Editorial: The Thatcher funeral will allow the country to move on

There must have been many sighs of relief today when the chimes of Big Ben returned

Share

For all the elaborate preparations that went into Margaret Thatcher’s funeral over the years, there must still have been many sighs of relief yesterday when the chimes of Big Ben returned to pronounce the public observances over. In the end, everything passed off almost as well as was possible for a national occasion that was solemnly commemorative and contentious at once.

Much of the reason it ran so smoothly, of course, lay in the planning. With each major   national event of recent years – the funeral of the Queen Mother, the wedding of Prince William, last year’s Diamond Jubilee – has come trepidation that modern Britain might have lost the art of staging a grand national spectacle, or even of judging the right tone. Then it turns out, all over again, that yes, we can. Baroness Thatcher’s last journey was the latest proof.

The size of the crowds lining the route, and their good humour, both exceeded expectations. Threats that lumps of coal or milk bottles would be thrown did not materialise. There was  no pitched battle between supporters and protesters. The style of policing remained generally light. The schedule was kept. The horses did not bolt. And no one could object to the weather, which remained a sombre, neutral grey throughout.

The prevailing mood in the crowd was one of quiet respect and dignity, with ripples of applause as the cortège passed. The only projectiles were flowers, Diana-style. The cathedral looked resplendent; the music was glorious; the Bishop of London skirted, not always elegantly, around the politics, and BBC Television recovered its gravitas. Everything seemed, miraculously, to fall into place.

Given the celebrations that had erupted within minutes of the announcement of Lady Thatcher’s death and that recurred sporadically through the week, it was not only inevitable, but entirely proper, that there were also protests – silent and shouted, written and choreographed. Anything else would have smacked of repression. But when the shouts grew loud, they were hushed by the majority. This was democracy policing itself in the best possible way, and a reminder that Britain’s first woman Prime Minister, even as she made bitter enemies, was three times elected to power by British voters. 

A funeral, though – any funeral – marks a passing. And yesterday’s tone was set not only by those who were present – on the streets of London, in St Paul’s, and in the commemorative and protest events around the country – but by those who were not. The absence of Mikhail Gorbachev, Nancy Reagan and George Bush Snr, for reasons of ill health, underlined the truth that a whole generation of leaders – the generation that knew global conflict and ended the Cold War – will soon be no more.  

There are perils in the loss of that experience and of those memories. Political leaders who  knew war tend always to be more circumspect about embarking on military conflict than those, such as Tony Blair and George W Bush, who did not. But the Thatcher-era divisions, still so raw, that came back to haunt British political debate over the past week could be corrosive if they became entrenched again.

More than 20 years have passed since Margaret Thatcher left office. Yesterday showed that Britain can still do national ceremony and still knows how to behave at a funeral. In almost every other respect, though, these are different times, with different mores and different dilemmas. The strangeness of the past nine days, in which old battles were revisited and old passions inflamed, should provide the impetus for everyone – starting with our politicians – to put the past in its place and look forward.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Programme Test Manager

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

IT Network Manager - Shepherd's Bush, London

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Network Manager - Shepherd's Bush...

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary supply teac...

Modern Foreign Languages Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Full time German Supply Teacher...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh  

Scottish independence: Forget Yes and No — what about a United Kingdom of Independent States?

Ben Judah
Francois Hollande at the Paris summit on Iraq with ministers from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on 15 September  

What's going to happen in Syria and Iraq? A guide to the new anti-Isis coalition's global strategy

Jonathan Russell
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week