contested nature of her legacy, and the financial situation of the country, should Margaret Thacher's funeral be a private affair?

Case for: State bias

There are micro and macro reasons why Mrs Thatcher's funeral should take place in private. The micro, important enough in themselves, are as follows: By attending the funeral of a deeply controversial prime minister the Queen suggests a level of support for her time in government - and blurs the line between head of state and Government that is key to our constitution. (Why acknowledge Thatcher and not Attlee, for example?) The macro reasons will be stranger to nobody after the blast of commentary these last few days. Thatcher prioritised greed, sold-off the future of many working class families, and left a callous and unequal society behind her.

Case against: Leader

As many have pointed out, Wednesday's funeral has all the trappings of a state funeral - including a gun salute in the Tower of London. Why can we not then accept that this woman - the most important Prime Minister in Post-War Britain - deserves the same level of service (or at least the name of it) that has been granted Gladstone and Churchill? Why the pusillanimity? She took a country in the economic doldrums and turned into an assertive world force. She saved the country £75 billion since 1984 with an an EU rebate. Harold Wilson had a private funeral, yes; but who could compare the service they gave the country and say that both should receive the same treatment from the state? Let us be frank and pay respect where it is due.